Thursday, December 24, 2009

Serpentine and Watermelons of Repose

Last night, before bed, I sat on the guest bedroom floor with this computer and tapped for awhile to friends,  and loved ones for a bit, then watched whatever the Charlie Brown Christmas special is called.  Merry Christmas Charlie Brown?  Perhaps....
Must be interesting watching Charlie Brown if your a depressed person... a source of humorous torture, or something.  The show is remarkably true to Shultz's downbeat creation.  I had forgotten that.  In any case, it's a fun show.   Something nice to end my second (!) day with my Mom and Dad.

Earlier in the evening I discovered to my total shock that I had accidentally grabbed my version of the book I bought my father for Christmas (a sort of ridiculous pean to himself by James Lipton, on Inside the Actors Studio, a guilty pleasure of mine, back when I was crazy enough to watch TV.... all night long sometimes.)  Lipton is sometimes unintentionally hilarious, like his posture (which is so bent, it suggests he must have been a slouching orphan for the first few decades of his life) and other times, like with his early book (An Exaltation of Larks) about the fanciful names in English for groups of animals (Jenny and Ande I think you would be highly interested in this) Lipton verges into an almost perfect imitation of a clueless academic, who knows all about, but nothin' much dead on.  You know the sort of names I mean (apparently a group of larks, is an "exaltation")  a "murder" of Crows, a "pride" of Lions, a "Clan" of Rednecks (all animals have some kind of name.)  I'd love to meet the clown who named a group of fish a "school."  Schools of fish have extraordinary behaviors, which have been schooling us for decades... perhaps the cad who named fish "schools" somehow just knew they'd play a role in studies of emergence.  Jeez, I'll ask Mr. Lipton: "Say, Jim, what's your favorite word?  What's your favorite color?  What's a group of Three Toed Sloths called?"

He'd answer every question, deadpan, "authentic, Andy.  Quite... Authentic is my favorite word."  Keepin' it real, Jim.

I'm sitting in my parents living room, and have been looking at the glowing mountains for a few minutes here.  One mountain top is purple, others are dark already.  More or less a hilariously nice view.  People ask me all the time, "So, you going to Arizona for Christmas?"  Oftentimes I just say, "yes."  I'm not always in the mood explaining how very un Arizona this place is.  Though Arizona is nothing to complain about in the winter.  I loved living there one winter years ago.  Amazing place.

All day long I've been thinking about what looks like Serpentine, a green rock used in buildings, and for sculpture:  it sorta looks like green marble.  I saw this "serpentine" while passing through the "canyon" which is the part of Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque that you take to get  to my parents on Highway 14, the so called Turquoise Trail, which was, I suppose the original highway to Santa Fe.  In any case, it goes there.  My parents are between one third and halfway up 14 to Santa Fe, in Sandia Park, named after the Sandia Mountains, which in English, somewhat hilariously, are Watermelon Mountains.  How the hell did they get that name?  You would think Watermelons (which are from Africa) would not possibly have reached New Spain (Mexico, and portions of the Southwestern U.S,) till three or four hundred years ago.  And the minute someone saw these mountains the sun just left dark for the evening, all they could think of was "Watermelon," Sandia?  Oh well, Spaniards had a lot on their minds, with the Blood of Christ Mountains in Santa Fe, the Sangre de Christo's, and other macabre manifestations to contend with (like killing the natives) perhaps there was a winking irony in naming these New Mexico red sun dappled piles of rock after fruit:  not the blood of the Savior, but big juicy balls of fruit.  Sure.

What's wonderful about these mountains is that they arent' granite, like their northernmost neighbors, the Rocky Mountains, for the most part are.  The mountains here are, when you look at them, comprised of tilted beds of sedimentary sandstone, limestone, and some kind of metamorphic rock, which is always a sedimentary rock, heated and put under huge pressures until it bends.  From what I have read, and common sense, the  rock here was originally either sand dunes, or ocean bottom.  Limestone, in Bloomington, came from the great inland sea's that covered North America a number of times prior to the last great glaciation of the earth, twenty thousand years ago.  They say we're still warming up from that freeze up.

In any case, the rock's here were sediments like sand and silt, compressed and baked like a kiln until the silicates melted and fused rock together.  The reason I mention this, is that something strange happened after that.  Unlike the Rockies, with originated due to a series of great orogenies (a fantastic, seemingly lewd word that means "springing from the earth due to strange, mysterious forces in the mantle.) the mountains here began as a huge flat expanse of desert sand, or ocean bottom, dried up (or not.)  Slowly these huge many mile across chunks fractured from one another, somehow.  And each chunk, due to the fact that it is not only huge across (above the ground) but three dimensionally huge (below the ground, the entire thing know as Terrain) begins to float, somewhat, on the Earths mantle.  And slowly a huge series of chunks all would tilt sideways, until they are at a thirty to forty five degree angle.  Exposing the great rock from deep in the earth, on their backsides, and plunging the previous above ground sediment from the ocean or desert, deep into the ground.  Of course at the top of this half buried cube, is what was at one time flat ground, like the deck of the Titanic, now sticking way the hell up in the air.  After thousands of years of erosion, all of this gets rounded off, and plants take up habitat, and snow falls on the gracefully curving features in winter.  You have what are undeniably mountains.  But if you look carefully you can still see the carefully laid down layers of the millions of years when there were no mountains for hundreds of miles around.  It's, more or less, completely nuts.  And cool. And fun.  And what Darwin studied, in order to develop a new conception of time, so as to imagine lengths of time long enough to watch a Finch's beak change it's shape.  Tens of millions of years makes a hell of a picture show.

And of course, God did it all for me.

Merry Christmas from the Watermelon Mountains.

Note:  My Geology describes the famous Basin and Range "Terrain" of the Southwestern United States. My cousin Tim's friend Andrew came to visit on my last evening with my parents, and, I got a chance to ask about these "sedimentary" mountains.  Andrew was cool enough to point out that the part of the mountain I was looking at was granite sheathed in a "thin" layer of sedimentary rock.  On the other side of the mountain, the granite was exposed by the dropping of the Rio Grande Fault.  And the mountains here were caused by the Rio Grande Fault, not my basin and range idea, which is what I wrote above.  I was a little embarrassed to be so wrong, but enlightened by his wonderful explanation (and lifetime advocation.)

It wasn't my "fault."  Puns.... low humor for a lowdown fool.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Funky Ho Down

Recently I copied this passage from Mae-Wan Ho's insane and wonderful The Rainbow and The Worm (the physics of organisms) into an email to a friend concerning the magic of muscles:

(after writing at length about the magic of an organisms eye, and the manner in which it collects data, and the rate at which that data is organized, processed, and refigured to usefulness, she writes...)  Another instructive example is muscle contraction.  About 40% of our body is made of skeletal muscle, i.e., muscle attached to bones, like those in our arms and legs and trunk.  Another 5 to 10% is smooth muscle such as those in the gut and body wall, and cardiac muscle in the heart.  Skeletal muscle consists of bundles of long, thin muscle fibres, which may be discerned under a magnifying glass.  These fibres are several centimetres in length, each of which is actually a giant cell formed by the fusion of many separate cells. A single muscle fibre, magnified a hundred times or more under the light microscope, can be seen to be made up of a bundle of 20 to 50 much smaller fibres, or myofibrils, each 1 to 2 micrometres, or one millionth of a metre in diameter.  A myofibril has regular, 2.5 micrometre repeating units called sarcomeres, along its length.  Adjacent myofibrils are aligned so that their sarcomeres are in register.  Under the much higher magnifications from the electronmicroscope-- thousands to tens of thousand times-- one will see extremely regular arrays of the periodic structures.  One will also see that each sarcomere consists of alternating thin and thick filaments, made up respectively of the two main muscle proteins, actin and myosin.  In three dimensions, there are actually six thin actin filaments surrounding each thick myosin filament, and the six actin-filiaments are attached to an end plate, the Z-disc.  Contraction occurs as the actin filaments surrounding the myosin filaments slide past each other by cyclical molecular tread milling between myosin 'head' groups and serial binding sites on the actin filament, forming and breaking cross-bridges between the filaments, in all three dimensions in the entire array.  (here she continues with a bunch of stuff about the uptake of ATP and it's conversion, ect. ect. very interesting, but not completely necessary to the mind blowing conclusion.)
(Continues...) In a typical muscle contraction, all the cells in the muscle-- billions of  them at the very least-- are executing the same molecular treadmilling in concert.  Simply waving our arms about is a veritable feat requiring a series of actions coordinated instantaneously over a scale of distances spanning nine orders of magnitude (!!!) from 10 E-9 metre (or a nanometre)  for intermolecular spacing between the actin and myosin heads, to about one metre for the length of our arm;  each action, furthermore, involving the coordinated splitting of 10 E19 individual molecules of ATP.  Now, then, imagine what has to happen when a top athlete runs a mile in under four minutes;  the same instantaneous coordination over macroscopic distances involving astronomical numbers of molecules, only more so, and sustained for a long period without break.  
(Cont..)  It is truly remarkable how our energy should be available to us at will, whenever and wherever we want it, in the amount we need.  Moreover, the energy is supplied at close to 100% efficiency.  This is true for muscle contraction, in which the chemical energy stored in ATP is converted into mechanical energy, as well as for all the major energy transduction processes, as for example, in the synthesis of ATP itself in the mitochondria where carbon compounds are oxidised into carbon dioxide and water in the process of repiration.  If that were not so, and energy transduction can only occur at the efficiency of a typical chemical reaction outside living organisms, which is 10 to 30% efficient at best, then we would literally burn out with all the heat generated.  
(Cont.)  To summarise, then: being alive is to be extremely sensitive to specific cues in the environment, to transduce and amplify minute signals into definite actions. Being alive is to achieve the long range coordination of astronomical numbers of submicroscopic, molecular reactions over macroscopic distances;  it is to be able to summon energy at will and to engage in extremely rapid and efficient energy transformation.
(Cont.) So, how is the sensitive, vibrant whole that is the organism, put together?  An organism that develops from the relatively featureless fertilised egg or seed to a complicated shapely creature that is nonetheless the same essential whole, until it dies?  
We have certainly not exhausted the wonders of being alive.

Oh no, we have not.

  The most important concepts in The Rainbow and the Worm, for me, have circled around the concept of life as a great big web, intimately associated with it's habitat, solar system, and sun; but built for comfort far above the thermodynamic equilibrium.  I'm crazy for these structures that catch falling electrons (a name of one of the chapters in RATW)  and crazy for the structures further down the chain that maintain the "quality" of the energy that the falling electrons give us, storing it as carbohydrates, or using that self same energy for enormously useful stuff.  Coupled with the history of the Earth's surface once it met cute with life: this oldest of materials (for example: you) has not only the usual fascinations assumed when one is speaking of life, but has terraformed the world to it's dictates:  and stolen from the way things ought to be: to sing a ballad in praise of "the will."  

Among the delights of this "oldest of materials," life, there is the oldest of questions, like, why is life improbable.  Or, rather, why doesn't life just self assemble, in the laboratory, without much trouble.  Turns out the selfsame high energy that I was describing in the above paragraph, stored in very large amounts in covalent bonds as electronic bond energies, make frankenstein smoothies a bit difficult:  equilibrium states simply, by definition, don't fluctuate much of anything into a high energy life form like you.  You're special. Even in the morning before you've had your coffee.

This is such a revelation to me.  

And it doesn't just go for organisms: since very, very large, complex systems, also contain high energy flows, and material cycles, which form interdependent reflective relationships: witness the jet stream effect on flows, and temperature of air masses, and the weather they create.  Witness the probable impact of CO2 on ocean streams cycling from the tropics to the poles:  change.... what kind of change, who knows, but any change means serious changes in the weather of places that are rather culturally unready for sudden lattitudinal changes in their "normal" weather.  The material of our world: quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, cause a change in gross flows of material and energy gradients, which as boring as that sounds, is the difference between zero Celsius and zero Fahrenheit. 

The entirety of The Rainbow and the Worm is a sort of elaborate metaphor, carefully built by a physicist,  and constructed amongst a dozen fields, to show how the seemingly material qualia of physical organisms, are in reality constructed of highly organized energy, and complex structures that result (and proffer) such organization.  

Among the subroutines of the metaphor are discussions of a number of fascinating topics:  for example:  The Benard-Rayleigh convection cells.  These are the convective movements that make the honeycomb holes in your shallow pan of rice, before you give it it's final stir.  Unless your some kind of bachelor slob, who microwaves his way through life, you have undoubtably seen these honeycomb patterns in a pan.  While it's fascinating to know they have a name, I'm sure, why do I mention them?  Well... they represent a sort of H20 molecular roller coaster for individual molecules:  each cell comprised of something like 10 E23 water molecules, cycling around and around.  So, picture this:  a giant playground where happily squealing kids (I walk through one such lovely place with a more or less public sidewalk going through it, when I stroll over to my friends' Mike and Luane's place.  The other day I was sort of time machined by the squealing of a few of the girls: so high pitched and random: never changes, never will... thank God.  Dennis Lehane has a kind of extended ode to such behavior as part of the healing and grieving process by his father in the incredible Mystic River... it made me really admire Lehane's grasp of real fatherhood, and love.)  Let me try this again... picture this: a giant playground where happily squealing kids are running around American style (not doing martial arts, for crying out loud) about as organized as you can well imagine.  All the sudden, the sun rises a bit higher, things heat up a bit and every single kid grabs another kids hand in in strict formation pinwheels like some Cirque de Soleil skit.  The teachers are delighted until they realize... there's no stopping it, as long as the sunshine flows, the kids pirouette....   those annoying little shits have become dancing zombies (what'll we tell the parents?)

This is more or less what happens to the water molecules; it's strange, extremely strange, since below a certain temperature, the water molecules dart about like any fluid must, when not frozen: randomly moving about, without a lick of organized movement.  But the moment the Benard-Rayleigh convection cells form (at just below boiling temp): suddenly a molecule moves in a relatively tight formation (though huge for the molecule, given that there's 10 E23 of them per cell...)   As long as the heat remains (energy flow) a "structure" of cycling molecules is maintained across the shallow pool of heated water.  

Throughout the rest of the book Ho makes arguments for energy to create other, perhaps not similar, but you might say, similar enough, emergent structures.  Other cycles, energetic, chemical and material, are evidenced for scrutiny of the physics at play within living things.

In a previous post about falling electrons (I've been rereading this incredible book for almost four months) I mentioned the rattling around that a unit of energy has to do, through the structure of the biosphere.  This rattling around, amounts to the obstacle course that ecosystems put up, which in effect is what allows life to rob entropy blind.  So while things wind down, anyone who knows me, knows that I (something of a lifeform) don't wind down in the least.  

Interestingly, for folks bored silly by all this biology talk, there are implications from these very questions at the bleeding edge of studies done on energy creation, storage, (fuels) and policy.  In other words: the rising costs of energy, and the seemingly endless questions surrounding where we might get the electrons we need without begging alchemists for suggestions.  How much energy is in the worlds biomass?  A very interesting question, indeed, discussed by one of my favorite professors at MIT, whom I have been watching the lectures of for the last year, and who influenced my views on energy enormously.  He received an enormous grant from the recently unveiled partitioning of the DOE's stimulus money.  I wrote a blog entry on it a few weeks ago, given that I am considering investing in his commercialization of electrolysis.  His lab developed a special catalyst to split dirty water, at lower temperature, and atmospheric pressure, than the state of the art electrolysis machines.  Read: cheaper hydrogen.  This gentleman, Dr. Dan Nocera, has an arresting way of looking at energy, around the world.  And after you hear his views on how our Earth's population is going to consume energy, you will realize how implicitly uncompassionate  even our most pedestrian views about global policies are: we depend heavily on the poverty of others, so as not to have to share in a common endeavor.  I'd love to hear some of my less thoughtful friends ponder these things, for the solutions are hardly available through even the best of thoughtful lifestyles.  Solutions like building one nuclear power plant A DAY, for the next forty years, to have even a fraction of the energy we will need.  Nuclear power is a dead end, globally.  But you won't hear that frequently.  I mention all this, because Dr. Nocera is one of the more admired surveyors of estimation of global biomass energy.  His numbers speak to how much energy is in our total global biomass (whether burned, or turned into biofuels, total energy.  Here's a link to his incredible talk on MIT World: you should watch him.  Be advised however, he's a Doctor, Jim, not a course of Paxil.  You might have trouble sleeping should you listen very carefully.  If you give a ^&$% about human beings.  You do... you really do.

So, lest you think I've gotten off the topic.... I HAVE NOT.  I promise.  For Ho, in The Rainbow and The Worm has a few things to say about storage in the biosphere:

(don't worry about these numbers too much. they're real, and interesting, but not at the heart of why I am sharing this excerpt....)

Ho writes:  Unlike chemical species, however, energy cannot be tagged, for example, with a radioactive label, and its fate followed through the system; so the residence time for energy cannot be measured directly.  However, as the flow of energy into the biosphere is always accompanied by the flow of materials, especially CO2, into the system , the mean residence time for energy can be taken as the mean residence time for carbon in the system.   (Cont.) The size of the various carbon pools on the surface of the earth has been estimated, giving the toal biomass (both living and dead) on land and in the sea ats 2.9 X 10 E18 gm and 10.03 X 10 E18 gm, respectively.  The values for carbon flow, i.e., the total fixed by photosynthesis per year, on land and in the ocean, are respectively, 0.073 plus or minus 0.018 X10 E18 gm and 0.43 plus or minus 0.3 10 E18 gm.  Putting these values into the Flow of Species  formula :

Flow of species = Total amount of the species in the system/ Mean residence time

gives residence times of 40 years (on land) and 21.8 years (in the ocean) repectively. (!!!!)  

(briefly... I ask you to ponder that for a moment.  That's how long it takes carbon to "cycle."  And this material cycling of forty years duration, and 21 years duration for land and sea, is presented to stand in as a material shadow, for energy, material and energy flows being siblings of equivalent scale and relevance.  How lucky I am that such simple stuff can make me so very, very happy. Now for a little more funky "Ho down"....)

An interesting question arises here: what is the significance of the long residence time  of the energy that comes to the biosphere in photons from the sun?  The energy of the photon meanders through innumerable cycles and epicycle of metabolism such that it is released and stored in small packets ready for immediate utilisation or in medium term depots such as gradients and fields to longer term deposits in the form of glycogen and fat, and even longer term depots in the form of fossil fuels.  The efficiency (and perhaps stability) of metabolism is associated with this drawn-out web of coupled energy transfer, storage and utilisation within the highly differentiated space-time structure of the organism and, in the case of ecological systems, the ecological communities of organisms.  Metabolic and structural complexity prolongs the energy residence or storage time, perhaps by an equal occupation of all storage times (or all storge space times), affording the organism an efficient and stable living.  

So, not only are the falling electrons of the biosphere captured in high energy bonds, which then give and degrade and change through the "innumerable" cycles, and "space"/"time" of the biosphere, but the entirety of this extremely complex pinball machine, serves possibly to stabilize, and smooth out both the mega structure of the biosphere and the individuated structures of the organism, one being something of a fractal of the other.  See what I mean, Ho is a poet of energetics and our physical realm.

In future posts I would like to discuss a little more closely some of the things I have learned from Ho, and from another book, Oliver Morton's Eating the Sun, about photosynthesis.  The mechanisms life has at it's employ operate in a manner quite unlike the tools we utilize to accomplish the tasks we sometimes imagine as similar to the mandates of "living things."  The truth about the engines of the biosphere is far weirder, and more wondrous than our fleshed out metaphors could attempt to mimic.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Free" is NOT The New Black

Everywhere you turn, should you turn to the media, you find people discussing the supposedly riveting concept of "free."  Free is the new black.  Info wants to be free.  Blah blah blah.  Much of this seems, as intelligent observers sometimes manage to concede, to be apologist rhetoric for mass theft of intellectual property.  Sucking it to the record companies is a lot less abjectly immoral when the songs just wanted to jump into your ear.  And I have to hand it to the previous kings of music distribution, the greeting card is possibly no less immoral a device for intellectual property (a song) than some super small time thieves' hard drive.  Though, don't quote me on that.  Theft is theft.  Not greeting cards.

What's odd is how thoroughly very intelligent people seem to ignore the tempest in a teapot nature of this seemingly interesting subject.  Terabytes of data are large amounts, yes.  And much of this is more or less in the public domain (or available with a library card, or student ID) sure.  And it is super interesting that such a service has become available due to the classic scalability of systems.  Definitely!  But axioms should not apply to service this phenomenon, that pretend to say something new.  The water company provides water very cheaply, where I live, but it is hardly free.  Merely consumed ubiquitously.  Not free.  And it don't want to be.

Same with other "utilities."  A word that, unlike "free" deserves to grow in usage and relevance.  The truth is that "free" as we experience it in the digital realm, is (as everyone knows) not free.   It is paid for by elaborate structures that belie its seeming simplicity, in an aping of nature, not in release of her "surly" bonds.  If anything, in greater service to them.

Aren't humans funny?  Though many of us hurt when walking due to arthritis, it is rarely posited as a human dream to "simply be able to walk without pain."  The old man I live with put this in an unintentionally hilarious way one night when, over dinner, he said in a slight mockery of grace, "God bless those who can swallow!"  His point?  Sometimes, swallowing can be a struggle.  So enjoy it while you can.

And so it is with "free."  We experience greater ease and access to something, and come to nearly supernatural conclusions (sometimes elaborating at 350 pages of nonsense, knowing people are gluttons for fantasy, despite the nose on their face.)  Imagine if all the nonsense on the internet, including these fantastic denizens of the "ultimate sale" were somehow to provide their concepts for peer review.  I wonder what sort of attitude the Second Law of thermodynamics would have toward the sudden appearance in human history of something for nothing?  Oh yeah... there's something for nothing, just about everywhere you go in the world.  And hiding behind the celebratory signage are the sobering facts that con-artists leave out.  These claims are not sometimes a scam.  The are not the new black.  They are always a scam.  Always a diversion.  Always a shell game.  Almost always cleverly just to the left or right of the MAIN THING (for example, your value system:  put more bluntly, your rather fickle desire to "make a difference.")  The examples litter history, and how often are they clothed in the finery of progressivism?  Frequently.  Ah, the good of the people rests on theft from the big shots.  Somehow, as much as it would be nice if that were true, Beaver, I thought better of you.

Lastly there is the little matter of what causes "free" in the first place, which the so called intellectuals who traffic in this tawdry subject rarely seem to feel is interesting enough to look into.  Occasionally some wag will hear that economics and fluid dynamics can be seen together, dining at a swank place endorsed by Science.  Well... I should hope the two are comfortable in a math book together, but on a Friday night this would earn either little cache, don't you think.

"Free" is not possible due to some sweet little metaphor tidily escaping a genie bottle of compressed air, gas, heat, or other simplistic calculus, involving not much more than a numerator and denominator.  Oh, sure, such entities would be necessary to describe "free", in the manner such a description is possible.  And it is, in a sense, possible.  "Free" is an emergent phenomenon having very little to due with social good.  "Free" didn't care about your Grandma's water bill, just as it doesn't care about yours.  "Free" comes about due to the manner in which systems of delivery of immutable pieces of information were built.  Their architecture (servers, packet switching, and the software, mathematics and theory behind all of this) is complex, systemic, and yes... to use an overused word: chaotic.  As such, phenomena, which have happily been surprising us, have been emerging for years.  Like YouTube.  Few could have guessed the appearance of, market for, eventual actual demand, and underlying capacity (throughput) possible, for the "service" known as YouTube.  YouTube is commonly regarded as "free."  In truth, of course, its value was readily settled upon by the parties that bought and sold it.  And readily paid for (as some contentious observers worry about to this date) by Google.  Shouldn't free stuff be free?  Plenty of people who value YouTube would tell me I am missing the point.  THEY don't pay, so it's free.  And this too, their time and attention, and the value of both, seems to confuse the hell out of everyone in this discussion; just as it confuses the hell out of some of my friends who think their time is worth their self estimation (a very low value) and therefore never make any money, regardless of their skills, or opportunity.

To further elaborate, in a less popular vein, the Internet was designed to provide redundancies which, by design, have value, in the manner that a self repairing car would be incalculably more valuable than the sort we are cursed to drive.  Many of the qualities of the web are powerfully valuable due to their novelty in nature, and especially as in deference to some of the systems that grew in the natural world: like the social and economic dynamics of locality.

This Internet "system", or web, was not created to deploy the qualities that we eventually most powerfully desired of it.  It was never meant to provide, and never will provide, something for nothing.  That it has powerfully deployed efficiencies of scale and information theory, changes little in the maintenance of power demanded to continue it's use and growth.  All the while, it changes our lives, creating less predictable futures, and less relevant roles for our skill sets on the time frame of a human lifetime.  Ask an economist next time you get a chance, "Which is it, that most pressures deflation over a time span of the last ten years: computers, or recession?"

Computers have yet to be blamed for recession, but one of the hallmarks of a recession, the loss in value of an economy's goods, over time, is deflation.  And one of the greatest drivers of deflation is the most powerful tools being used across all industries to replace laborers, services, costly mistakes of inventory, and overall logistical choreography: Computers, of course.  These savings for Paul, have meant a serious loss of revenue for the Peter's who previously provided costly services that computers have replaced.  Hence intense downward pressure on the value of bookkeepers (Quickbooks, however, still cost's hundreds,) simplistic piece manufacture (laborers to robots,) "counters" and others who labor to "see it all" (spreadsheet and inventory management, as well as RFI tags, and other radio frequency devices that have taken the handlers out of much of the shipping and receiving industries.)  And don't forget about the more or less novel expertise of logistics players, like UPS, who reorganize local systems like the mail system in the former Twin Towers, which was so slow that people used the US mail, rather than brave an "inter office" system which was built to fail.

So what's happened to those of you affected by all this progress?  I guess you're free, eh?

You can't stop progress, but you sure as hell can call it something other than "free."
 I bought a chopsaw the other day, that was worth nearly $200, for $20.  The price of such tools has dropped over fifty percent retail, and possibly more wholesale.  There is currently a consolidation amongst the largest players in the power tool world: significantly Stanley Tools, and Black and Decker (maker of Dewalt) wish to merge their famous yellow badges.  Gonna hafta settle on a slightly different yellow tonality, methinks.  But in any case, the change in cost, across our economy, depending on the sector can be astonishing.  For some things: like copiers: the makers of the device recoup the cost in servicing the machine for its life.  Automobiles have more or less worked this way before.  Less and less to be sure, but still a significant portion of the value of a car company comes from the dealers privilege to raise the "flag" and do business in concert with the reputation of the cars badge.  Any fool knows that service at the dealer is supposed to be a premium.  And costs reflect this for the customer.  And "value" of companies sure as hell reflect it as well.

  Hulu (the web video service) is from nowhere.  Yet it is a rich, reasonably ubiquitous source of experiences and brands known the world over, and seamlessly entered into the expectations of the new user who types in Hulu's URL.  Due to the fact that Hulu is supported (and they do not pay its bills in full, as of yet) by ads, many people perceive their experience watching Hulu as free.  And yet Hulu is considering charging a small fee in the future to supplement it's ad structure.  This perfectly demonstrates the perception of free, vs. it's deployment.  Somehow, free gets paid for.  By the rich, or by the relatively poorer.  "Free" is an emergent phenomenon of complex systems we just love to fall into.  Our pleasure, so rare amongst these well worn brands, is easily mistaken for "free and easy."  But hasn't that been the case since the first shill ever sold an otherwise worthless rock as an arrowhead?  Your sensations of novel pleasure are "emotionally valuable" and there fore, in a sense, value added.  What was once a [30] Rock, is now a sexy projectile.  Both of them are not free.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I'd Like You to Meet A Friend

(Muertu is an old character of mine, who I've had some very good times with.  In some ways for me, she's like a very old girlfriend or something.  In any case, I'm hoping to write a little Novella about her and her life.  Sort of a Genre fiction thing, at least my approximation.  I hope you like this taste of her, and I'll be posting more, as long as she's willing to answer my calls.  Enjoy.)

Chapter One:  (".... I had thought we said goodbye...")

Muertu placed her hand on the long broken door knob that was only slightly cool due to the fact that it was on the interior side of the door.  Turning the knob, like a game of chance, resulted in some strange combination of broken pieces within the mechanism until finally, three cherries popped up, and the door miraculously popped open.  You're the only thing more broken than me, she thought, smiling at the fact that she had a few years left of sometimes working herself.

Eighty seven years in this world and still willing to be cranky, she knew, the end would come when she found herself smiling too often.  She had managed to avoid the seemingly inevitable desire to be with small children constantly.  Books, the radio, the garden, and yes, a very occasional friend, were all that she needed besides the work.  And tonight she moved through her garden, simply enjoying it without much thought, savoring her slow approach to the street, and the path beside her house that led up to the ridgetop she loved in the manner of all terrestrials.  If you can't go up by wing, scaling a hillside should be the next best thing.  But then, even a bird loves a tower... what we love, must be in some measure what we need... our feelings sometimes our curse, and others our reward.  How many times had she been glad to feel nothing at all?

Her thick, dark grey hair, pulled into more a mass than a bun, swung very slightly none the less at the cadence of her efforts up through the trees.  She touched their bark, sliding her fingers over each as she passed it, in greeting, and self pleasure.  Of all the big troubles in the world a tree stands opposed... somehow crucial to everything else, but without need of even the slightest rancor.  Save fire, or windstorm, causing it to basically die, and fall through her roof, Muertu had never once been anything but gifted by these trees company.

A breeze blew just slightly more than the the dead stillness below, up here.  Some of the oaks rattled in their wintry death sounds.  Muertu knew she was a little colder than she preferred, but endured it for the sight of her valley, stretching an improbable distance away.  How she had resented this dead quiet place as a young woman.  How each detail spoke nothing to her singing ardors.  How entirely different she viewed the place now.  She giggled (senility should be a little fun) at that silly child.  How often it feels bad to have it good, was a question she'd have tucked within her, like a flower in the hand, when she died.

A hawk sat in a tree, near the edge of the woods, where pasture met the incline of the hill.  So still and quiet, waiting for a rabbit or mouse or other less careful being... making crossing of the grass beneath the sky.  Muertu could not see it terribly well, there at the bottom of the hill, through the trees.  But she could see well enough it fall to the ground, then take flight... with something invisible in it's talons (or perhaps a failed hunt altogether... she couldn't tell.)  And as a little girl she'd thought this animal was going to be extinct by the time she was retirement age.  All of life a fresh surprise: for better or worse.  But never according to the plans, and fears, of man.

Her regard for the animal benumbing the ache of her day, flew nearly as fast away, as Muertu startled to the vibration in her pant pocket.  Damn... why did I forget to leave this demon home?

"Yes," said Muertu.
"Boss, we found your old friend..."
Muertu dropped the phone from her ear, for a few seconds, looked for the hawk, but could not see it.  Things lost and found... so long and she had nearly forgotten.
"Jesse is she alive?"
"Oh yeah, she's more or less in perfect health.  Two and one half hours from Alsterbern.  You could see her tonight, if she'd have you."
"She's not going to want to see me.  Christ, I have thought she was dead so long, I can't believe this."
"Well, right or wrong, we now don't know how the story ends, Dr. Saco."
"Thank you Jesse, I'm on my ridgetop just now,"
"That sounds like you,"
"There are times I wish my home was more or less my description.  But as you know, were that the case, I wouldn't have to take your God damned calls."
"Nor my company, Boss.  I've always somehow enjoyed the fact that we weren't friends.  I like you more than a number of my friends. Strange, but true."
"Pity will win any number of accolades, Jesse... but you've lots of time to be pressed beneath the burden of that truth."
"See what I mean... strange.  I suppose you'll call me, I don't wish to injure your feelings with any further attempts at contact.  Is it even remotely possible that I'll receive your instructions?  Or can I go open a bottle with my wife?"
"Drink with your wife, should it be necessary, I'll drive."
"Oh, that's good, 'cus when she learns I'm working tonight, sobriety isn't going to help matters."
"Like you said, Jesse, it is convenient  for all concerned that we are not friends.  As it stands, you'll hear from me when I need you."
"Ok, Boss."
"Thank you, Jesse."

Muertu dropped the phone back in her pocket after turning it off.  The fading light of the sky, released the spinning forms in her mind, and as per usual in such circumstances, what appeared to be ghosts wandered the sky and pathway with her.  Good heavens.... Saraheim, how have you made it this far.  Muertu had never expected to live this long.  Though, she had never expected to die, and even today, it seemed deeply unlikely.  Which made no sense for an old woman to think.  But there it is.  She had always expected Saraheim to die young, and when she disappeared?  There was no need to over think it.  A woman without a soul in the world knows ecstasy enough, and danger, to be lost in the snowdrifts of consequence, without note by anyone.  No one named her loss as a tragedy, or as even newsworthy.  Even Muertu, once so close to the woman they could finish one another's sentences (and fight until a miserable silence realigned their estimation of one another,) found herself calmly accepting the inevitable.  Was having lived so close to death for so long, and dying a tragedy?  Muertu coldly thought it unfair to equate Saraheim's death with real tragedy.  She was sad, but felt little confusion on the subject.

But now, as was always the case with their friendship, this news brought fresh uncertainty, old worry, and tired curiosity.  Even an old crone with that woman's blood... this is going to be a bitch; she always was. 

Muertu passed the quietly heroic trees, which waited out the mysteries of the world, she was cursed to parse.  And slowly, in as much foreboding, as arthritis, found her way back to the door's broken handle.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Deck The Halls (with Daddy's Folly)

Stopped at a cafe in town today, and since I've known it's proprietor for ten years, sat down (bad idea, I was tired and I felt even more so, once sitting) and chatted with her and a mutual friend of hers and mine, and the friends daughter.  The proprietor and her friend were decorating the Christmas tree with what looked to be 1000 ornaments encircled by neon signs of christmas lights.  It was very Vegas, very bright.

Anyhow, most of what they were saying had to do with Christmas Tree strategy, so I looked over at the girl, Megan, and said, "say Megan, why aren't you helping them?"

Megan was staring deep into the eyes of the Universal Teenage Phone Thingy, and was kind enough to raise her eyebrows in salute.  "I'm talking to Chris," she said.

"And Chris is your great uncle, from Peduka?" I asked her.

Funny snorting sounds erupted from behind a star on top of the Christmas tree, with a hand wiggling it into a semblance of uprightness.

"No..." said Megan, looking away from the UTPT and up to the tin ceiling of the cafe, "Chris is my boyfriend in Atlanta... and Mom, he has the money next week."

I had no idea what that meant.  Mom said, "well, your going to use it wisely, not foolishly, huh?"

"Oh, of course!" said the fifteen year old.  I raised my eyebrows this time.

"None of my business, of course," I said, "but what money, from where.  Is he a crack dealer  or something?"

More snorts from the approximate position of a tinfoil jacketed gingerbread man.

"Of course not," she shrieked in mock teenage alarm, while texting on some awful subject.  "His father died and left him money, which he will be getting next week."

"Your kidding..."

"No," she smiled, looked me in the eye for the first time, and actually dropped her phone to her side, just to think without distraction, on this golden thought.

"So... uh, I'm curious..." I asked her, "outside of his dead fathers money, what exactly does this guy do for you?"

A chorus of, "That's mean, Andy." Came from the Christmas tree.

"It is?" I asked them, turning around. "My fifteen year old friend who won't graduate from high school for three years, has designs on an inheiritence owed to a boy her age, by his DEAD father, and I'm mean for wondering why the money is even a conversation piece by a mere love interest.  I'm mean?  What does this money have to do with anything even possibly good. My God, she's fifteen."

Everyone just looked at Scrooge.  "Sorry I'm being mean," I told Megan, "'cus, I guess the real truth is that you really love this guy, huh?"

"Oh yes," said, Megan, "and you weren't too mean, I can't understand what your saying anyhow."

"Well, it's hard for everyone to text and think," I said, "and besides, I am definitely a boring guy."

She read the remaining sentence in her UTPT, and sort of startled when she realized I had stopped talking.  "Why do you say... you say you're definitely a boring guy?  Why?"

"Well isn't it obvious," I explained, "my Dad's alive and well."

The Christmas tree fell over...

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Lost Book Of Names

Hello to those of you I have never seen identified on this Blog.  I like you a great deal as well, and do not care as to whether you comment or not.  These words are for our people.  And that is you.  A friend of mine, Midnight, reminded me of this just now.  And she wrote the letter some time ago.  How powerful her words, to bring me back here, yes...  

Whether you comment or not, hello.  I suppose science has laid to rest the function of prayer.  And your prayers are felt by me. Thank you.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Making an Ass Out Of You and Me

I've mentioned before how astonishing I find this meta conversation that Blogging (and other computer aided conversation) is.  Well, in my last post I wrote of my fascinating family who really mix the loving and accepting with small grace notes of profundity (the Colts!) as we celebrate our lovely lives together.  A number of you responded with words that delighted me for more than an hour, yesterday, as I attempted to consider not only the meaning they had added to my meditation, but also the significance of them to my life.  You people are a piece of work.  Real piece of work.  And you add to my happiness.  A great deal.

In any case, when I returned to my computer today, I wanted to remind myself, before posting something new, what was so wonderful about yesterday.  There was a new comment, from Mule.  In the comment Mule expanded on some things he had hinted at before to me in other comments.   He's been a somewhat politically conflicted guy his whole life.  He's worked hard, and lived somewhat hard, his whole life.  He feels old, but unlike some, as they near their golden years (he's only 57) his perspectives have not hardened into a disinterested apathy.  No, his perspectives have grown in their breadth and expanse, to be more and more inclusive of others... Hilariously, he voted for a Democrat, last election, EVEN THOUGH HE'S NEVER TRUSTED DEMOCRATS!  Well, Mule, neither have I.  But then... don't get me started.

All of the above was lovely to hear and consider.  But then Mule spoke about a neighbor he had met when he was invited to dinner with her and and her husband.  "Kind decent people.  Her husband is away at evenings and I started visiting the wife when her husband works.  She told me I was welcome any time.  She always gave me delicious food every time I visited.  Turkey, cheese, hamburgers, you name it man.  She told me a lot about her life.  Her husband was appartently an asshole, never made enough money for her.  I told her about my wife who left me fifteen years ago for another man.  And my children who never visit.  This old man sits at home by himself with only a cleaning lady who visits daily. And some friends from my job.  So I suggested she should get over to my house now and then and use my swimming pool.  She was overjoyed.  My house is her house, I told her.  We had a hell of a time for a while.  I felt twenty years younger and started to putting on weight.  We ate a lot, Andy.  And drank.  It was a true paradise.  Then she told me half a year ago they had to move.  Why? I asked.  Turns out the worthless husband had lost his job.  "Alright," I said.  This country doesn't protect its citizens.  I never thought about it before, but when looking at this beautiful, innocent forty year old woman with long black hair, I felt, what the fuck?  I may be turning into a communist or socialist but I will protect my community.  I would not accept this.  I went over to the husband.  He was smoking.  I told him right there and then the poor man had a job as a handy man to help me with things.  I payed him $1400.  More than nothing, the man was in tears as he accepted.  You see, Andy, I look after my community." ....continues, "Lately, I realized this country should do the same!  People with money should help the poor.  Next time it could be me.  Or you my friend.  We aimed for a shining temple on a hill, but this temple shall include all of us."  "Freedom is more than words, don't you think?  It's bread and butter, ham on rye."

Well Mule, their are certainly some pessimistic and cynical wags out there somewhere that would merely see in your words the self medication of a good Samaritin.  But I believe you discovered grace, and like the Dancing Scrooge, found it somewhat difficult to keep the secret.  You opened your home to a stranger, when she showed you an unexpected kindness.  And you found, in these simple, pedestrian moments at home... what? swimming, and having a whiskey? a paradise.  One that was in you all along. But, man Mule, it's a hard thing to find, without a little help from our friends.  I'm so thrilled you shared this with me.

I do not think fiscal conservatism is incompatible with a progressive society.  We need not blow our money.  The biggest waste in America is, as you said, not money, but real "bread and butter, ham on rye."  Our real freedom is the chance to continue, to be free to be loved and to love others.  To sit still, or to come away.  All of which has been converted by a number of complex factors in modernity, to look like a credit card, or a paycheck.  Living from paycheck to paycheck is not only living without proper security to truly be able to see the world around you, but also living through that tiny little porthole called money.  And money cannot be spent on the same merits as love.  It can purchase ribbons, bows, trophies, and baubles.  It can buy a new Macintosh, and be the centerpiece of an evenings admiration by your friends.  But, living through paychecks will only bind you tightly to whatever economic system you live under, providing you with no choices whatsoever beyond the purveyors of your appetites.  A life lived by the brain stem alone.  Fancy.

You can stand still in life.  Even clutching your infant, who, I know, it seems like will die the minute you live for anything other than it.  But you can stand still.  With a bottle for the kid.  And consider what you live for, DESPITE your inclinations.

I wont tell any stories about people I have been loved by, and the happiness it brought them to sacrifice for me.  And I won't tell you any anecdotes that reflect the thick moorings of my happiness... the old wisdoms are nearly obvious in their ubiquity.  It isn't RIGHT to treat people as you want life to treat you... it is basically your only option (should you wish to ever enjoy your dangerous life.) Those who steal from the living, to conjure imaginary kingdoms in their short lives on this planet, are, like it or not, as deserving of my love as the woman with brown hair.  The rich are unhappy in the same proportion as the poor.  Only love, listening, joy, laughter, and the simple, endless truths of the great wisdoms of the world will ever cut the mustard, for this ham on rye.  A dollar is but a promise made by a bank, by comparison. So.... hoard promises, if thats your reality.  Or use them, like Mule, to love another, and receive something---- real---- in return.

Would that the eyes of the world be upon you, Mule.  But hey, I guess, in a sense, you really had no choice.

That you have made mistakes is the consequence of your suspension between birth and death.  That you have loved is the consequence of your discovery of something that ideology could never hope to proffer.

Thank you Mule.  I am eager to be a man like you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Keepin' it Turkey

Tomorrow is what for many Americans must be a favorite holiday.  I'm not sure Christians would completely feel comfortable saying it, but Thanksgiving is an awfully fun and easy time.  And even for the cook, what could be more fun than an entire day of pigging out (and watching football.)

Some families have lavish meals with ham, turkey, and god knows what variation on the usual table sagging feast.  Some people fill the turkey with oysters (which sounds like a great thing to try.  How could, provided the oysters were fresh, it taste BAD?)   Some people have a complicated "stuffing" mix (a sort of bread mixture that is put into the turkey.  Health officials have been warning the public for years to keep it out of the bird, and bake it in a pan instead, due to the fact that Americans routinely eat Turkeys that through the process of slaughter are infected with human pathogens.  The stuffing keeps the turkey much cooler, and absorbs the germs, protecting them from the killing heat of the oven.  It's part of the fun of the American "feed," be it BBQ, or Thanksgiving, to cheat death, break the rules, and give grandma a kiss all at the same goddamn time.  Hey!

I'm not really in the mood to ask a lot of questions about Thanksgiving.  I never really thought it meant anything but the enjoyment of family, anyway.  One thing you always notice on Thanksgiving is that every driveway is absolutely filled with cars of visitors, and people are packed in every house.  Of course, some people go to a restaurant, and order a depressing variation on what grandma can't cook anymore.  It's a great measure of the difference between what commercial establishments promise, and what, at the end of the day, even the finest can really deliver.  Savor for a shilling; but only at the right time, and never over the boundary of the sacred.  Blackened redfish for Thanksgiving, at least in Indiana, is roughly equivalent to having sex on a churches altar.  Even if nobody but God knows.  It's simply a fact.

Very few holidays in America, are about America.  Sure, the fourth of July, is supposedly about America... but if you bring that up at the BBQ, people will tolerate you, as opposed to welcome any sort of conversation.  You could say instead, "Have you seen that cat video, on You Tube, where the cat is inside a pair of underpants (even if you are making it up!) and the entire table, or patio of people will laugh and tell you their own You Tube obsession.  Just don't discuss the fourth of July in the context of American history.  It's like, fifth grade history, or something.  Know what I mean?  (say "know what I mean" with no spaces between the words, and you are getting close to sounding like a Hoosier.  Be sure to really ring that "mean."  MEEEEEEEN!)

Thanksgiving, however, sort of beats the crap out of you if you don't sort of realize its significance where the coming together of family and friends is concerned.  Always at the back of your mind, even if you're a surly redneck, is that this was the holiday that sort of nods at that tiresome, and none the less slightly true fact that America is that idiotic country where people break bread together who have absolutely nothing in common.  Of course, there are many other countries that merge many different cultures probably far more effectively than America.  But still... I more or less have no ethnicity, and it's been a long time since a date even asked me, "where do you come from."  It completely doesn't matter.  That I write poetry is perhaps twenty times more important to someone I meet than the fact that I am Polish, French, German, and Irish.

So, it's probably the case that at Thanksgiving, we sit with the ghosts of our grandparents and ask them, "why didn't you notice your husband had that funny accent... couldn't you have married a person from the home country?"  Then someone asks you to pass the gravy, and grandma's passions sort of make sense.  She was probably eating something, and noticed the guy with the hot-dog.  It was the hot-dog that made her do it.  We're Americans.  Hot dogs are important.  Pass the gravy.  "Let's talk Turkey."  Nowadays you'd say, if you were my age, "keep it real."  Same difference.  In America.  But do people say in France, "Let's talk Turkey."  I doubt it.  They probably say, "Lets boil a frog in the river it was born."  I could well imagine that.  Of course the kids in France, due to the global passion for the artform of the African American, say, to their parents total shock and illness, "keepin' it real."  Ribbit.

I  told you I wasn't going to consider this thing critically.  I refuse.  I'm going to my aunt and uncles tomorrow, and we're going to eat a lot, play Charades, probably go to a movie, and drink to the point where driving is a real bad idea.  And halfway through the meal a litmus test of a persons true American mirth will be dipped in each person at the tables soul.  What's this?  Well... my uncle, a great lover of obvious questions and I think a close observer of human behavior, though he'd never really make you feel analyzed or anything, typically asks everyone at the table, to go in a circle and state what they are thankful for.  This is generally not done, in case you aren't aware of this, in America, since like everywhere else, "what I am thankful for" runs somewhat counter to the basic observation that today is, as it were, "another day in paradise."  As in, one more goddamn day.  So my uncle ignores this basic tenant of the typical modern individual and asks you anyway.  And everyone says something.  It's a nice tradition, and like most such things, drives the sufferers of particularly bad humours rather nuts.  Which is perhaps its true appeal for me.  I could easily get away with saying, "I'm thankful that the Seinfeld cast is going to be together on this months episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, at eight PM eastern standard time on HBO!"  and everyone would giggle, but nod politely, and more or less mean it.  I could as easily say that I was thankful that I lived for twenty two years of Mother Teresa's life, before she died some eleven or twelve years ago.  Way to go Mother!  I miss you.  Thanks!  And my family would nod sagely, there being at this sacred table, no particularly jarring difference between Mother Teresa and the television listings (or for that matter, my appetite for either of them.)  This can drive a philosopher crazy. But for me, it goes really well with cranberries, mashed potatoes, and corn bread all mixed together, cold, in the middle of the night, my feet bones aching on the tile floor of a dark midnight... giggling with my cousins.  Let the philosopher have the aria of his or her convictions, and I'll take the simple, concentrated animal feeding operation of my truly thankful people.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Close Encounters With A Pimp-Bot

I got a lovely comment today for my last post, about my music.  The comment was more or less, ".................."  It appeared to be a link as well.  But I didn't notice that at first.  So I did my standard response to a new comment and wrote to the commenter named "Ladys."

"Ladys," I wrote, "I haven't seen you here before, but that's the longest ellipsis I have ever seen."  Later today I clicked on the "long ellipsis" and it turned out it was a link... to a chinese porn site.  What's funny is that I visited the Ladys profile page, just to see who "Ladys" was, earlier.  And I was excited to have a Chinese follower!  Turns out it's a pimp bot.

Come to think of it, perhaps I am thrilled to be followed by a Chinese pimp bot.  A custom tailored, "Ladys" killer, that we'll call.... Chinese Pimp-Bot.

I guess I am rather naive.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Music (finally)

Well... it's going to take awhile, but before long I will have every single song of mine recorded and put up on this little gadget in the sidebar.  The mixture of computer sites, and music equipment that I have had to learn about has been incredibly daunting... so I am sorry to all of you who have been so kind to ask after my music.

This first song is my original demo of "Highway 46."  I had just returned from Madison, Indiana that day, working for Habitat for Humanity for an evening, and as I recount in Domestic Neon (under Highway 46's post) mourning my mothers father, my Grandfather Wilondek's death.  And my mothers loss.  And my own.

My voice you hear, is singing the rough outlines of the song for the very first time.  As the track begins you  can hear the radiator hissing, and it's valves popping.  I like that very much, but my future versions of the song "might" be missing that.  We'll see.

Obviously the version I wrote in Domestic Neon, is the one I sing today.  But I am very attached to all versions of my songs (a bad idea, to say the least.)

I hope I can get all my music on here before too long.  In 2010 I hope to force myself to write one bad song a day, and quickly record it.  I know I can do it, and it will help force me into more interesting musical places.

The guitar I am playing here is a beat up old sixty dollar collectors item I more or less learned to play on. I had no idea that I would be so inspired that night.  I started four of my favorite songs ever that night.  Thanks Grandpa, and Mom.

And thanks to you.

Andy Coffey

PS  The picture is not the greatest, the stupid website was crashing over and over, and it was the best I could do.  I will replace it with an accurate representation of my incredibly handsome self as soon as the plastic surgeons work heals up a little.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Szilard Loved Utopia

He called you Moonlight, when he brushed his face against your cheek; his chaste gesture held more longing than a handful of kisses.  "Your skin is like moonlight," he'd say, tracing the almond shape of your eyes, and staring close in, in wonderment at the shape of your eyelids, then laughing.

"What are you laughing at?" you asked him.

"I just feel so happy that I can stare at you now," he'd say, as if your love had already been sealed and given over to the commitment and vow of marriage.  At those times he truly seemed contented.

With a world falling apart, and the adults, parents, teachers and all the rest working tirelessly to plug the holes in the dyke, you hid your friendship, and denied even to each other the fervency of your desires.  He met you in the graveyard, where the last remaining rational people in your town lived, and laid down amongst them as much in hiding, and in comfort, as for pleasure.

You lay within his arms, and when he finished inhaling your scent and staring at your glossy wet eyes, he looked to the sky and asked, every time, questions about the sky.  Your father had taught you all the stories of the constellations.  The myths of the hunters, the sisters, the scale balance, and the warrior.  And you would recite the stories again with your hand aloft and pointing to the slowly turning sky: black but punctured by a world that wanted in to the district of this darkness: a small patch of shadow in a solar system of sunlight.  He'd reach up while your hand swept the universe, and touch your arm.  And sometimes when you finished a story, you'd wish to see his face, and tears would be wet upon it, which you could not help but rub with your fingers, and touch upon your lips.  On such evenings the the two of you would come dangerously close to talking about some memory of pleasure, which had for so long been denied you.  As if the promise of his tears and your gleaming eyes, had somehow reminded you of a world where you both were not slaves to the insane adult world.  Where gravestones were mere chairs in which sat the lively ghosts of persons who had only known happiness.  A complete impossibility for the townsfolk alive, and yourselves.

All to soon the warrior, and his starry belt, had crossed the sky, and he would say to you, "I cannot look upon your face again tonight, for I must go, and you should too.  I cannot look at you." He hurt you a little with an embrace as desperate as it was welcome, and picked you up off the ground, and without a goodbye, walked back toward his home.

As you walked you thought of the larger world, knowing nothing of it really.  Except the awful looks on your parents faces when they read the paper, and listened to the radio.  Something terrible was happening; was going to happen; and surely already had.  You could not remember the last time you had stood beneath the cherry trees, you mother smiling in an unmistakable ecstasy.  When had your mother last smiled at all?

Four days later...

The boy who called you Moonlight was killed that morning, beneath a mushroom cloud above your home, Hiroshima.  All anyone knew, among the living, was a new normal of hunger, thirst, fire, and, probably most of all, death.  The pressing night sky, your hand up in the heavens, and the feeble thought that you are beautiful, died with your first love.

(This is a true story, of real children. She is seventy four years old, and lives at home, with her children, in Hiroshima, Japan.)

(Leo Szilard, a physicist, was standing at a stop light, in London, and when the light turned green, it matched one in his head.  At that moment he was the only man in history who had even the slightest notion of what a nuclear chain reaction was.  The reason:  it had just occurred to him at the stoplight.  Szilard was a very committed optimist, and believer in world government.  He believed the chain reaction would be used industrially.  Six years later, "she" lost her love, and Szilard, more or less, got a glimpse of the closest he'd ever come to Utopia, which, to his credit, he suffered for with the remainder of his days.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Perfect Day

A short time I have to be with you my love
But a short time is better than no time you see
So I bring to you all my posessions and would that you share them with me
I bring one springtime of robins one springtime of robins to sing
I bring you one summer of roses one summer of roses I bring
I bring you the dry leaves of autumn dry leaves will be helpful you know
To soften the fall of your snowflakes when I bring you your winter of snow
------Willie Nelson "Summer of Roses"

  One season is always something that another is not.  With yearning, regardless of the essence of the season, for something essential to another, but gone until it returns.  A Christmas thunderstorm might occur once in a great while but, in general, it should be a real option should one wish to exercise it, to miss thunderstorms at Christmas.  Thunderstorms don't know Winter so well, and go South with the birds that time of year.

The Spring is not the fall, and suffers for that.  Just as the Winter is not the Summer and suffers for that.  Just as the Summer will lack what the Spring had to offer, and one might yearn for a gift of another season.

 As Autumn comes into the fullness of its ripeness, we are  much with the peculiar dying of what we watched develop so recently with such joy.  We cannot guess, because we are human, that we will shortly be celebrating the holiday season.  When we are with the death of the green goddess of Spring, Christmas seems a bent and drunken plastic fakery.  But when Christmas comes, Autumn is not on our mind.  The swirling mythos of  human mastery over darkness and discomfort make the blazing song of Autumns display, seem merely the base traces left by something displaying the color of life, without it's crucial open smile.

When the Winter gives us it's seven hours of light and seventeen of darkness, we walk past buildings that in seemingly another life would give a constant radiant warmth from their sun scalded masonry surface, night and day.  But in January, the life that that warm, invisible glow seems to infuse in the topography of your stroll through town is gone entirely, and what looks identical feels as if it's receding right before your eyes.  The feeling is eery and you look to the sky for comfort.  Oddly, the Winter sky is more beautiful and saturated all day and night long than during the warm season, but it cannot reach you with it's cirrus so high and made of ice.  In January, only water can provide the appropriate respite from the steadfast refusal of the world to respond with feeling. Water frozen, or water expanding and heaving the soil.  Water frosting the windows into unstained, but beautiful art glass.  Water providing a dimension to the flat fact of cold that otherwise would seem a vacuum.  And when it snows, everyone knows the world is reborn, except that it categorically has not been.  We are repositioned to accept it.  It seems to have responded to our needs.  And we, therefore, refuse to believe this place so appropriate to the curious human wonder, could even be related to the dark, grey, place of feeble daylight that it shares a season with.  The power of our pleasure at a Winter wonderland is a testament to our yearning and twisting denial of the cold, dark, world.

And yet with all that, and in much the same vein, what should one make of "the perfect day."  The step out your door and the sun is shining and it's sixty five, "we have all day," all thirteen hours left of it, that is.  The perfect day.  Who doesn't see the bounce in the step of people as they walk with the astonishment that this is the same life as the one where they lay prey to a dentist.  A world informed by fantasy, again.  The same world, subject to the same vagaries of sunlight and water.  A butterfly beat its wings in a Saharan drought, and now the whole Goddamn town is smiling due to the Chaos of the thing.  "No, Andy, " they will say, "it's only that it's so nice."  And I suppose I should salute them.  When it comes to perfect days, there is the fact that they are beyond compare.

Should you be, however, a persistent fool (a cruel thing to call myself, yet in a democracy one risks a vote at every eventuality) you can't help but notice on the perfect day, there seems to be as much interest in the perfectness of the weather, and it's sheer compliance to the dictates and whims of bliss as a winter blizzard attracts an opposite sort of attention.  There is an undeniable persistence in the jocularity of the citizen as they spin their cane, or rock their hips with a new summer dress waving like the flag of the State of Grace.  Perhaps these revelers are merely appreciating things: students of the rare pleasures of life, and even rarer individual given the freedom to actually enjoy it.  I can't deny that a lot of people seem to fit that bill.

But, as you may have already guessed from my lighthearted mocking, the purpose I am attempting to embody with this Blog entry is one of asking:  does it ultimately serve a person to place a significance, great, or small on the "cool" of their day.  Is this season the one to be jolly.  And that, the one to regret?  Are you served by cursing the drought; the one that comes when it is normally very hot, and the rainfall not so much.  Are you hoping instead for the snowfall that you cursed at the other side of this ellipse of the sun?

Ultimately we look for any excuse to prescribe to nature the yoke of our feeling.  This is probably healthy, all things considered.  But antithetical to the wisdoms of the world I have noticed over the years.  The Winter day is not given its miseries by its action upon your body, so much as your total surrender to it's hand on your rudder.  The Meteorologists even developed the Wind Chill Factor  for the ostensible purpose of convincing people who are inclined not to take seriously the cold weather, and perhaps might die as a result, that it is colder than it really is.  More often than not the Wind Chill Factor is bandied about by the general public to make an mildly apocryphal case about how it really was.... "fifteen below....windchill."  The real temperature was twenty degrees outside, but which would you employ in a screenplay?

Sometimes, yes, the weather gets rough and the tiny ship gets tossed.  And sometimes, yes, some damned fool thinks the weather knows better than to mess with him, and finds themselves educated in a hurry on the finer aspects of a casket's interior (an undeniably innocuous environment.)  But, by in large as Randy Travis was surely suggesting in one of his songs twenty years ago,("as long as old men sit and talk about the weather,") people are going to find a way to speak to their preferences in life through their favorite subject.  And will their preferences be for what they are experiencing right now?

Only if it's a "perfect day."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Greenhouse In A Valley

Today was just the most beautiful, and moving day.  A few weeks ago I got a couple of calls from four or five people who needed stuff done. Of woman, the mother of a friends old employee (a gorgeous young beauty) called me a bit frantically about a greenhouse she was desperate to get into the ground before winter.  Her husband was too busy (and besides, she confided in me, he was frustrated that he couldn't figure the "kit" out. She was concerned about the effect of the whole project on her husbands manhood.)  They couldn't seem to figure the greenhouse kit out.  The snow would be flying soon.

"I can come tonight," I told her, three weeks ago.  "Oh, no.  Not right now... can you do it in a few weeks?" she asked me.

"Sure, just let me know. It's my pleasure."

So last night, after visiting my mentor in Indy, I drove to the Green's property down a road, North of Bloomington, which I had never been on.  The rode dove and dipped over ridges and down, steep and deeply into valleys, huge hardwood forests blanketed the landscape and small patchwork farms popped up at vertiginous angles.  The drive alone was like being in a national park.  And the Winter blood red sunset wasn't breaking my heart.  Having only missed one turn I called Pamela a few times, since the hills were killing my cellphone signal, and literally a hundred yards from her property, I turned down the thin ribbon of "road" and pulled up next to her falling down barn.

She showed me where the greenhouse was supposed to go.  I told her, "Great.  Where's the greenhouse kit."  She pointed to the falling down barn.  She thanked me and her husband shook my hand, and I went home, and was relieved to have finally looked them in the eye and shown them that I cared.

Well, today I drove back to the property, stunned at the unbelievable beauty of the valley in which they live.  It's nothing like a mountain valley.  It's midwestern.  But the hills are gorgeous and late morning fog and cows mix with the hardwoods recent loss of leaves, and an azure sky, to give all manner of feeling to this man.

So, when I pulled up to the house, I knew, this was the perfect location to be today.

All day long I searched and found solutions to that damned greenhouse.  It was supposed to be bundled up into a "kit" which was coded by little tickets and numbers and letters that the fifty page assembly book referred to.  Instead of such an organized "kit" what I found was a pile of aluminum posts and angles underneath a bunch of junk in the barn.  There were no identifying marks left attached.  Rain had soaked any and all paper and cardboard.  And a small pile of Raccoon shit topped things off like an Iron Chef.  I could see why Pamela had commented to me that she didn't doubt if I thought she was crazy.  These people weren't even trying.

That said, my policy is to enjoy the strange fact that in my life today, what would have confused me enormously in the past, and scared me away from trying things, I push right into and refuse to be afraid of these days. Every time the instructions turned out to be wrong and the "kit" didn't have the right pieces or identify in the instructions the right sequence of events, I just laughed to myself, that once again everything would work out, and at the end of the day I'd have a greenhouse, where Raccoons once stooped to conquer.

At the end of the day, Pamela came into the slanted winter light that had followed all the day through the valley, sweeping around the 120 year old Oak tree that stood off fourteen yards away ("There's a spring underneath that tree, and I guess the tree really likes that water," she told me.  Such a lovely woman.)

"I'm going to remember this incredible day on your delightful home property for the rest of this year and beyond, Pamela."  I think she actually blushed.  The embarrassing evidence of her husbands regret were being swept away by the bright glints of sunlight, shining off the newly erected aluminum structure.

"Were you hoping to start some plants in there, in February?" I asked her.

"Oh yeah," she said, smiling with scarcely concealed pride. "You never did get too frustrated today, did you, Andy?"

"More curious, then frustrated, Pamela.  I guess I'm not obligated to experience every complication in my customers lives as frustration in mine.  And besides, sometimes the world has really bad information, at hand, for an otherwise pretty reasonable cause.  A greenhouse is a wonderful thing to conjure in the world, and regardless of my amusement at the damned "creative" soul who designed this kit, I can't help but appreciate that you have now allowed me to go and tell my friends, when they ask, 'Yeah, I built a greenhouse today, for Pamela Green.' Thanks, Pamela Green.  You still think that I think you are crazy?"
"I guess not," and she smiled that beautiful smile.  I drove away, through the hills of this lovely world I live in, and couldn't help but wonder how that Winter tinged emerald valley came my way, save for grace, and the chance to be a little bit useful to the Green's.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tricks and Treats

The rain falls steady on my world, and 'tis true, to some extent, this season.  It is not truly cold yet, but the garden knows what my skin cannot.  In the garden there is memory, trained as curled as any vine, the long tail of ancient consequence, and its reckonings I share.  I agree with the mottled plants, the huge fallen Tulip Poplar leaves covered with the ravages of their short time up high, now, for the first time this season, somewhere I too glance with reckoning: my feet.  They: burned through and burnished with the accretion of a season of viruses, and new labors for their aging tree.  But I cannot shed my accretions, and so must sing with only emotion, this newest of seasons, my new scars, set down, and forever upon my skin.

How lovely, of course, this season.  The mouldering remnants of the still hot world, with the fruit of the forest and field, piled high: on sale of course.  The new colors of women's scarves and hats and boots, and the just beginning hint of a day still early, but lit by the fabled lights of man, near twilight.  The loneliest, loveliest time of day.

I drive to a new job sight, a home a friend has recently bought, and we pull, him in his truck, and me behind him, down a long drive, crackling against the limestone gravel that is the gift of my towns bedrock.  I comment to myself, since nobody is in my vehicle, goodness what as beautiful lot... the lawn and surrounding woods make a lovely secret place to live the fantasy of home and hearth.  I look over, across the lawn and see a doe...  a lone deer, tall and alert, but chewing something in the interstice of wood and lawn.  She looks as mysterious as the winter seems in it's approach.  I always forget the feeling each month brings.  I never can remember... since, I suppose, these are deep and inarticulate things, not well worn by the mechanisms of logic and philosophy.  I stand before weather, and cold, in the warm lit, remainder of a summer like yard with that doe: and can only know: for each of us time will bring what it will... but neither of us will choose the winter.

Of course, each winter brings so very many gifts.  The frost heaves the dirt in mysterious and wonderful ways, and heaves a kind of enterprise into me along with it.  The hunger for the warm abandon of different climes brings a frame of mind not available in times of ease.  The cyclical setting forth of supplies for the day, and buttoning of coats and adjusting of hats, is it's own dance, with it's own kind of sensibility and mystery.  The cold hands of a lover, cold lips, and shivering sound of a woman, as she half laughs and half shivers, is something lovely in a manner that almost makes it worth the cost of being a man.  And other things, surely, pay the debt in full.

The smell of firesmoke is something, regardless of its danger to my health, that I always consider a kind of incense of the winter.  The whole of the world tinged with its lovely preservative, meaning, and intimation, of food, warmth, longing, and everything else a children's book, from the perspective of an animal might call a "man thing."  Being a "man thing" does smell a little of danger and death, but also the life supporting genius of fire.

Ultimately, I usually dread the hottest months of summer, and love the Spring above all.  But a longer summer would drive me crazy, with super hot days, and azure blue skies, and the oppressive all consuming light of our nearest star.  The autumn does not only mean the winter, of course.  It also means the approach of my deepest time of family, at Christmas, and some changes in my work life, and practices, which come in handy, all things considered.

Also, all too soon, the Spring returns, with it's deadly threat of tornadoes, and all day thunder storms, floods, and hosts of golden daffodils.  And what would Spring ever mean were it not for these Poplar leaves at my feet?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Jasper Flynn is counting beers, at his Inn, at the foot of Vinegar Hill.  He knows one day his staff will tally up and forget to replace their theft. The bottles make chiming and chain mail sounds, sliding sometimes gritty and most other times smooth against their siblings.  And Jasper reaches the end of each series with the sound of two numbers in agreement, "damn!"

Honesty can make a man wonder what's come of the world.

The South bound Canada Geese spy fire to the east, and indeed Delores and Faith are bending down low to  plow tent stakes into the clay, their hips giving their arriving friends the ardent generosity of their asses, which later they discuss with chortals and peals of laughter, annoying the dignified at hand.  Burbling stew and glasses of beer spell warmth in the unseasonable cool of the farmyard.  Lightning bugs long gone.

Michael peers out in the blue twilight sky, between limbs of his heavily wooded break that obscure it.  He'd been cutting fallen trees all the warm season through, and now, with a sigh, as old as man's longing, he looked back to his wall to a lighter not touched since May.  A beautiful hand assembled thing that his nephew had dropped once and been shocked to hear Mike say, "Oh, Goddammit!" at the theft of the rightness of design, by gravity, implicated in the explosive ping, of the lighter on the garage floor.  But the lighter was fine, and Mike was in the doghouse with his sister for two months.  And still... Winter would come.

"Only in Heaven," heard Pastor Anderson for the twelfth time today, from Jaykita Paulen who had just delivered the news of her pregnancy, and the circumstances of its cause.  "In heaven, there are children, but no reasons... for them---- right?" asked Jaykita.  Pastor nodded his lie and patted the burdened child's shoulder, with his smile that had been the foolish reason that brought him to this position answering questions no mortal should hear.  Everyone loved the ivory in his mouth, and only he was left bereft of it's evidence without benefit of a mirror.

Mr. Nolsen pushes hard on the latch to his paddock, but it sticks just as fast as the last.  "Come on..." he says in a coaxing manner to the cold and neglected manifold of rust and old paint.  He lifts like he used to (until he found jerking to work better.)  And he'd already jerked, for some time.  But the gate would not lift from its latch.  He has at his side, a pile of broken pumpkins, brought by his old friend Gravey.  "Just thought these old broken things, that nobody wants, might get a trot outta' your cows," Gravey said smiling.  Nolsen thanks Gravey and gives him some of the dead last Broccoli and somewhat lingering Brussell's Sprouts, he had picked in the morning, before tilling over the garden.  He'd hated watching these plants fall apart.  It reminded him of necessary aches and dreadful themes.  And Nolsen was a whistling man (alone or in company), more likely to confuse the young, jaded and stern generation of today, than delight them with his aphorisms said with such feeling.  Eventually the even tempered, whistling Nolsen yells, "Goddammit! You cotton pickin sonofabitch!"  And kicks at the paddocks gate, causing the whole of the gate and it's two rotting cedar posts to fall flat, like a comedy prop, at plain odds to his plans.  "Damn," he says now softly, knowing the rebuke of the fates when he sees it.  "Damn."

Nolsen's  old, arthritic horse, Cindy, watches Nolsen from the next gate.  She's got her own paddock that he tends for her alone.  Sometimes he puts Tracey in to keep company, but this evening Tracey's with Nolsen's granddaughter, and Cindy munches thoughtlessly on Chicory, Timothy, and a trace of hairy Clover.  Presently Cindy hears the screaming of her old friend, and stops chewing, the better to remember when exactly she'd last heard it.  It hadn't been recent she knew.  So with that she continued to chew.  Then as she looked more closely at Nolsen she noticed the gate was flat on it's face or back (horse and man would certainly wonder) and the tall grass beyond it tickled her lips to look upon it.  She slowly walked with her stuttering hoof beats of age, and Nolsen, once he saw her, that old desire for grass in her eyes, forgot all about the Goddammed gate, and reached to the face of his friend, smiling, "Cindy."  Next to the broken pumpkins, now forgotten, he reached down and gathered a few apples from a basket his late wife so loved (and until she died, he'd thought pointless) and held their lightly scabbed surfaces to the wet sturdy certitude of his old friends teeth and desire. "Cindy."

I guess that about said it for today.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Battle Of Bob's Red Mill

I wrote this in February, 2009, and it's my most popular post with my family. It's rambling, yes, but filled with the nature of my town, and struggle. A silly post, yes, but a lovely expression of a silly man.

It's not even March and some of my perennials are beginning to sprout.  I'm sure that gardens have always sprouted in February, but they say nature's for the eyes that see it and my gaze has been elsewhere.  Most of my property is covered with wood chips from a tree surgeon who gave me his entire trailer load of chipped branches.  At the time I thought most of the chips were oak, you could see the grain (looking at the oak chips in my hand I kept thinking, "unfinished furniture outlet, after tornado.").  And I knew some of the chips were from our tulip poplar---- that was the reason I met the tree surgeon in the first place.  So, I was astonished that the gentleman just gave me all that wood (I offered him a hundred dollars).  He acted like I was doing him a favor, which honestly couldn't be true; all wood products are valuable.  The situation began to seem a little more sensible after I coaxed my tomato plants to flower and grow gigantic, only to watch their fruit just sit on the plant, glistening, and green.  My housemate, David, pulled a couple of big green tomato's off the plant one afternoon to "ripen" them, and I literally laughed at this ignorance, I couldn't believe he thought a completely green tomato would just magically ripen.  Well, lucky for me he isn't a complete jerk, for, that is exactly what the tomato did.  Turned bright yellow.  I thought it would simply rot in our kitchen, but it turned bright, bright yellow.  Hmm....  so the truth was that the wood chips contained at least a portion of  walnut chips.  Apparently, Wikipedia claims that walnut contains an oil, jujune (needs citation) that screws up any plant in the nightshade family, so you are wise to keep your jimson weed away from your walnuts.  Jeez.
 I got this great idea this winter.  I'm going to move my garden where the sun shines in my yard the longest.  I'm going to keep the quote, unquote, mulch where it does a fantastic job killing the grass (so what used to take me fifteen minutes to mow, now takes six), and I'm going to task David with procurement of vegetables once I grow them.  Suffice it to say, he made a fool outta me.
Another amusingly strange thing in the garden was when my corn ripened, and I ate about a third of it, and then what I thought were raccoons got into it.  Just chewed the kernals right off the cobs.  Something I didn't think about at the time was the rats that lived behind my house (and really everywhere in my neighborhood, I live in a student ghetto with tons of restaurants down the street.  One of my buddies who works really early in the morning says he sees the rats crossing the street, in a kind of shift change nocuturne, each morning.  Nice.)  I blamed the raccoons, which along with deer, the gardening books implied were corn enemy numero uno.
Then, a few nights ago I was watching the only television available in my room, PBS, and one of the episodes of NOVA came on.  NOVA used to do shows that stuck to straight up science.  But, around ten years ago NOVA discovered that story telling was far more popular with couch potatoes then instructional video.  So now most episodes of NOVA aren't about a specific topic of science, but rather rely on hilarious hooks such as "Newton's Dark Secrets", and other such nonsense.  Not that I have a problem with the show.  For some reason I just find it kind of annoying to constantly have something sing songing me to death, "here's a story, bout a lovely ecosystem, that was composing a very lovely world."  Yuck.
In any case, last weeks story was, "Attack of The Rats!!!", or some such title.  So I held my nose and watched.  I have loved reading about rats since I read Rats, Lice and History in grade school, or perhaps middle school.  By the time I was in high school, I basically read everything I could find about rats.  Needless to say, even fairly pedestrian tomes written about rats tend to disgust and provoke people. I was so into rats (not that I ever wanted a pet rat or anything, I just love learning about, ahem, real rats) that I think my fascination played a part in me working for Orkin Pest Control when I was nineteen.  Working for Orkin, you'd arrive at someone's house and ask, "Where do you have a problem Ms.," and Ms. would tell you in the pantry.  So you naturally would ask, "Where in the pantry?" and Ms. would say, "I don't know, I haven't been in the pantry for a month."  Needless to say, people don't much like the rodents in the world.
As is usually the case, the "Attack of the Rats!!!" show turned out to be extremely interesting.  Get this, every 48 years or so Asian bamboo forests flower, pollinate, and fruit.  Every 48 years.  Well, this is more interesting than it sounds because of two fascinating concurrent phenomena.  A) Every time the Bamboo fruits the local people know that they are going to starve that year.  They know this from the stories the previous generation have told them (or for the occasional very long lived person, the hunger they have experienced).  B)  Every time the Bamboo flowers and fruits, a plague of Rats seemingly jumps out of the ground, and devours literally all of the grain/ rice growing on the peoples farms.  Hence, hunger.
Now, Science can entertain lively debate, but must at the end of the day retire to a house of equivocation, lest it become english composition or something.  Where are Thoreau's "mansions of the universe" in the minds of the scientist?  Nowhere, that's where, until through the proper channels the "mansion hypothesis" is put forward in publication and replicated at some distance from the lucky sap that thought it up.
So, nobody in 48 years had experienced this rat problem in Asia.  But making assumptions is regarded by scientists as precisely the sort of thing only a fool would do.  So one brave scientist (who knows all about rats) listened to the anecdotes of past generations in Asia, and listened to Asian historians who certainly were well aware of a cycle every fifty years of famine.  This brave scientist decided to find the next place where a bamboo forest would fruit. He was hoping to make a case, with evidence, for the rat/ bamboo/ famine folklore.  He went there, and hung out with some farmers.  You wouldn't believe what a handsome family he stayed with.  The rat scientist hung out in the bamboo forest, or at its edge in any case, on a farm for an entire summer.  At the beginning of the summer, the local woods (and farm's) rat population numbered perhaps twenty or thirty.  There wasn't much to eat for the rats, so they just did what all mothers no doubt would do, had lots of sex and ate their babies.  Then, the bamboo began to drop fruit, and, bam(boo!), it's bamboo fruit for dinner instead of baby rat.  This has a very strong impact on the rat population.  How big?  Fair to say the Bible told you so.
So the rat scientist shows us, on NOVA, a novel way of discovering how many babies a mother rat has had develop within her.  It's something to see him grab a rat off the ground like he's fielding a baseball or something, then stick it in a bag, then suddenly he's back at the bamboo hut, sitting on the porch, and he takes out his knife to dissect one of the pile of rats he dumps onto the bamboo porch boards.  Speaking of porch boards, seeing the locals do carpentry with bamboo, and seeing how they split eight inch wide bamboo (what? trunks, blades(!?!) bamboo is grass, like cucumbers and almonds are fruit) and weave the split and flattened bamboo into house walls, it's like seeing the world "handmade".  I'm thinking of a novel by the guy who wrote The Long Emergency, because it has the concept "culture as handmade" at it's core. If only I could remember the title.  For some reason, as a carpenter (on my good days I'm comfortable calling myself that) I found it just hypnotic seeing that bamboo house woven together. But lets get back to the scientist, holding a dead rat which NOVA refuses to show being killed, now poised with a knife just above the rat; now the knife plunges into the rat and just like that, the rat is drawn and quartered.  So the scientist has the insides (strangely lacking in blood) stretched open like an organ donor, and he points to what look like a peas attached to a split open pod, or beans, along the abdomen of the rat.  He points out that there are eight of these peas, and he shows that each has a placenta.  It is curiously fascinating, due to the fact that a person realizes that every mammal surely has this sort of arrangement within a female who is, as the British might say, preggers.  The interior of the female rat in this scientists hands seems bejeweled, and illuminated somehow.  Then again, this scientist is really something, and I suppose having handled a few dead rats myself, I should admit that I have never achieved his special way with rodents.  Not in the least.  So... then the scientist points out something kind of helpful given my personal history (in my yard) with rats.  He points to these little buds coming off the reproductive apparatus of the rat.  What are they coming off? An ovary? A uterus?  The buds must be within, or attached to a uterus, but I couldn't really recognize much, save the little pea like rats to be, inside big rat has been.  The buds, our scientist points out, are scars from the previous rats mom has given birth to.  For every baby rat, their is a scar!  Which made me wonder, do rats menstruate?  Having scars on their reproductive apparatus would lead me to believe otherwise, but truly, I can hardly wait to find the proper person to answer that question.  I think I'll ask the reference librarian at our county library just to see the look on his face.  Just the facts, dude.  So our scientist friend, with a big grin on his face, his exacto knife waving about, and a rat sitting open like baked potato in his hand explains that the little buds in this rat amount to something like twenty-six previous births this season.  Thats about thirty four baby rats in one summer.  So a rat with plenty to eat other than baby for breakfast will pop forty little versions of itself out (or more) in a season.  This explains why twenty or thirty rats in the bamboo forest might get a little out of hand when their food supply goes from subsistence to the land of milk and honey.  Geez.
And, this explained, what happened to my corn.  It wasn't raccoons that ate my corn.  I knew I had rats in my yard, I saw them every day.  They usually would sort of dart about the trash cans, licking some runny substance off the sidewalk or whatever.  You kind of get used to them when you live in a town that basically subsidizes rodents, catching them in live traps and dumping them out in the country like that A.I. movie.  My neighbors, who are wonderful middle aged sculptors, begged me not to poison the rats for fear their dog would eat a poisoned rat.  I tried to explain to them that the poison kills rodents more easily than "higher" mammals due to the fact that rodents can't vomit terribly well.  Hardly a bad idea, given what they eat, don't you think?  My neighbor brought rats up to me (believe it or not, I rarely volunteer this peculiar enthusiasm) because he said, with a look of amazement and scorn, "You know, I saw rats frolicking beneath the mulberry tree and eating mulberries the other day.  I think they are living in the Chevy Biscane."  The Chevy is an old broken down car that my landlord accidently let one of his oldest "clients", a nutcase, park in our yard.  The sculptors, next door, eat breakfast every morning, and have to see this ugly Chevy just past their gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous garden.  Why they don't simply sue my landlord is probably explained on the same page of the book of mysteries as why people in Bloomington, Indiana catch rodents and set them "free" out in the woods, to starve to death. (There was a man I knew years ago here, in Bloomington, named Sunny.  I mention Sunny because I think about him now and again due to something he told me late one night in the Kroger parking lot.  And I miss him unreservedly.  He's a great guy.  Sunny looked kind of like Nick Nolte after a bad night, except without the drugs, except, then again, maybe with a lot more drugs.  Hard to say.  So, late one night I had my hands full of bags of veggies and soda pop, or something, and on my way out to my car I see Sunny.  So, realizing the warm mellow honey of liberalism might just pool at the small of my back should I truly enjoy this man in an authentic manner, I call out, "Hey Sunny!"  Now Sunny doesn't know me from Adam, but having survived the streets for forty years, he was most definitely able to see a fresh mark like myself from a mile or farther.  "Hey," he said like a socialite upon opening her Salon door.  We chatted about the honeysuckle sweetness in the Spring evening air, and the comfort of the long days in the out of doors we both looked forward to that year.  Then Sunny began to tell me how he had been sleeping behind Kroger of late, and he was glad it was nice outside so he could enjoy the fresh air and his little friends.  "Your little friends," I said in a tone meaning , "Who the heck are they?"  Sunny said "Yeah," with that wheezy trailing Studs Terkel like tone he always had, just a beautiful voice, like you never hear anymore in movies or television, our obsession with realism being the monster it has become.  "Yeah, my little rats are so beautiful. The come right up to my fingers while I lay there at night, and I feed them whatever I've got."  This seemed, somehow, though it may well have been apocryphal, true.  In a world, even in Bloomington, where the gaze of people is filled with the flint that protects them from an involvement beyond sharing a sidewalk, I could well imagine the squeaking glee in the black, shiny orb, of a rats eye, catching the yellow orange midnight sun of a back-lot sodium lamp, as it nibbles the Frito's you share, it's whisker maybe touching your hand.  One things for sure, after a long day of people throwing Big Gulps at Sunny from there rusty Silverado's, I could well imagine a rat, with a Frito in it's mouth, may give the gift of gratitude.  Though, he didn't make  a convert of me that night.  I could only offer Sunny produce and Diet Coke, which I knew rats weren't fond of, from studies of rats in different communities.  Rats like what the people around them like.  So, in the obese Southern Indiana population, I'm thinking Broccoli ain't on the menu.  So I said goodnight to Sunny.  My good liberal endorphins peaking so much, I couldn't even feel the plastic grocery bags cutting cruelly into my hands.) So anyhow, while my neighbor was talking to me about the amazing sighting of rodents, I was conjuring in my head the veritable family of rats living in holes in the ground on my property.  It occurred to me that my neighbor, for all his qualities as a human being, was simply unaware of the natural proclivities of the Norway Rat.  Like, for example, warm dry habitat beneath the ground.  It would certainly be nice, from a public health standpoint, were Norway Rats to require a Chevy Biscane, like a Spotted Owl requires redwoods or what have you.  But, unfortunately for my neighbor, for all my flaws, he had picked a subject that morning upon which I had some rare insight, and it truly took all my strength to not go on and on, as I have in this blog entry, about rats.  Instead, I told him, "Christ, it hardly surprises me that that crappy car is breeding rats."  It would seem, that unlike the occasional crackpot you meet on the street, I have the ability to make eye contact and connect, even with folks utterly ignorant of the, how should I put it--- natural history of rats.   We spoke a bit more, him mostly going on about how bad an idea poisoning them would be.  I mean, after all, they were merely chewing on mulberries when not serving tea in the Biscane.  So I nodded.  Then guiltily went back home, feeling like I'd patronized him for not saying, "Look Mister, rats live in holes like that one." Pointing about ten feet away, to a eightball sized hole, with a little pile of rat rototill next to it.   The final straw came one morning as I arose, especially early for some reason, and could hardly wait to get over to the coffee shop.  So I threw some breakfast together on the stove and ate my plateful of food, then went back to the kitchen to clean my dish and pan and what do I hear but the furtive crinkling of polyetheline, a kind of sound made only by bags of candy in a quiet theatre or rats in my kitchen.  Sure enough, next to my coffee maker, there, up on my countertop, I was alarmed to see a medium sized rat, sauntering along, brushing past polyetheline bags of Bob's Red Mill something or other (trash now!).  Hmm.... I thought.  Clearly I have fallen a great deal since my days with Orkin.  Now, I'm the one who has been acting as if all those rats in my yard for some reason just had too much respect for my family to expand their circle of competence to include our larder.  Bloomington does this to you.  Almost without realizing it you become a kind of soft, smiling, vaguely African clothes wearing, kneejerk animal liberation bandying, head nodding person always saying, "exactly" (emphasis, not your own).  Before you know it the rodents are asking you to pass the salt.
I went straight to the hardware store and bought thirty some pounds of the stuff that comes from the company thats motto is, "yeah, we kill that."  It wasn't hard to apply the stuff.  It was bright blue and waxy.  The scientist on NOVA mentioned that rats love to chew on wax. I didn't realize this when I was throwing twelve once cubes of blue poison wax down every hole I could find in my yard and, expecially, my trash can.  I didn't put any in my garden, but it hardly mattered.  Thirty pounds.  Then I put it all over my house in those little black bait dishes, that look like pet food dishes (we have no pets).  I never saw another rat in the house, but man, they finished off all the bait traps in the basement in three days, and they finished off all the poison under the trash can (about one and one half pounds) in one evening.  They were extremely hungry.  Good.
After about a week I quit seeing them foxtrotting around my garbage cans.  And after about two weeks, the rat poison in the kitchen stopped moving toward the bottom of the bait dish.  It just settled to a quarter of an inch of blue poison.  And thats where it is today.


About two weeks after I decided my neighbors dog could eat my shorts, and I sort of lost it on the subject of rats in my yard, I noticed a big fat dead rat in my driveway.  This one was gigantic.  Not as big as World War veterans talk about in the trenches, feasting on casualties, but big, as in bigger than the one I saw in my kitchen.  About the size of a Quaker oats cylinder.  The normal oatmeal size.  I didn't want to leave it in my driveway, but I didn't want to give it a funeral for crying out loud, so I went and got some gloves and a plastic grocery sack and protecting my gloves (and thinking of plague) I wrapped up the rat and threw it in my garbage can.  I didn't want anything eating a poisoned rat.
A few days later I saw a rat nose sticking out of one of the burrow holes in the yard.  But it was a far corner of the yard, by the Chevy Biscane, and for some reason I savored their proximity to one another, and also didn't want to grab a dead rat by the nose, even with pliers or what have you.
I mention all of this, not to claim victory, but because the rats had a few tricks up their sleeve.  It is the signal quality of man to make things normal, so as to convince himself that his illusions are in fact mere appendixes of higher more absolute truths.  In our easy chairs, as long as creatures are not stirring, especially not rats and mice, we can tell ourselves that this is what it's all about, American Idol, or if you'd rather, NOVA.  Life is good.
So, when we look in the mirror do we see a human?  Or do we see a community itself, that happens to make us what we are, whatever that is.  The answer is obvious.  We see human.  Monster is other.  Bad guys are disease vectors.  To be rubbed away with Purell sanitizer, hypnotized with the sleepy aesthetic of geometric houses on geometric principles, just for the style, by design.  But the truth is we carry between seven and fourteen pounds of bacteria in our enteric gut.  You know, poopy has to get dirty somehow.  It ain't rotten food.  It's food, after you.  There's something kinda strange in that statement, don't you think?  Between shit, and food, is you.  Not exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to see on TV after the commercial with the woman doing yoga while she eats her probiotics.
The truth about us, is always a bit stranger than we expect, because the knowledge we're fed it meant to be tasteful, first, and enlightening second.  Probably most of our day we swim in the roar of the modern media apparatus, always being shown uplifting stuff that would have you believe we were living in heaven but for those damned terrorists.  But the truth is that human beings are filled to the brim with other animals, bacteria, yeasts, and other stuff we aren't so much infected by as defined by as persons.  It's been estimated that just over half the genetic information on that community of organisms that make up a healthy adult human, are other organisms DNA.  Over half.  This should give you some idea why genetic medicine is going to be so complicated.  For a long long time, humans have tried not to pay too close attention to the frothy swarms that keep us ticking.  Which makes sense.  We're sort of gross.
I mention this because I am completely taken with the shocking realization that the wilderness in this world is as much within us as without.  Our fears constantly maintain a hyper vigilance about the seeming boundary of our skin, hands, feet and senses.  It isn't there if you can't see it.  We constantly look for revelations and feel out our world.  But the exterior of our body is only that.  The outer part of an endlessly detailed realm and arena.  And it is a convenient construction that we have decided on outsides and insides.  I mean, disease starts out there, but inevitably flowers within.  The only difference between the disease smallpox and having the disease smallpox, is your nose.  And taking a breath.  
Something truly nasty happened when I killed the rats.  You might say nature had a lesson to teach me about control.  Something had to be done about the ever growing circle of domain of the rats in my yard.  They had broken their promise and invaded my larder and kitchen.  Now I had betrayed my lovely neighbors and set out thirty pounds of Warfarin, which sounds like a martial musical, but in fact is the same as the commonly prescribed geriatric blood thinner, Coumadin.  That's the stuff that causes most of the big bruises on the hands and arms of the elderly. So the rats drank our Kool Aid, and seemed to go away.  They did die.  In fact, I saw two dead ones, as mentioned above.  But there were many rats.  I don't know how many.  But "Attack of the Rats!!!!" convinced me that I may, by the end of the summer, and the slaughter of my corn, the the Battle of Bob's Red Mill, have had as many as a hundred or so.  Maybe more.  About a third of an acre.  Then again, maybe I only had fifty rats.  In my yard.  The lesson here isn't how many rats I had, it's how many rats I remember removing.  Well, you will recall that I disposed of one rat.  And that is my recollection as well.  At the edge of my yard, there is a headstone for the other rat that looks very much like a Chevy Biscane.  Those are the two rats I remember, out of a possible total of dozens to one hundred.  Why does that matter.  Well....  some of the rats went outside.  At Orkin we were trained to explain to people that Orkin's proprietary blend of poison was new and improved to make the rats go outside your house and die.  But that was total b.s.  The truth was that our poison was no different than the stuff you could buy at the store with the slogan printed on the side, "Kill Them, They Won't Come."  Trust me.  The only proprietary poison Orkin had was a type of fungus that helped with German cockroaches.  Someone found it in the Pacific Northwest or something.  In fact, Professor Paul Stammets with Fungi Perfecti (his company name, he is a renowned expert on Mycology) has multiple patents out on fungal pest control, some of which causes mushrooms to fruit right out the head of an insect.  But I digress. Most of the poison used in professional pest control is the same stuff normal folks use.  It's just like a lot of professions.  Someone to cry to.  Someone to hold your hand. Someone to blame.  Kind of like marriage.  My point about the rats I didn't see dead is that they went somewhere.  And the preference of most people when they kill things is that the dead things just disappear, poof!, into thin air.  As fluffy and insubstantial as a cloud, almost like they never existed in the first place.  Well, X factor, leftover rats in my yard (and house) actually did sort of disappear.  They died, you see, then some flies (I saw a few  Bottle Flies, the kind with green metallic exoskeletons, buzzing around the rat I threw in the trash) landed on them and laid eggs.  Then the eggs hatched into maggots, which enjoyed the frothing corpse of the former rat immensely, and finally, for those corpses protected by, say, a crawlspace, or attic, or in one of a hundred holes within a square block of my house, the maggots turned into beautiful green and black flies.  Or the regular variety.  So guess what began to beat against the inside of our windows three weeks after I ended our "pest" problem in the Battle of Bob's Red Mill?  A lot of flies.  Pretty disgusting.  My housemates are not the most learned people in the world when it comes to rats and flies.  Kind of similar to my neighbor.  The going theory on the flies was that it had to be something to do with the Chevy Biscane.  The rest of story, please, is just between us.

Andy Coffey