Monday, August 31, 2009

Hoosier Fisheries

Thirty seconds ago I was bid farewell by the host of the PBS show "Made in Spain." I need to look him up, he is a somewhat cartoonish, and fairly hilarious acting bear of a man, but the food he depicts reflects a kind of sensibility I don't see in everyone. Mostly just regional Spanish traditional food. I'll talk more about him some other time, I need to learn more.

It struck me while watching him eat barnacles (then collecting them off seaside rocks) and mussels, how dearly I'd love to see a resurgence of Indiana's fresh water fisheries, one day.

There was a time when eels, mussels, one hundred species of freshwater fish, even Salmon off Lake Michigan, all were part of what Hoosiers depended upon for a part of their diet: fish, and crustaceans from the capacious Indiana fishery. I need not tell you what happened next. It took time for the Ohio to experience the worst of our states industrialization, but even in the year of the Hoosier States admission to the Union, 1816, Chicago was casting about for a sewer, and Indiana's Northwestern riperian waters, being connected to the Mississippi watershed to which the engineers redirected the Chicago River, were eventually fouled by Chicago's famed slaughterhouse offal, and municipal sewage. Originally the Chicago River emptied into Lake Michigan. You'll never guess why they wanted to quit pouring viscera and feces into their drinking water.

It is astonishing, despite all of this, that even today the Chicago River itself is heavily populated by rich populations of fish and crustaceans (including tons of crayfish.) Needless to say birds enjoy this bounty, and so do we: human beings. I would not personally fish and eat from most any river in the Lower and Eastern Continental United States, though an occasional Great Lakes catch probably doesn't hurt me any more than the coal fired power plant that supports Indiana University, but somehow isn't reviewed to the same standards of air quality as the other coal fired plants around the state. If I can live with a coal plant seven blocks from my broccoli plants, I can probably ingest a few small fish from the Great Lakes.

But obviously what I dream about, and know will happen one day, is for the Hoosier archetype to look up from his/her golden hour glowing feed cap morning rounds about the silo, and remember the handiwork of the Good Lord. You know, the gifts of the land, and her bloodstream, her riparian waters. Almost any farmer, when you make a case for the fecundity of the land, will nod with the same appreciation, from their simple long reliance upon a constant watchfulness about the same. Perhaps staring out out at the freeway on the way to and from work has given you the same strong affinity for pseudo fossilized ancient forests: asphalt. Pretty amazing stuff, you know. If not, then I certainly understand. But the farmer, when they aren't giving up, or thinking about the hopelessness of their endeavor as an individual, has at least stared upon the land in a different fashion than you and me, and seen fertility and fecundity and sometimes even personality in the hills, and the plains, and the bottom land that pretty much summarize my more or less flat agricultural state. The farmer, might, at least agree that the land has a strange power. And I think it is a reflection of the financing of the farmer, and the trade organizations that have relegated what used to be works of love, like trade in seeds, and breeding of varieties, that eventually changed the farmers view (and the seed breeders) from one dominated by the mysteries of the land (or plant traits) to one dominated by the mysteries of Microsoft Excel.

Even the most seemingly conservative individuals in our midst, with the most inflexible of livelihoods to which they are attached, have none the less, the capacity to agree, on neutral ground, that the land is the thing, in the end, that is doing the heavy lifting. All the farmer wants... all she/ he wants is to get the seed in the ground, then get out of the way, to let the earth do its thing, God willing. Kinda interesting when you think about it, isn't it. Sure, there is cultivation (at least on Organic, or sustainable farms) and perhaps an herbicide and insecticide application, or two, depending on the crop. But, farmers know that the two actions that matter in the end, and which when delayed, or mismanaged will spell the difference between being allowed to continue farming, and becoming yet another civilian in the "work force", are planting and harvesting.

The rivers and estuaries (or tidal areas, if you'd rather) of the Hoosier State are shepherds and cultivators in their own right. They take from the still of the sun a dispersed sprinkling condensed of just about any water source, and direct that water to a long ago agreed upon compromise, a sort of controlled flood. As to whether the channel directs the water, or the water directs the channel: it's a temporal question confused by the quickness of our lives. The oxbow lakes seen from any plane flight over temperate lands will spell the evolution of a river, it's dance and change, it's supple acceptance of the rain's unliving promise: as long as the sun shines on water, and the sky kisses space, I will fall. You can understand not arguing with such an argument. It's hard to believe that the weather is animated by no intelligence whatsoever; it simply reflects gradients of heat in geofluids. Then again, gradients of heat in geofluids can be nearly as complex as some of the more basic functions of life. Without being too philosophical, it simply surprises me sometimes that rain is unliving. And that it's so damn old (as one of my poems suggests, a bit older than much of the Earth as we see it today, for sure.)

So rivers form and mold lands and deposit mineral salts in all manner of places different from their arising. Rivers bring the wet to the dry, and freshwater to the saltwater. They look arbitrary on a map (and I still sometimes can't believe that they can travel any of the four directions, the orientation of a map having nothing to do with their flow.) But there are geographic rules that have been observed, and can be relied upon more or less. By and large rivers dump from land into the ocean. They might instead dump into a freshwater lake, or into an ancient seabed (thus forming a freshwater lake, like the Salton Sea.) Or they might peter out from the thirst of the land that surrounds them, and end like they began, a mere trickle.

Rivers are usually surround by a boundary of riparian ecosystem, noticeably different from the flora and fauna even a somewhat short distance from the river. At the delta of a river, of course, this ecosystem expands dramatically, creating a huge swath of wetlands, that seasonably host drastically different habitat for the legions of creatures that learn it's habits. The most dramatic of these sorts of circumstances occur in the deserts of Africa, where nearly every animal becomes an extremophile for a portion of the summer, before the rain, and the return of the water, and green. No system in Indiana is anything like that, of course, but the seasonal rainfall none the less does effect the Hoosier States rivers and especially her ecosystems and ecology.

When the ecology movement turned away, in the 1980's from it's chief concern, being that it should be defended as a field of broad interest and many claims (and not simply "The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance" as one of my textbooks would have it.) the biologists who turned with relish back to the basics of their research in the field were astonished to discover that our enormously molested rivers (in America) were teeming with a massive diversity of species, despite their poor treatment. The rivers were far, far from dead.

This presented something of a problem for those who wished to continue efforts in clean water and air (conservatives and industry think tanks have had a field day painting the resilience of nature as shadow to the "paranoia" of conservationists. And human beings being what they are, it should surprise no one that protectors of the environment, are, sometimes wrong. So are Mom and Dad and the President and maybe even God. So what do you do?) In fact, our ecosystems, due to the clean water and air legislation of the seventies and early eighties, have rebounded significantly in many respects. Bird populations have soared straight out of near extinction for a number of the keystone species, which leads a person to believe that the underlying strata of habitat and species upon which the top predators feed, have had some stability, perhaps even success. This is in the face of an otherwise steady drop in terrestrial habitat for large animals, and sensitive pseudo wetland species like frogs, and salamanders. Riparian strips, on either side of rivers provide some habitat, but are famously popular with human civilization as well. So there is always the tension between civilization, and the complex unity of an ecosystem, usually not possible in your and my back yard.

My reasons for mentioning all of this is that there are many things I dream about that can come from rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands, here in Indiana, should we desire them enough to deploy a campaign of self recognition in my state: for the reestablishment of fisheries in Indiana. For the protection of the foods that were so long a part of our regional character: freshwater mussels (with what, can you guess that the native American mounds were made? Dirt? Wrong! Shells of fresh water mussels, and other species. Tons of them. I want them back.) Apple orchards that were established along the Ohio river, just as much a part of the National story of America (it's the Ohio, after all, and booze.) as a proud chance to point up, again and again, that we were always, since Jefferson, an integral stop on the Westerning dreamscape of our country. John Chapman, Johnny Appleseed came to this Indian Territory, and with a canoe sagging in the water from the weight of apple seeds, hit what today is our States soil with his bow. He knew a garden when he saw it (and even today you can feel the atmosphere of the Romantics, when looking upon that gorgeous glacial moraine that the Ohio both follows and defines. The hanging emerald forest and curved tobacco, bean and cornfields are enough to send a Calvinist straight to his hairsuit. The Ohio was the only thing that could stop the approach of the forest through most of history, save the fire of Native Americans, and the axe of the white man. For a very long time, a bird would have seen only The Beautiful River, in the wide ocean of knobby forest that the state seal of Indiana backhands, with it's frontier woodsman, chopping away, and a Buffalo jumping a log, still down the list for "extraction."

So, you can't give me a home where the Buffalo roam,
For even small ones require a fence;
But the waters are wide,
In this state I reside,
Wide enough, anyway, for fish.

I'm not kidding. It is fun to watch Spaniards falling all over themselves cartooning the delighted master of his domain. I sometimes pity my parents for having the desire to honor their own culture in this manner (and really, they go a long way toward this, but still..) but having to deal with the fact the Americans have done away with so much of the colloquialism of even our own local customs, that we sometimes can conclude that consumerism is the custom du jour of our people. It can seem that way.

This is not true, however. Americans when presented with an alternative view, to their own upbringing, or even self adopted habit, have in huge numbers sought a middle ground, again and again. Each generation wishing to gaze with Wendall Berry a bit closer to something less sentimental, but still muscular in this enormous gift we have from Sea to Sea. We have done the looking. We are not at the crawling stage, we are tinkering, we are hoping, we are changing, and sometimes celebrating. We will always have the insecurity of being only a few centuries old, and comprised of a recently integrated confederation of diaspora. Within such a confederation, one might find it difficult to bandy words about twenty generations of people on the same piece of land. Well, remember, we will have a fishery again in Indiana, not because of the careful preservation of a tradition handed down, but rather from the casting aside of assumptions and a placement of all of our hands on the yoke: for that's what we do; we move, with desire.

Then, maybe, go fishing.

A Song Flung Up (To The Seven Eleven)

Went to "Prayers For Peace" this morning. Had a blast. Could only have been better had Robert been able to come, but that is his path no longer, and I completely understand.

The minute I closed my eyes, after everyone was settled, and the Matriarch had said her greetings, I asked myself, "Why don't I sit in silence three times a day?" Gosh, it is so lovely to pray, or meditate.

The reason I don't is that it is not my agenda, or rather, it is not the agenda I frequently think is mine. I frankly don't think the agenda I imagine for myself, is in fact mine. It too often correlates culturally and otherwise to be imagined in any authorial sense. I have a set of presumptions, goals, and ambitions that I have adopted and call an agenda, sometimes. That's normal. And so is never stopping once to notice the sheer inertia of such an unconscious harness. "Prayers For Peace", despite it's early hour, is something of a slap in the face, given "my" agenda.

Not all prayer and meditation (one would hope) is lovely and effusive like a teenage evangelical, of course. "Dearest Creator" isn't likely to be the way I begin a dialogue. I doubt Mickey Mouse would say that to Walt Disney. (Some day your Prince of Peace will come, yeah?)

Prayer that is a thinly disguised apologetics for being someone so gullible that they are talking to poltergeists, tends to have the salient feature of simultaneously accomplishing nothing, and saying not much else. Usually a, "thanks," and "please give us some skin in this game." It's so freakishly common in the Christian saturated midwest, that you become completely accustomed to hearing the sing song nonsense. "Hey God, buddy, I earnestly talk to you about how you are great. By the way, I got this problem, or rather, my Brother Matthew does... Cans't you cast your generous blessings a little closer to Thy shadow?" It's no wonder prayer is regarded as one of the flimsiest aspects of the all consuming phenomenon of belief. It probably sounds patently false to say that, but it's not. When was the last time you heard someone speak as soberly in prayer, and as contritely to their Lord (Who, after all, they supposedly believe has intervened on their behalf, through a blood ritual on His kid) as you might hear almost any man speak in a court off law? You won't hear this, in Indiana, at least. Maybe in a Quaker, or certain Anabaptist backwaters (where belief plays a distant role to culture in the religious community.) American Christians are so busy fussing with the exposition of their proposition, their deal with the Lord, that they inadvertently become groveling idiots, before Him. A Judge has a booming, huge voice, but the Lord's is as advertised. And his answer, my friends, ain't blowin' in the wind.

So given all this drum and sturm (yes, Katherine, my opinion, just that...) it's nice to sit amongst committed Christians, and a Ba Hai (sic.) man, and just pray to something, for something, more like a workable field of hope, than Walt Disney. Sure, some of them amongst me might view the world as somewhat beside the point, next to the realm of their most proper intentions and perspectives. This view is philosophically challenging, and perhaps a bit magical in it's thinking given the struggle a human has in even accounting for the tiny slice of the world it can discern with our crude sensory apparatus. So we should turn our attention to some "no place" that amounts, at least Spiritually, to higher ground?

Well, yeah.

That's why I mentioned the agendas. A woman brought it up today, at "Prayers For Peace." She put it wonderfully, in a way I could not. And her bearing is so tender and unsentimental. These old cogers I pray with have been disappointed their entire lives by the world around them. Kinda spooky in that sense. But they all love life, and people.

We finished our two half hours, one in silence, and one where Quaker style you are free to lift your voice, if so inspired (Robert never manages not to notice the folks who are supremely inspired. This is the sort of low level mockery that gives friendship it's companero zing. It's probably screwed up, but a lot of fun. So there.) At the very end, the most inspired of all of us, in the Robert sense, and contender for crustiest man on Earth, John, was invited by Aase, our Matriarch (and contender for loveliest soul around) to say a final prayer, as we held hands. And John, without his usual paper rustling concordance of didactic commentary, whilst under the gun, invited us all to remember some of the prayers, and comments held out that morning by each of us. Then he did something genuinely lovely, and distant from the Walt Disney crap that SuperChristians employ to close their deals with the Lord. He took us on a tour of the prayers of people of the world, and sort of tolled a Global bell from Bloomington's seven in the morning, through Greenwich, England, and on around Eurasia and the Lesser Antilles for all I know. I can hardly remember so taken with that crusty cat's metaphor, was I.

So often I spy the Great Animator in the Sky, as an odd fellow indeed. Can't He see the fraudulence of His stupid series of covenants, with His Frankensteins? Whether He "watered" us in the deluge (and punished all but a handful of our pets, in the process) or He sent down wrath upon all the babies in the land save those who's parents had a taste for Gram Parsons minstrel suggestion to "paint another color on your front door." Or, He recognized righteousness in that pimp: Lot... the Good Lord can be relied upon for making some pretty cosmic "White Man's Treaties." And our choices, are always, it seems, right back at the factory store. Guess who's behind the counter?

[...and now for my "prayerful" interlude]

But the thing that gets me more than anything are the voices of the people throughout History, but especially right this second. Voices that plead with our CEO to merely allow for subsistence, or perhaps the health of their kid, or husband or wife. Or ninety year old friend. I actually take that back, for Robert has had a good life with the fingerprints of God all over him. It's difficult to accomplish that, but not exactly impossible, in this well watered world of Christiandom. But what does God make of the voices you know are whispering in desperate appraisals? So often I imagine the sobs of the world, echoing into the atmosphere, and out to metaphysical realms, and wonder: my God, if You did exist, and I don't think You do; but if You did exist, what do You make of these cries? Are they merely like birdsong, or the cicada on a hot late summer eve to you? A sort of atmospherics in Sol's neck of the woods? Are they comprised snippets of unintelligible Babble, given your displeasure with what the words had accomplished, given that Tower, and all? Or, Lord, do you hear words? Words, lingual, of the tongue that your fine fingers formed not so long ago, really. My tiny little spot on the timeline, bodily at least, is significant to me, and may, should you truly be as flexible as claimed, even be significant to You. But, certainly what proceeds glacially to me, or in the flash of a light, is seen by You in a somewhat different frame of reference. Call it relativity. So, in a sense, You carved the form of the tongues of these anguished souls who wish for Your help, something like yesterday. And know the animating power of Your intentions have sprung some Billion soul filled fruits across the lands, and while cruelly fertile, their bodies, their lives are not. They sometimes stop, and ask for help, do they not? They sometimes know the shortness and meanness of their existence is veritably the meaning of their lives, don't You know? Well, don't You? I sometimes wonder.

It goes without saying that should you follow enough Priests, before long, you will find merely a man wearing a collar lent him, by mistake. I haven't much problem with calling even these dipshits men of the cloth. But nobody is a man of God.

Can you imagine what a man of God would hear? Might he not hear the voices of the billions of wasted souls? Might not the fundamentals of his human sentiment conjuring systems be dented beyond repair, were he to sense what the Good Lord can as a matter of course? You better believe it. True Believers (not Christians, who deal, rather, than believe, in belief) who attempt a resuscitation of the world can only go until their cartilage wears thin, and then you'll notice, the gasps between their statements of faith, make for a far less convincing argument. Their hangover eyes have never teared up in Bliss. Not really. They are dark, hallowed intimations of their skull sockets. Corporeal signposts to the wishes of the big hearted: tear these eyes from my soul, and leave the holes to stand for all to see. The world is but a cavern, as the sockets that remain should amply remind an interested party.


That is something like what a prayer from me sounds like. Just a little reminder to myself and Big Brother, that things, whatever Walt Disney might prefer, aren't all that great for some sizable percentages. And guess what, it matters. As does the universes silence on the matter. It matters. So, before I coddle my most precious baubles and friends and family, perhaps I might bow my head and wonder why so crooked a man as me, can stand, and stand himself, from any standpoint of belief.

Though I did see a vision while John was praying extemporaneously, sort of Time Machining the good 'ole gospel ship. And that vision was something of a respite from the gaping implacable billion who are the bottom sixth on God's Honey-Do list. For, I saw briefly, that despite their circumstances, and their pain, that they speak to the Lord. They pray. I forget that more often than not. And praying in the hands of the least among us is valorizing to my conception of them: they are perhaps victims, even perhaps to an implacable God. But they pray.

So thanks Honorable Crustiest Guy, John, for the Prayer!

And apologies to Maya Angelou, for the title of this post. I couldn't resist.

(Her book, not my favorite, A Song Flung Up To Heaven.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

White Lightning

When I was a kid, I would at times look deep into the woods and see trees, small ones, that looked perfect for digging up, and planting in my yard. How lovely, a free tree, so small as to be worthless now, but with time, yet another of the priceless specimens that epitomize a suburban properties maturity. I looked at the maple, or the sasafrass, the birch and the beech. I looked and saw the oak, the tulip poplar, the gum tree with it's little spheres with which it overwinters. All these trees must begin as saplings, and without fire, a regular thing in the past, but almost never allowed today, they grow slowly through the dark of the wood, toward of patch of destiny that cannot look to a human as it must to a tree. The sky! Framed by the green glow of survivors, in a slow but relentless appropriation of light.

It gradually was made known to me that saplings do not appreciate being uprooted and planted in the domestic garden. For one reason or another, they just rarely survive the trip. There was usually also the matter that it is defacto illegal to uproot saplings in city parks, nature preserves, state land, or private land without permission. Since I did not know the owners of the woods to ask their permission (to this day I haven't a clue who they were) it was certainly not a good idea to go digging up saplings.

But the legal ramifications, all things considered, paled beside the simple fact that digging up saplings in the woods was a bad idea for the future tree it might become. It was bad for the sapling. In all likelihood it wouldn't live.

It wasn't till I was thirty two years old and reading Biology for a few months (and working extremely little, intentionally) that I learned what the reason was for this "sanctuary effect" the woods seems to have on saplings (and indeed, most plants there.) Perhaps a few other ideas might assist in your agreeing with me, should I share them with you.

Ever ask yourself why we rake leaves? The answer isn't completely obvious outside of the realm of cosmetic issues for the garden and lawn. It's true that a leaf will shade, and and pile of them, kill, grass. It's also true that a lawn unraked has the appearance of the classic loser bachelor, or depressed divorcee all about it. A part of the human condition seems to sing or cry based on the manner in which we tend to our pasture, and husband our plants. Even if you've never grown a tomato, or cut flowers watered to their bright abundance by your diligent care, you realize in some place in your mind that plants are cared about by us due to what ultimately they do for us, yes? They feed us, and provide us with beauty and hope. So we honor plants beyond our capacity to describe our own feelings, and care for them, carrying them silent as they cling to our clothing, just as they clung to our ancestors, safely to abide.

So again, why don't leaves hurt the trees in the forest? Isn't there something odd about the way we often have no leaves in our gardens at all, on the soil surface, and the forest is covered in anything from three to nine inches of leaves in a temperate pine or deciduous forest (like the ones surrounding my town that support one of the largest song bird populations in the world.)

Ultimately, of course, there isn't much that's odd about it at all. There is no one to rake the forests leaves, and over the course of time the earthworms and fungus, and microorganisms will break the leaves down to dirt anyhow. And the plants and trees rather depend, to one extent or another, on this process for the rejuvenation of the soils fertility and the provision of habitat for their own nursery, which placenta like, might provide a place for a seed to land, and even in drought, vouchsafe some water and nutrients.

Perhaps to you this is merely a stupid exercise, but for me, it was revelation. Why?

Well, I read a book three and a half years ago called Mycellium Running by Paul Stamets. In this book, in a very clear and concise way, Dr. Stamets described the various phases and morphological forms of a fungus. It was something I had heard before. Fungus used to be considered a type of plant, basically, although it was peculiar even then for the Botanist, or Biologist to consider something that required precisely zero clorophyll, a plant. They got over it in their zeal not two have three kingdoms. It's been done before, the three kingdom thing, and it never really works. But that's history, and fungus is tricky.

Turns out that after a hundred plus years of categorizing different fungus and mushroom (their fruit) in all the environments of the earth, a rather disturbing discovery was made that explicated one of the many prejudices taxonomy employs to, frankly, just get the job done that Adam started so very long ago in his garden. Many of the described and named species of fungus in the literature turned out to be the same species, but different morphological phases in a life cycle of such complexity that a butterfly and caterpillar seem round pegs to a round hole by comparison.

There were circumstances where a fungus would become a mushroom, but might become a slime if the PH were different, or might simply stay in its mycellium state, the bright white, hyphae you see on the underside of logs in the soil, or in Tempeh, if you eat such a thing. A fungus might sporulate, or not, and might fruit from spore, or only fruit from a mycelium saturated substrate of habitat (or food, depending on your point of view.)

The taxonimists had great reason to be so confused, but something had to be done anyway, so finally after much deliberation a third Kingdom was created for the Fungus. It's not a plant, nor an animal, it's a fungus. If it didn't settle things, it sure did distract from the disaster that the previous place for everything and everything not in place circumstance seemed to suggest.

I mention this because I had almost never paid much attention to mold, or fungus. The only fungus I felt much for were mushrooms and the bread and beer yeasts. I guess I should admit I also liked the smell of certain "yeasts" and other fungal blooms on the bodies of other persons, but I hope that doesn't offend you, given our penchant in this modern world for dressing our selves, for the delectation of a lover, in some derivative or another of jet fuel. Sorry to be gross.

Well, while reading Mycellium Running (and it's listed with a link below in my list of books) my mind began to explode with memories of strange magical properties ascribed to various ecosystems, soil environments, and trees I had seen my whole life. Like those saplings my Mom warned me against imagining in my yard. The woods had a magical hold on them, and when the spell was broken, the darn tree would never stretch to the archetype we have come to boldly expect from our many, many "giving trees."

The woods did have a magical spell on them. A very magical spell, that even today we have only the faintest descriptions of in our disciplines of Biology, Ecology, Botany, and Micology. Chemisty and a few others actually benefit enormously from this discussion as well, as the chemical pathways employed by fungus have transformed mankind's harvest for Millennia, from the rough fruit of grass to the magic of bread and beer. And those chemical pathways today stand in the middle of the highways we so wish to remain upon, driving our American dream all the way around the world, on a freeway of mycellium Biochemisty (what I'd be thrilled to call Love.) I normally laugh a bit at this aspect of the American dream, but a part of me senses my willingness to play with your mind is undergirded by such excess. So, should I dismantle too eagerly my support for the dream, the wax of my Icarus fantasies might melt as well. Hence my strange agnostic stance on the fantasies of my countrymen. And, I suppose, my gratitude.

So far, all I have intimated is that mycellium, the thready, white, hyphae penetrating form of fungus that seeks out bold new worlds within the substances spores land on, are somehow, mysteriously amazing. But why?

Well, the English have lovely term for compost: I can never forget their term "leaf mould." Never mind that they spell it wrong, I think you should give them a break. I read a while back that the English got the funnier aspects of their accent from a particularly charismatic member of the aristocracy, way back in the day (way way back) who had a speech impediment. This aristocrats way with the language (lack of proper speech) became all the rage, and stayed that way. Bloody Brilliant! Of course American Southerners have a rather broader pathology to talk about then one stupid Aristocrat, don't they? Rocks in glass houses... in Southern Indiana, no less. I'm barely a Northerner, at all. And I sound funny too!

So what about moldy leaves? Who cares about moldy leaves? If you really think about it, just about everyone you know has a thousand allergies to everything under the sun and one thing they definitely won't stand for is the inhalation of mold spores. Mold can at times seem a deeper public health hazard than the flu, or the common cold. It's "growing" everywhere, just waiting to erupt into our nostrils and inflame our lungs to a place of "chronic" illness. A victim's perfect agent for phobia.

Don't get me wrong, on occasion someone will just up and sprout a mushroom from their sinus, or what have you. I don't make light of Mr. Mushroom head, and his probably many hundreds of similar immune compromised walking substrate's for the production of fungus. But most of us should really pause if we're going to be disgusted by fungus in general. For I am here to tell you that it is a very great friend to man, and a lovely thing to behold today, should you wish to accept this mission, out in your temperate garden, beneath a stump, or an errant clump of wet leaves. Leaf Mould. Compost. The mold eats the leaves, and the cell walls of the leaves break down to let out humic acid, which for reasons that I'll leave to your physics lecturer is the binding agent in humus, or topsoil, or compost, or whatever a lucky plant should have near the hairs of it's roots.

The thing that people hate about mycellium, but that I dearly love, is it's animal like speed in spreading from an almost invisible spot of colonization in the soil, or in some old wood, or from a spore. Remember, it's not a plant or an animal, it's a fungus. And the reigns upon it's metabolism, outside of it's genetics, are not ties to sunlight or mineral salts (for the most part), but rather, as just about everyone eventually learns, to moisture and warmth. Mycellium prefers a bit of warmth (not tons, certainly not summertime warmth, but something like forty to seventy degrees.) So given moisture and warmth, this little Kingdom cannot be held in siege ftom just about anything. The tip of a mycellium hyphae (thread or fiber) is a growing, expanding powerhouse capable of moving through solid wood like butter, or human bone even (rather devastating to watch an immune compromised person's facial bones being eaten by fungus, don't you think? I saw a kid on PBS one time, a little girl, dying of Cancer, with just such a condition.)
The tip winds its way possibly due to a sensitivity to gradients of certain substances that it prefers. It is by no means intelligent, or strategic in it's mission. It is a scout, and sledgehammer in one. Bringing self through dinner, so dinner might be had.

This is fairly pedestrian as observations go: we've all seen mold colonize a bag of bread, or other food, and a sticky spiders web of "moldiness" slip from our hand into the trash, it's onetime value as food now gone forever.

The mycelium that gets me rather freaky and thrilled is the stuff out in the dirt. It's the stuff that really makes topsoil the valuable thing it was rumored my entire life to be. I always wondered, my entire education, why it was that dirt was so lousy, but topsoil the bomb. Books and filmstrips and teachers and television love to tell you how much topsoil erodes, but rarely do you find a cad calm and relaxed enough to tell you from whence the running off once came.

Mold, my friends. Mold.

There are a number of dead trees in my neighborhood, courtesy of the combined effects of Bloomington's tree worshiping mandate (you aren't a real citizen it you would so much as touch an axe or a chainsaw) and it's basic poverty of spirit toward anything expensive that isn't beer and food. So the trees wait, once dead, to finally fall. Yet more "accidents" in a world full of taxonomic preposterousness. If you are foolish enough to move at a speed where looking up at a tree's trunk is possible, and you should spy a mushroom fifteen feet off the ground, that should not bode well for the tree's health. It is, of course, the case that some hardwoods live for a hundred years with large mushrooms growing on them, year after year. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's a mercy. On occasion some clever scientist will do the numbers and estimate the amount of biomass that would litter our world were it not for the steady ministrations of fungus to pretty much everything: suffice it to say, that where you live would be higher in altitude. Quite a bit higher. And, the ecology of your area would be bereft of enormous entropic potential. For it is in the winding down of those complex plant life polymers that the cogs of entropy give energy and heat to our selves and our companions in our habitat. Fire is an obvious, though somewhat unnecessary chemical example of this. From the roiling eddies of heat off the gas rising into the sky within the fire smoke, one can see the spinning wind down of entropy and it's thermodynamic progeny. Who but fungus can order wood to such a detailed list of obligations to we hungry benefactors of the plants in the soil, and the savor of the barbeque? No one, that's who.

Go ahead, give it a try with a chisel and hammer. Or perhaps sic your two year old to gnaw on her popsicle stick and pray the amylase in her mouth will soften the resilient polymer. Just like the man with the miracle of a nail, but no hammer to drive it, we are limp with the log in our hand, and no mold to turn it into soil, and mushrooms, for that matter. Not that most of us necessarily wish for our wood in our life to go to seed. But like the everlasting impropriety of a fetching plastic flower, we love wood all the more for what we know, like us, it's not long for. This world. And the reaper? He ain't grim. He's mycellium.

The thing about mycellium, outside of it's spectacular deliverance of a genome to retire in the larder represented by nearly all the biomass of the world, for me, is it's relationship with plants.

Without getting technical, most fungus is not necessarily a soil fungus that interacts among the roots of living plants. But, the ones that do, get us back to those little trees that like the dark forest floor, so much better than your lovely yard (and fertilizer and watering hose!)

What the mycellium in such soil fungus does, incredibly, is penetrate the roots of most plants. Then, instead of being a pathological disease, which it almost certainly was in the distant past, it becomes something of a friend. Remember, a plant is simply a living version of what a fungus loves best: biomass. Somehow plants, deep in the bowels of their evolving relationship with fungus, got the idea to simply give their penetrating companions a little sugar, in return for whatever the mycellium had to offer.

Well, the mycellium loved the sugar, even when it couldn't metabolize all of it. And mycellium, spread throughout soil, and into the roots of plants, has such an incredible surface area, that it had something else to give to plants, and to help characterize the soil as something more than crushed rock. Water. So in return for sugar, and as part of the mechanism of it's delivery, the plant's roots got a little bit of water, from literally an unimaginably large sponge. Some mycellium mats are literally hundreds of yards wide. The largest are miles across. On occassion they pull a dirty trick on a forest and kill every living tree within it. For miles. A kind of biological fire. The Romans would have really approved of this sort of fungus feasting Bacchanalia. It must give real piece of mushroom, knowing you have an entire forest awaiting your bony white hyphae, nearly virgin territory every cathedral like trunk. Real peace of mushroom.

So the reason you see small trees thriving, despite their seeming lack of available sunlight in the dark woods... And the reason the infill that comprises at least a portion of your gardens hard won soil, doesn't necessarily do as the mushrooms might, is this mycellium running. Running across our entire world, through all healthy soils, and finding the roots of plants to share, in a long fought embrace, a little from each, that might make the whole a great deal more resilient.

Nowadays when I transplant something delicate and valuable I fully expect it to droop in a kind of orphaned state of confusion. Yes, it's root hairs are tailor made to collect water and nutrients, and yes it's leaves have been given just the right mix of sun and shade for it's proper growth to fruition. But, when I tear it from the soil, at the end of the year, in a sad but deeply meaningful goodbye, I can hear something tearing in the soil, that reached the roots maybe one week after I planted the plant. And that is the hyphae and threads of mycellium, that found my plant and kept it stiff in posture with water and mineral salts, even in drought, for a few small drops of sugar, now and again.

I say take more from me, fungus. Sometimes I wonder if you aren't my favorite kingdom, in the garden, of all.

POSTHASTE: Ah, correction... the mycellium clearly gives sugar to the roots of light starved saplings. It wouldn't help much to fertilize a light starved tree (though people do this all the time.) I intimated, above, that the plant gives the sugar to the mold, and the mold gives water and salts--- and this is sometimes true. But sometimes the mycellium gives the plant sugar as well. It has plenty of sugar from the roots of the entire botanic community in the soil. The point is that the relationship is fabulously beneficial both ways. Think of it as a sugar packet switching biological internet (yeah, Rick, sadly Splenda wouldn't work. You'd be thrilled to hear, by the way, that a prominent Chemist said a few years back that he wouldn't trust the molecule that Splenda is comprised of, for when you look at it's structure, the Chlorine atom, at the center of a "sugar like" matrix, rather screams neurotoxin. This is certainly true, aesthetically. I give the chemist props for his pattern recognition, but the science don't stack up with his fears (and supposition.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Poem For Jon and Mary (on their wedding)

I was happy to accept my sister, Mary's, invitation to speak some words at the ceremony of her wedding. In thinking about her invitation to me, and trust in me, I realized I had nothing to say that wouldn't be best expressed in poetry. This poem developed from my assumptions about the universal desire in all of us to be complimented fully in the person of another.

Jon and Mary's Town

With the cool light of many moons,

In time you'd come to know,

That the warm faith that you'd had in hope

Might sometimes up and go.

So, in the shadows of the circumstances

Where once you'd smiled and said,

"Hello my lover and my friend,"

At least to them,

You would never once again.

And in times like that to say the truth

Is simple pain,

On top of lonliness, loss and simply

Missing what you'd had.

So in times like that your aching heart complains,

"Do even you, my owner, have no hope for bliss?

When once again I may beat strong and fast.

Have you so soon forgotten--- what I'm broken for,

Or, do you certify today, to never once repeat the past.

And live alone and broken, on your knees upon the floor.

This solitude, standing in your bolted door."

And yet...

It was the cool light of many moons,

That caused two to disagree,

With the fear that's whispered in the ears of all

In misery.

Not some sweet romantic harmony,

That sounds as good as a happy end,

But the choice to put behind you,

What you'll never do again.

And now the people who had watched so sad

While two strangers lived in pain,

Have gathered in a moonlit town

To see what for they prayed.

For the strangers have now found themselves

The benefit of light,

In the eyes of one another... what

They'd so long been denied.

I'm just another one amongst these friends,

Who cannot help but pray;

That the paths between these families

Continue long and stay.

And that the certitude that soon infects the hopeless

Still around,

Has the fine example of this day,

In Jon and Mary's town.

Andy Coffey,

for Mary and Jon on August Seventh, 2009

(and Elias and Ella)

If I Work My Hands in Wood (Would You Still Love Me?)

I've spent a number of years now trying to be a man who can call himself a carpenter (and contractor.) Time passes, and you remain inured to your accomplishments, due mostly to the enormous task of treating the people who depend on you as well as possible. This, however, does not stop you from noticing from time to time a more objective assessment of your role in the lives of others. "As long as it doesn't go to my head (and cost me the security of knowing I'll do the right thing, the right way)" you tell yourself. And unlike many things I've done in my life, this time I really mean it.

So many jobs I've had in my life were confidence games amongst a certain grouping of other seekers of security. The name of the game, most of the time, was to take it easy, and find a way to "satisfy the people." Restaurants in particular suffer (or celebrate) this particular trait. When I began working at the bagel shop I was enthralled with an environment almost entirely run by women. Aside from the sheer pleasure of looking at so many lovely beings (I would say, "as a man", except for the fact the the place, and my worldview eventually, was thick with lesbians and gay men...) there was also the tongue in cheek sense of humor that caused one woman or another to stick a bumper sticker on the walk-in that proclaimed "FEED THE PEOPLE." Of course, we tried.

I mention this because at no time in my period at the bagel company did I ever really feel myself to be outlandishly wonderful, or did I have the experience of someone looking at me and asking, "How the hell do you know this stuff?" Recently I have spent the vast majority of my time working with my employees, and unlike in the past where I could hardly afford them, they have grown accustomed to the fact that they are here to stay. One of the side effects of this fact is that I bring them along even when it makes little financial sense. I like them, and want their company. My life isn't going to become easier, so I rationalize this as the proper attitude toward being a happy man. It tends to work.

Why I mention this is that my employee's sometimes, while I'm wiring a GFCI (ground fault interrupt, a nifty device that otherwise would be called a outlet. It's one of those outlets near your sink or in your bathroom that has a test button or two on it. If it detects a change in the current running through your hair dryer, it assumes you have decided to take a bath with the dryer and disconnects the electricity so you will not die of an electrical shock. It's a good idea to wire these things properly. If you don't, you would be liable, by God, at the very least, of manslaughter.) look at me in a state of wonder. "How did you learn how to do that?" their face seems to say. It is truly hard to explain. But the bottom line is, as my friend Rick would say, I am a fool who thinks, truly, that he can build the Mackinaw bridge.

Such an attitude in life is at heart selfish and egocentric. And yet, people enjoy what you give them, when you give them beautifully rendered physical objects and spaces. I have written before about framing a house and the philosophical facts that occur to you as you build what are necessarily more than baubles to any human heart. Any platform, or structure, brings out the soul of a child in a man. Even the crippled person looks upon a ladder as a nearly metaphysical object. And from the top of a ladder, believe me, I have wondered many a time if I myself were not the baron in the trees. Things look different from the top of a ladder. We see the world from the ground as normal. We do not know enough to imagine the limitation of our perspective. Guess what ladders (and structures) help you climb out of? Believe it or not, that is the basic cause for a tower. Perhaps even the cause of a skyscraper. I couldn't really say.

I still can't believe that what I do seems magical to people. To me it has always been wonderful, ever since I remodeled my boss Sue's house. Taking huge risks and pulling it off has always appealed to me, but construction offers a particularly lovely opportunity to really screw other peoples lives up. It's Friday. The New York Times claims that today is the preferred day for banks to close, due to insolvency due to guess what? Construction loans comprising nearly fifty percent of their assets. One article in the times suggested a quote by an economist that I dearly love (so much so that I quoted it to some kids at the coffee shop, whom it seemed to greatly impress): "Stability breeds instability. Causes entities to necessarily become hubristic." Banks had to take on more risk due to the opportunity cost of neglecting it. Like electricity, opportunity looks for the shortest path to gain. Does electricity give a crap about history? Or humanity? Or danger? Neither does unregulated economic reality. There is no GFCI for banks. Merely the desire of the human population. Dangerous minds, indeed.

So, I was on my knees for twenty four hours this week putting in a couple ceramic tile floors and laminate wood floors for Jim Jr. It was lovely since I knew what I was doing from beginning to end, and since my employees were right there, suffering horribly like I used to from the grueling pain of my line of work. Since I control everything I don't feel the pain. And since I don't feel the pain, when something terrible happens, or one of my guys screws up (or I do) I have the emotional resources to laugh and tell them, "Let's move on, and make this thing right." I told Jim, after he complimented me in a manner so effusive I am loathe to repeat it, "Construction workers fail due to frustration, not ignorance. It is imperative that you not become emotional about anything. We are tiny, and so to are our accomplishments." Easy to say when you work your hands it wood. Without a metaphysical "ladder" I cannot guess wood's opinion as to my failures. From my perspective they have been gifts.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dennis Smith, Hello!

Hey Dennis,

I selfishly looked today for comments on my blog, knowing there would be none, and there you were. I was in a state of profound confusion, not believing you were writing me. I have looked for you many times. I really care about you and never felt you to be anything but an extremely valuable friend to me. I have claimed a number of times you saved my life. And it's basically the case that you helped to create the person I have become. By being such a great friend.

You were in intense pain when I met you. It is easy for an individual to forget that. You were. But you were massively smart, giving, and in some ways like many people I have known, a bit too good for this broken world.

I too (due I am guessing to the intensity of my own problems at the time) look back upon my treatment of you with less than pride. But I know I really cared about you. So many people over the years have asked, "How did you become friends with that guy?" Oh, really, the answer is simple: I simply invited myself to everything he owned and took away all possibility of any privacy in his life. Had you not seen me as somehow worthwhile, you surely would have viewed me as a demon.

I mention you constantly to people who never met you. Everyone else (people like David Boyer, and James from Cappacino's (he's still around, ogoling women. I've noticed as I've aged, I have joined him with gusto!) though I am sad to say I haven't seen John Pearson, Zsuzsa, or any number of lovely souls from way back in the day that you shared with me, and who found me so much more interesting because I was your friend.

Emily used to tell me (I haven't seen her in over a year. We haven't been together in seven years, but the fact remains that I was basically a boy until I met that woman. Before Emily/ After Emily. Funny how time slips away.) that she would see me with you, D, and hunger so very much to walk with us. We were walking around, a couple of broke down posturing intellectuals, and this pretty twenty-one year old was spying us like a couple of bathing virgins through the leaf fronds of this Tree City USA. I doubt we were aware of our status. Come to think of it, we were bewildered by our youth, unaware of the things you learn from age.

I don't want to go on here. I have no address (God, I can't believe I might actually talk to you soon. You are one of the best friends I have ever had, Dennis. One of the best.) I have no phone number. I need these things to fulfill one of my dreams: to talk to one such as you.

One last comment. Remember when we went to see a movie at the Ryder series called Dark City? Afterwards, in calm deliberate tones you explained to me your objection to the films spirit. Do you remember what it was?

Now, look... I have tried in various ways in my life to bring about the sort of revelation that Saul found on his Damascus Road (remember talking about my novel?) Once I thought I was struck by lighting, during a cross country meet, but in fact had only decided to throw myself upon the ground due to God's thunder sticks. My friends shrugged their shoulders. It wasn't the first time I had spouted jibberish. Nor the last.

Your objection to Dark City's animating spirit was that the premise of the movie presupposed that a God like control of the universe by a man was something to celebrate. You argued that such a scenario was somewhat opposed to the teachings of the Gospel and the Christian worldview in general. In fact, such fantasy, you argued might be considered the work of Satan.

At the time, and in so many other cases, I found your argument bewildering, and yet filled with your longing for company with people who do not wish to control for the spiritual in the manner we are so accustomed in this material plane. To want such control is to avow, without really saying it, an active and robust atheism. Most people are not atheists. And yet such films nourish fantasies that make atheism rather attractive next to such canards as "turn the other cheek." I was unconvinced by your words to release my atheism (I have remained one.) But I was inspired to consider for the rest of my life a the subtle beauty that a distance from God can take form within. I currently am not bereft of some happiness and peace. But for the millions who have little to live for, I can't imagine that the loss of their faith through the mysterious action of their cultivated appetites comes easy. I thank Dennis Smith for teaching me, in a fashion I have never met another capable of, how to love such deserving, but lost souls.

I love you Dennis. For the love of God, tell me how to reach you.

Your Friend (and debtor), Andy Coffey

My Contact Info:

George Andrew Coffey
311 S. Arbutus Dr. (David Boyer's House.... remember that place?)
Bloomington IN, 47401

Cell: (812) 679 7271 (Call it!)

My voicemail identifies me as HonkeyTonk Construction LLC. Believe it or not, that's me. From bookworm to termite (of a kind.) I'll talk to you soon my friend.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Moore's Rule

Much is made in the media of advances in technology. All matter of vague presumptions is made on the basis of Moore's Law, and the seeming gathering of advances and miniturization. And yet very few people seem to discuss with much feeling where much of this is taking us.

On occasion I will watch a MIT lecture covering such things, or read a book on Nanotechnology (Richard Feynman is said to have begun Nano-Tech as a field by saying, "There's lots of room at the bottom.") A few particularly thoughtful writers have written on the subject however. I'm thinking of one guy in particular tonight. His name is Raymond Kurzweil. He is a graduate of MIT (in the Seventies), and he gathers his erudition on the subject of technological trends, and realities, from his statistical analysis of technological development in the past.

His most powerful trick is easy to understand in the abstract; later we can look at why it matters. Basically, he graphs the development of different disciplines in Science (many, many different disciplines) to better understand the development of trends in Biology, Computers, and Nano-Tech. His crucial trick is that he looks at his data from the past development of scientific disciplines on a logarithmic scale. This serves to decompress the seeming cliff like verticality of a trend like the growth of microcomputers, for example. He is able through his analysis to show the slow development of the discipline of microprocessor manufacture all the way through to the most powerful laptops today. Like most phenomena, the graph should not truly be a cliff, but should reflect data that gradually gathers in richness and size. Like what happens when a sperm meets an egg, not a virgin birth.

The long and the short of it is that many disciplines of science are moving quite a bit faster then most of us realize. This would not matter were it not for what science tends to do to society. Most of us realize somewhat dimly how different our lives are due to a cell phone, or Google. But what we are unlikely to realize without truly thinking about it is how disruptive to our lives technology ultimately is, whether we desire the changes or not.

A good example is social networking. It is simply not possible at this date to imagine an American teenager who is not online for most of their day, and checking in at least a few times an hour with the "notes" of their generation: their social network. Whether by texting, Twitter, or Facebook, it hardly matters. Young people have always reveled in their private communications, and young people today are glued to their electronic devices. How many of them will ever be apart from such a connection to the world, and their friends, as most of us once were? I spent the vast majority of my life completely free of a phone. I love my cell phone for the way it connects me to my highly dispersed family and friends. And yet part of me realizes that the cell phone doesn't necessarily belong in my pocket at all times. Unfortunately I must be available to my clients and the school I work for around the clock. Nobody imagines that I might be unavailable. My cell phone is my alarm clock. It is the one object that is always with me. The only one. And one day, God help me, it will be a computer. A very very powerful computer. It makes me nervous to imagine what that will do to my impulses and choices, especially in terms of reading books, ect. But I probably will so enjoy the relentless infinite box that a computer tends to be in its appropriation of all info/communication devices, that I will hardly notice the slow curve of the change in my life.

Many many things are like this. It is easy to believe otherwise, and futurists have a justifiably bad reputation of promising the Jetsons, when Married With Children is more like it. But the numbers don't lie and computers are a great example of how we will be surprised.

Everyone knows that the power and speed of microprocessors is increasing enormously. And most people dimly realize that the fact that you can download a photo while in your car traveling at sixty miles per hour is probably somewhat amazing were it not for the fact that it's so damn easy. But few people really put two and two together and look out at the most substantial impacts that such a hurtling technology such as computers represents. When scientists look at the complexity of the brain, only a few decades ago it was easy to dismiss computers as hopelessly simple compared to the brain. But those few decades were all it took to see that Moore's Law ain't a joke. It's exponential in a tangible way. You type a word in your Google box, like "Moore" and two spaces down, in an instant drop down menu, is the option, "Moore's Law". Trust me, that is just the beginning. I use Google for Email, so when I write addresses in my Email (physical Addresses) Google Maps, and Google Earth automatically offer them up, virtually before I even know I want to look them up. Google Maps knew I wanted to use the address to the house I stayed in last week, before I even went to the website, due to the fact that the address was filed away by Google, when it appeared in the body of a letter written to me. This is a form of intelligence that is extremely useful in life, but also quite scary. Of course people will take advantage, but that is not my concern right here. My point is that things have been gradually becoming more complex and intelligent in the world of computers without us completely realizing it, and this is just the beginning. Virtually before we know it computers will surpass the complexity of the human brain. Whether that will mean they are intelligent or not is a very interesting question, but somewhat irrelevant due to what fascinating creatures they will become.

Cognitive science was enlivened considerably for me by one of my closest friends, Damien Fricker. Indiana University has a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging device specifically for experiments in Cog-Sci. Zero imaging for medicine on that machine. Why? Turns out you can see the brain do some pretty amazing things when the brain is doing its thing. Turns out computers can be trained to recognize patterns in these things. Electrical activity, nerotransmitter activity, on and on. In some cases from a distance of ten feet some devices have been developed that can read certain kinds of brain activity. Sixty Minutes has a few wonderful programs about such things.

My point is that almost without realizing it we are growing closer and closer to a set of tools for reading your mind. And without quite realizing it we are also growing closer and closer to where our brains might accept information, or whatever you call brain readable data at that point, from machines. You might wonder why that matters terribly much.

To answer that question you have to return to my comments above about the speed with which things are progressing in microprocessors. At the rate things are going, computers will become as complex as the human brain in the 2030's. Whether they will become sentient or intelligent at that point is of small interest to me next to the meaning of their power. There is so much I would like to be able to do with this wonderful device that I am typing on right now. But at this point, we as a species, do not even consider certain projects in our lives due to the impossibility of doing them. Very fast computers, mixed with input devices that take away the abstraction of the keyboard and allow you to instruct a computer with a language as rich and direct, speedy and meaningful as a spoken language, simply by thinking, will happen. They are being developed now. These are facts available to anyone who wishes to look upon the research. We will not be able to protect our society forever without considerable increases in our powers and ability to control the world. Computers are a strategic asset to our nation. The internet began as a military project. Code and crytographics are indistinguishable in this world from your credit card. Every time you use your credit card the time, date, geographical spot, amount spent, type of mechandise or service, and special number assigned that credit card are all recorded. If you use your card three times a day, then your movements in the last few decades are very probably recorded for the remaining days of history. Code is the only thing that keeps your biography, your very personal biography, from being written. Stuff even you don't really want to know about yourself. Lucky for you, the defense department realizes the strategic importance of your privacy. So it hired a bunch of hackers. White hats, I guess they call themselves.

I'm not even going to go into what nano-tech means to the way in which we will go about things in the future. Or how biology has advanced. One of the coolest discoveries I saw on MIT World's website were a few lectures on the subject of the field of MicroFluidics. Micro Fluidics is a field similar to microprocessors, but which uses chemical solutions, and logic pathways to carry out miniturized experiments on "cards". A great example are some of the instant tests that have been developed in medicine, using microfluidics. The most powerful example I have seen was a card about one foot square where one hundred compounds could be tested on two sides of the square to see how they reacted with one another. All of them dissolved and mixed and reacted and titrated by this little card of tiny tiny pipes lithographically "printed" and then pieced together. Unbelievable. But just the beginning of a hugely useful field. Interestingly, water behaves rather normally at the micro level. Scientists were concerned that it would be somewhat viscous or strange acting at that size, but it turns out to have very similar properties in the micro as in the macro. So germs swim more or less like you and me. Molecules are that small. And their bonds that weak.

To wrap it up, our world is hurtling toward a very strange place. Science is taking us there. Many hundreds of thousands of researchers are working toward a very strange future where you will think of something and your device will know what you are thinking about and very probably comment about it, or ask if it might not be able to suggest a few things. At first people will recoil from this invasion of the primacy and intimacy previously the sole domain of our private minds. Then they will try this service, and hook into a bizarre world where information hangs so low that it brushes your clothes like the hands of a Dickensian urchin.

If you are feeble you will not be feeble when given the control of a computer with your mind. For your computer will have a number of devices for manipulating the world at its disposal. If you sew, you will control a sewing robot with your mind, and make quilts with your eyes closed. If you love to work with wood, you will design and build whatever you wish simply by communicating silently with your computer. If you are muted by stroke the machine will not await your voice, your words, but will limn the faint traces of your intentions: for the concept "chair " looks the same, electrochemically, in most brains. Trust me though, if your computer hears you think chair, the first time you ask it for one after a stroke, your brain will register something more than normal, as it brings it to you. And that is why I wonder at the power of this eventuality.

Bye Bye Biscane


I just returned from my sisters wedding, about which I hope to have much to say some other time. It was a wonderful time for many reasons, just two of which are the love between myself and both my sisters (I stayed with my sisters Angela's family in a house for the week.) Plenty of interesting things were noted between my life here in Bloomington, and last week in Vermont/New Hampshire.

I returned home very early in the morning, yesterday. I was completely shocked to see that the Chevy Biscane was missing. Apparently Tom Pacinante finally came and picked the car up. Robert claimed that they actually started the car and drove it onto the trailer. Such a claim seems nearly impossible. All that's left of the Biscane, in any case, is a big rectangle of dirt. Amazing.

Maybe one day I will be driving, and look over to see a big shiny twin of that Biscane. I'd really like that. Chances are I will never see it again.