Monday, September 28, 2009

Aunt Peg

The other day I wrote the Ripe Women and A Dancing Scrooge post because, as I had mentioned, so many wonderful "Ripe Women" are in my life.  Well, the reason I had been thinking about it was that my mothers Aunt Peg, a woman I call Aunt Peg as well, and my Grandma's sister, suffered from a serious stroke a few weeks ago, and is half paralyzed.  She's been on my mind.  And you are going to see why, shortly.

Peg lives near Whitefish, Montana.  Not exactly near it, by Indiana standards, but within a very long drive. So pretty darn close if you live out West, where driving all day is a short drive.

Whereas Whitefish itself is on a train track that runs the entire breadth of America (I've ridden from Portland Oregon all the way through Whitefish, to Chicago. And I've ridden from Syracuse, New York, to Chicago.  So I've ridden the entire track.   It's a hell of a run.)  Aunt Peg lives on the way to absolutely nothing but glacier's and Fir Trees.  Her property is beautiful, with a alpine lake and pier.  And it abounds with all kinds of animals, which I know about, since Peg has a special relationship with these creatures.

Peg's, came down with some sort of medical problem a year ago, and went to the doctor.  The doctor, a kindly fellow, didn't know her personally, so he apologized at the long list of questions he had to ask her, like, "Have you ever had a relationship with someone from Burkina Faso?"  Peg told him, "No."

Well the doctor went on, and his last question was a little more farfetched than he was entirely comfortable with, so he apologized as he asked it and said, "Sorry, but have you ever shot a rifle?"  Peg told him, "Of course!"

And she has.  I've never personally been to her property, for I am a perpetual fool who thinks my fabulous family members present some sort of endless welcome for me, never really needing to be satisfied by an answer, like, "I'm coming."  But Peg has told me numerous times, and the rest of the family even more, that she, "killed an Elk from [the] kitchen window."  I couldn't hit a semi truck at a truck stop.  But Peg, yeah, she's shot a gun.

I don't have a lot of stories about her. I hope to ask around for a bunch more.  But one story that isn't even really a story so much as a great memory, was my sister Angela's, wedding in Portland, Oregon.  Most of the family was there, and most of the family was doing what people do at a wedding.  So as the evening warmed up, and the formalities were over, we all started to loosen up and dance.  Now, I am no great dancer... I sort of do it to check it off my list of inhibitions, even as folks around me wonder why I am hopping about the rooom, kicking people.  But if my lovely family wishes to dance with me, I'm going to dance at any comer.  I might even dance with them!  They're more or less safe for such activities.  Well... Peg started dancing with us.  And you gotta understand, this was a little over eleven years ago, but she was still, even then, in her late seventies.  She danced with my brother, and she danced with me.  She danced with my Dad, and did sort of a Conga line.  She danced with some grandchildren, and we all did the Twist.  Some folks swore she danced to the restroom.  Everytime a man would sit down, there was Peg jumping up to dance again.  By the end of the night everyone was laughing and filled with that awareness that togetherness gives you at a celebration.  You had forgotten, but these people are spirirts and ghosts of your best nature.  Almost not realizing it, you come to:  I've (Mr. Brooding) been laughing for three hours.  Aunt Peg's arthritis is like anyone's: it hurts.  But all of us were ignoring our aches and our pains, and right at the center of it was a small woman: laughing.

I hope you can see why when my family gets together I try to look right in their eyes.  I haven't always done this, and to tell the truth, at Angie's wedding, I'm pretty sure I didn't really do it either.  But in the last five years I have tried (and sometimes failed) to look.  To really look at these people.  We are not kings and queens in my family.  We don't drive limo's and our ancestors can't be counted as the movers and shakers of the world (though they carried my life to it's beginning.  And for a man, that should count, as somewhat more important than empire.)  But if you ever go to a celebration, or a wedding, or even just a dance hall for an evenings pleasure, look around, and find the folks who are laughing.  They'll dance with you till your Vioxx gives you a heart attack, and make you play hookie the next day to boot. They aren't important people:  but they'll give you a hug and a kiss, and laugh at your stupid jokes.

These people are like the hollywood family you see in a movie, when the truck goes deep into the wilderness and finds the self sustaining folk with the heart of gold.  It doesn't seem real in the movies, but in real life it's reality is measured by how much not feeling it breaks your heart.  And I've been places in my life when I didn't feel it.  Where people seemed motivated by self promotion, ideology, and their own problems and perspectives above all other things.  Maybe I am wrong, but there is a mountain north of Whitefish, Montana, that defies the odds of cynics and the selfish alike.  And has a real bad reputation among the proudest Elk.

Peg is what reminded me of the glorious females of the world:  not of, but beyond a certain age.  

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Beautiful Place For A Neighborhood

I put this image on here for my friend Rick.  Rick has recently began to look at my blog. The fact that he is trolling it for data by which to get me arrested, is just the way things go when you run with the hunted.

You might recognize this little town, Ricardo, as I recognized it, when I flew to in on Google Earth.  How many times did you and Emily walk on the paths of that park?  How many times did you drive your truck over that bridge.  The image on Google Earth is much larger, and amusing in the depth of it's data.  You can tell its a college town, since little coffee cups are floating over every coffee shop, and there are about ten in this image alone.   But alas, Rick, one day you and I shall visit Missoula, Montana together, and I can come to know the difference between the real world, and the lovely place that I've visited in your imagination.

In A Holler With A Couple Fireflies

I just added this song to Domestic Neon.  But for some reason I wanted it here as well.  Go figure...

Had the mouth to call around
Hate to bother you and make
You think I'm down
But it's time.

The rhythm and the park of faith
Makes the drive to come
And see you late
Till the walls unwind

Will the water wind you down
Till the summer time comes winding down
Just a sunset reminding of the night.
Till you take me down to a holler
And show me all the bright things in the sky
Are fireflies.

I heard of those when I was young
Somehow in a dream
Now you hold my hand and look in my eye.
And somehow I think that will be better
By and by with all those fireflies.

I ain't now to call on back
My brick a brack they'd make me
As thirty five.

And maybe Cancer gets me
And maybe it's the drinking
I don't know
I don't suppose I'll lie.

Hey, tonight Miss Thinker
Will you take my hand in yours
I know I'm weak and you can know it too.
Abide in nature to take it back
In doubts... I'll be better soon
If I'm with you.

Be strong, be courageous
Just go lay down with another
I'm giving lots and lots of bad advice.

Don't tell her that you need her, no
She'll run off in directions that don't soon include
The likes of you and I.

I guess it's my fault
I'm talking to another in the bar.
Another man who doesn't fake it
Man at best he don't break the plans to make it
And that's where I know you are,

In a holler with a couple fireflies,
In a holler with a couple fireflies,
In a holler with a couple fireflies,
In a holler with a couple fireflies.

Wrote the song, three years ago when I was heartbroken, and feeling like an idiot.  It's always struck me as a sort of maudlin sappy tune, without the sparkle of some of my other work, but for some reason it sits with my other songs, on the deskstop of my computer, a thin sliver that won't go away.  It's in some notebooks and journals as well.  And not frequently, but sometimes I sing it.
It's basically about a guy who isn't loved by someone he knows inside out.  He drinks and smokes and gives advice he knows is worthless, for beginners, 'cus it's coming from him.
Sad folks make folks happy, or something like that.
Who believes it?
The fireflies in Indiana never blink in unison.  But some places in the world, like the droning of the Katydid, and the sudden reversals of a flock of birds in flight, fireflies blink in mass, saying to mankind, "I can do anything you can do, better."  Show offs.

More on Sweden

More on Sweden.

One of the main reasons I mentioned Esaias Tegner, was the fact that Wikipedia had him attributing Sweden's population increase in the 18th and 19th centuries as due to, "the peace, the (smallpox) vaccine, and the potatoes."  In one hundred years the population doubled.  Apparently, this taxed Sweden's capacity to feed and service such growth, so over a million people moved to America, in the last hundred years.  Ten percent in the 1880's.  God, that just doesn't seem possible.  I used to hear that more Polish people used to live in Chicago, than in Warsaw, Poland.  I learned this from a taxi driver in Chicago, visiting there with my parents.  Wikipedia says that more Swedish people lived in Chicago in the early 20th century, than in Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city.  Of course, most of the Swedes populated Minnesota (which nobody is confused about, since Minnesota enjoys surely the most sensible populace in in Middle West, USA.  Go there some time.

How lovely that the farmers of Sweden were never part of Feudalism.  How is that possible?  Something in the Swedish character.  So, farmers have always had more power there, then in many other places.  The Centre Party, in Sweden. began as the Agrarian party. As to whether they fight for causes I believe in, I couldn't say.  But they have a strange history, when you consider peasant folk elsewhere.

It was surprising to me that Swede's did not learn of their countries true ties to America, and the American nuclear arsenal, until 1994.  But every country has secrets.  I can't believe to this day, the attitude that many people have toward Administration's in America's recent past (Reagan, the Bush's and Clinton), who blatantly violated the Spirit of my countries people.  You can accuse.  You can defend.  But at the end of the day:  what is it you believe in?  Taking over governments?  Protecting the rich?  Giving no choice to a people?  That's not America, always.  But it sure as hell is America, sometimes.  The people lead.  And the truth, might be powerful.  But we won't look.  But for the rockets red glare.

During the Cold War, Sweden was so surrounded by states under Russian influence that it astounds me to imagine what it must have been like.  Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.  None of those countries. really remind me of Sweden. But all have been occluded by the Iron Curtain.  Very curious.

I'm fascinated by the names of Sweden's version of "states" like Indiana, where I live, and which I mention constantly.  Sweden's provinces serve no political purpose.  I sometimes wish the same could be said about the US.  But that's not likely to happen.  Just read the beautiful place names of Sweden's "landscapes", it's landskap:  Bohuslan, Dalarna, Blekinge, Gotland, Dalsland, Halland, Gastrikland, Harjedalen, Halsingland, Lapland, Jamtland, Norrbotten, Medelpad, Skane, Narke, Sodermanland, Smaland, Uppland (the name, more or less, of one of our local breweries, in Bloomington), Varmland, Vastmanland, Vastergotland, Vasterbotten, Oland, Angermanland, Ostergotland.   Jeez, there are a few AngerManLand's in the USA.  Lot's of anger men.

Beautiful names, and great meaning to millions of people.  It throws light into my imagination, to just think about the warmth that identity brings human beings.  I love my Indiana, as some love their Oland.

I was surprised at how warm Sweden is for its latitude.  And Stockholm's daylight lasts more than 18 hours in late June!  Jesus.  I guess curtains are pretty good business in Stockhom.  Six hours of daylight in December.  "I'm sleeping in," must surely mean, you welcome the dark.  In Indiana, we complain about 10 hours of daylight.  Six hours of light....

Apparently nighttime in Stockholm is always between half and .33% as cold as the day.  Here in Indiana, the night is frequently, only a tiny bit colder than the day.  Certainly only rarely is the difference fifty percent.

Sweden is a very interesting place.  I plan to actually read a book in the near future about it.  So I hope my overview of what I gleaned on the web, celebrates it enough for now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bald, Bald, Rupunzel

It's 2:19 in Sweden.  It's 8:19 here in Bloomington, IN.  So unless I'm a complete idiot, that's a difference of six hours.

I have enjoyed communicating, since I started this Blog, with my friend Neil Graf.  He'd write lovely comments occasionally.  Sometimes they were humorous, and sometimes they were approving, but mostly they spoke to the fact that he loves and cares about me.

And he does.

Well, I sometimes read Neil's Blog, Nauthis, though not as much as I should.  Neil has been a better commentator on my blog, then the other way around.  You should read his Blog.  Don't be fooled by the utter romance of his Tron like color scheme.  It's not lipstick on a pig: it's pig on a lipstick.  Neil is kinda a genius.

I wouldn't say that about everyone, since clearly everyone I know is following with rapt attention America's economic recovery. Could anything more clearly reflect the fact that I am surrounded by a category of human beings who are not geniuses?  I don't know, and don't need to know Neil's opinion as to the American bailout, and grand scheme to never really acknowledge "our problem."  He gets it, without being asked.  Which takes the pressure off, when I start to sound like a nut case.  Which in flag waving Pleasantville, happens once a week.

Got any kids?  Tell them to forget about Biochemistry (yuck!) and go into real estate.  Where else can real estate go, but up?

Luckily I have established my patriotism as a pseudo religious sort of metaphysical thing.  I love broad categories like "Indiana" and "The USA," without having to be bothered with the way those "states" behave.  It's easy.... like taking candy from a baby.

Indiana is one of the most consistently conservative states in a country which recently decided that business as usual in credit default swaps was gold... that the damn regulators threaten to turn to dross.  Sort of like Rupunzel going bald.

I better stop.  So this is the last thing I'll say.  I'm basically bald.  I have little hair.

Guess what Rupunzel?  Your fucking bald!   (as well. And don't worry, shaving your head is trendy.)


Anyhow, Neil is well read.

Recently he attracted a wonderful couple of folks to my blog, because, unlike mine, on his Blog he actually thought to share a link to mine.  So these folks, from Sweden, have shared some of their thoughts.  And that's been great for me.

I've never much cared who claims to "follow my blog."  But it is undeniably nice to hear feedback.  Though, in case anyone's interested, reading is plenty nice.  You don't have to comment.

Since Ande and Jenny have commented, and at times have shown, as seems to frequently be the case, that they know a great deal more about my country than I know about theirs... I thought I'd read a little about Sweden.

Steve Wolfram (who wrote A New Kind of Science, and I saw speak at the somewhat Orwellian sounding Center for Pervasive Computing) is famous for creating the suite of programs called Mathematica.  It was the first software I have ever heard of, years ago, that could solve and display in typical mathematical terms, Algebra, Calculus and a few other difficult things on the computer. He justifiably has become famous and wealthy for this.

A few months back he launched with much fanfare Wolfram/Alpha: something of a search engine for scientific analysis.  Due to the fact that it is almost impossible not to compare it to Google, Wolfram Alpha can seem a bit underwhelming.

That didn't stop me, however, from asking Wolfram/Alpha, today, what time it was in Sweden.  For I had no idea.  It dutifully answered my query with the time in Sweden, to the minute.  And gave all kinds of other fun stuff.  Try your birthdate some time.  It's fun.

Anyhow, it's approaching four in the morning in Sweden.  And yesterday, I looked Sweden up on Wikipedia, just to give myself a lesson in how little I know, compared to the people Neil has shared with me, about their lovely country.

Most folks know that Sweden's history goes way, way back.  The Vikings must be some of the most important folks in prehistory.  And, Jesus, talk about a place that is mentioned in Beowulf, for crying out loud, and you could be talking about Sweden.

Apparently the Swedes were an attractive enough bunch of (men, I'm guessing) that the Byzantine Emperor Theophilos rather coveted their abilities and asked if they might not serve as his Secret Service: the Varangian Guard.

It's always a sign that a culture has been around for awhile when it retains colorful names for folks in its history: Ingvar The Far-Travelled for example.  Apparently Beowulf storied the Swedish-Geatish wars from the sixth century.  The funny thing is that history this old is more mythic than historic, and yet there are artifacts (many, many Runestones) to give this myth a bit more heft then George Washington's teeth, at Mt. Vernon, 1100 years later.

It never ceases to amuse me that the colorful Romans, and apparently Swedes, were out and about in their complex and dastardly deeds a full millennium before Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best.  In short, black and white isn't what makes "classic" TV and movies old.  They were constructed to not deal with the lusty human race.  So how long were the dark ages anyway?  Talk to Mr. Ed.

It floored me that St. Ansgar (Saint indeed!) introduced Christianity in 829, such that by 1100(!)  paganism was giving way to monotheism.  Doesn't that amaze you?  Sweden has been an ostensibly Christian country for nearly 1000 years.  Over four times the age of my country.  Talk about In God We Trust.

In 1520 King Christian II of Denmark, established control of "Sweden" by the infamous "Stockholm Blood Bath."  This is to say he killed a hell of a lot of nobles (who had been elected by a parliament!)  This resulted in some frustration on the part of the Swedes, who on June 6, 1523, turned tables and made Gustav Vasa a King.  King Vasa rewarded his appointment by making Sweden Lutheran (and some say, finally, a somewhat modern State.)

I could be wrong, but part of me thinks that some of the power the early Nobles had in Sweden had to do with the role they played in maintaining order during the Dark Ages.  I have spoken in previous posts about the amazing capacities that guilds and merchants brought to bear throughout Europe after the dissolution of The Roman Empire.  Trade and law was more or less maintained by independent merchant armies, and organizations.  Something tells me that Sweden's character as a people, to this day, carried it back then through those "dark" times. As modern European States developed upon the encroaching Reformation and Enlightenment, such power was extremely threatening to the new order.  Hence, Swedish cities being "strongly influenced" by the Hanseatic League at Visby.  Completely fascinating vacillation of power from The Roman Empire through the Hanseatic League, then to the various arising European States and finally to a singularity known since 1523 as Sweden.

From 1658 through 1721 while other countries were making shadow dances in a bid for Celestial Longevity, Sweden consolidated a startling Empire.  Whether it lasted forever or not is not nearly as interesting as what it was:  the conquering of nearly half the Holy Roman states.  Gustavus Adolphus more or less is credited with this creation as King.  In fact, in a strange state of Apostolic Succession indeed, he planned on being the Holy Roman Emperor.  The southern German states soured on his ambitions, however, and eventually left him with only the northern German states of Swedish Pomerania (and what does that mean? land of apples?) Bremen-Verden and Wismar.

Charles X was responsible for the largest expansion and subsequent contraction (due to war and famine) that Sweden was to know, as a country.  His Son recovered things to a large extent, and gave to his child, Charles XII a much more powerful and militarily agile country.

Shortly after a ego boosting success in Poland (sort of) Charles II made the mistake that Generals have forgotten to their demise ever since:  he invaded Russia only to be beaten in the Battle of Poltava in 1709.  Such was the beginning of the end for Swedish Empire.

Apparently Charles XII was killed by musket (it is recorded that he was shot, but I am relatively sure that the rifle had not been invented yet, so... it is fascinating to me that he was killed in such a manner at all.)  at Fredriksten fortress in 1718.  The loss of his leadership was not helpful for Swedish Empire, so Russia  expanded it's power from there on.

Interestingly, the loss of Eastern Sweden due to the unfolding of these events, was somewhat responsible for the creation of the State of Finland.  This is due to Russia's taking of Finland as the Duchy of Finland (Finland being in a sense on it's own recognizance.)  as part of Imperial Russia.  Later (according to my friend, and historian, Rick, the Finn's kicked Russia's ass.  How did they do that?  Guerilla warfare.  They gave the cities away, and shot anything that walked the roads.  This was the 18th century after all. Hmm... did military historians learn anything from that? )

Once Sweden gained through alliance with Napoleonic France the ceding of Norway to it's lands,  the stage was set for war eventually with Norway.  Charles XIII forced Norway into  a union with Sweden in the Convention of Moss, which did not end in Norway's sovereignty until 1905.  That forced union was the final war which Sweden subjected itself to.

Most of what I am writing comes from Wikipedia.  Any recognition of that fact just goes to show you are smart.  I have reworded, but looked elsewhere damn little.  My desire, here, on my blog, is to celebrate what I have learned, with you.  I don't know much, but I know I love Sweden.

A little interlude is necessary here for literature. I don't have the time to paraphrase, but I certainly wish to analyze, so here is the synopsis of one of Sweden's greatest pieces of literature (on Wikipedia):

Frithiofs Saga:  (made famous by Esaias Tegner)

King Beli of Sogn had two songs, Helgi and Halfdan, and a daughter named Ingeborg.  On the other side of the fjord, lived the king's friend Porsteinn Vikingsson whose son Frithjof (forgive me this rotten translation) was called "the bold" and he was the bravest among men.  Frithjof had been raised together with Ingeborg by their foster father Hilding.

Both Beli and Porsteinn died in war whereupon Helgi and Halfdan took over the kingdom.  The two kings were jealous with Frithjof's excellent qualities and so they denied him Ingeborg's hand.  They took her to Baldshagi (Baldr's sacred enclosure.  A place where right wing Americans can only dream of.) where no one dared hurt another and where no woman and man had intercourse.  Still, Frithjof visited Ingeborg and they continued to love each other.

This caused Helgi and Halfdan to send Frithjof away to Orkney to take tribute and while he was away they burnt down his homestead and married Ingeborg to the aged king Ring of Ringerike.

When Frithjof returned with the tribute, he burnt down Baldr's temple in Baldrshagi and went away to live as a viking.  After three years, he came to King Ring and spent the winter with him.  Just before the old king died, Frithjof's identity was apparent to everybody and so the dying king appointed Frithjof earl and made him the care taker of Ring's and Ingeborg's child.  When Ring had died, Frithjof and Ingeborg married and he became the King of Ringerike.  Then he declared war on Ingeborg's brothers, killed one of them and made the second one his vassal.

I don't know about you, but this wouldn't fly in the American parlance of typical behavior.  By and large we Americans like our virgins "like a virgin."  "Touched for the very first time."

To be continued....

The Small Chance You've Got Before He's Gone

Tonight I came home from work, and the ninety year old man I live with, Robert Boyer, was standing in the kitchen, slowly scraping the frosting off his much diminished birthday cake.  My friend David asked me for a ride, since it's been raining for most of the week and I was happy to oblige (he doesn't drive a car.)

When I returned, since I knew that Robert had watched Tiger Woods play golf in Round Two of something or other (I date and label the VCR tapes he records of these things, and usually I just ask, "What round?")  I asked Robert, "How was the game?"

Robert sighed, and said, "It was awful."

"But it was at least worth watching, I mean...." I said, trailing into something like a moralistic suggestion that he keep things in perspective, but then thinking better of it.

"No!" Robert nearly yelled, "it was awful."

"So," I asked, clearly lacking any awareness of Roberts pain, "even if it was a fair game, it was awful?"

Robert doesn't generally lie, or criticize.  If I make a seriously dirty joke in extremely bad taste, he simply remains silent, realizing his reaction sounds like the inside of a Cathedral.  Not in a religious sense.  In an aural sense.  The air hangs when you joke about sex with Robert.  These days.

Years ago I would kid Robert about his sex life (or rather, his dream of a sex life with Jean.)  He'd tell me that he hoped this would turn into something.  And who knows, even Bingo is a gamble, right?

After Robert's wife died, I think he accidentally leaned a little more heavily on one of her friends, in a weak moment of no doubt, both lust and grief.  His wife's friends have certainly managed to hold that against him.  And he, no doubt, is a bit strange.  That's why I love him.

What I have noticed lately, now that he is clearly, without a doubt, limiting himself to the role of the dying, and completely aware of his beginning and endings.  As I've said before, like the Cyclops, he knows a bit too much.  Your not really supposed to know your going to die.  I doubt he will see much more than possibly a soft green glow of spring.  I doubt he will be upright.  And since he coughs fairly frequently, due to a swallowing problem, I'm guessing Pneumonia is in the offing if he doesn't stay upright.  Obviously he could be kept alive.  But not at home.  And not commiserating with me about Tiger Woods.  I'm guessing Robert will have little reason to continue living beyond eight or ten months from now.  I'm guessing he will die.  In case you are wondering: if you don't leave your home, but two or three times in a month.  And your old.  Your mortality can be graphed with startling precision.

Well, I love that old man.  And after I asked him if it was a "fair" game, even though he hated the game, I realized that he was simply confessing the disappointment he had in Tiger.  And now I had the bright idea of pushing in his face the notion that the best "man" won.

Some people are good at reading feelings and erring on the side of the feelings of their friends.  I'd like to investigate such behavior more.... in the future.  Currently I am having trouble even approximating such thoughtfulness.  Empathy.

So I accused Robert of being fickle in his preferences:  he wanted a man to win, not the BEST man.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha.  That's not right!

Robert looked at me, his full ninety years pulling the lids of his eyes just a bit further from their milky orbs than you'd think was their job, and said, "I'll have to think about that."  He was disappointed.  Sports are a tribal activity, and don't bear well up to scrutiny by twerps like me.

He looked as if I'd told him to go outside and play.

Later, I was trying to put a new tape in the VCR, so he'd have it for round three, tomorrow.  Robert got excited trying to explain something, and found himself at a loss for words.  Not completely, but to a certain degree, he was stumbling badly, searching...  I looked back at him from my crouch at that godless machine, and given my earlier stupidity felt a love nearly as pure as what my poor Mom and Dad must have sustained so as to make it to the promised land (Andy giving a shit.  What amounts to the promised land for a parent. Man.)  I stood up and just walked over and put my arms around him.  "I'm gonna miss you one day, old man."

It's awkward hugging someone in their chair, with three remote controls on a small TV table in front of them, a cane jauntily flexing your ribs, and a stack of opened mail about ready to fall over at your elbow.  There's also the problem that your body is blocking the women's golf tournament from Robert's view.  Which when your ninety, is pretty annoying.

But he likes being hugged.  And there's no one else (since he's persona non grata for hitting on his wife's friends) to do it.

Far as I'm concerned, I needed the hug as much as he needed the goddamn TV.  So, sort of, we're even.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ripe Women and a Dancing Scrooge

I mentioned in a post last winter a time when a woman nearly fell into my arms in lust once, while I walked with her, due to my having confessed to her my impassioned admiration for elderly women.  "As something more than wizened crones, but mysteriously hidden beauty, and pleasure obscured to those who are in equal measure young and stupid."  Typically for me, I didn't take advantage of my friend, and she sort of faded away in time.  She was sitting and watching me work a few weeks later and seemed completely taken with my genius at arranging sugar packets.  Infatuation is easy to despise, and yet, it sure doesn't cause too much pain, in this world.

As should be the case, I know a large number of older women, everyone from members of my family, to a homeless woman Barbara, who seems to be on a decades long quest to be the slowest person ever to touch their toes.  I remember ten years ago when she passed for completely normal, as long as she didn't open her mouth.  Her hair is, even today, a perfect study in what Wallace Stegner was getting at in Angle of Repose about his preference for smoothly folded, and simple curved shapes in women's hair.  A bun, and the casual parabola of dark strands across a woman's temple.  Barbara, despite the ravaging elements of mental illness and homelessness, still has such beauty in her hair.  It gives me great pleasure to hear that some of my friends are occasionally rebuffed by her.  At times she doesn't recognize me, but if I open my mouth, as sometimes happens with a friends pet, or for that matter, a human being in the dark, something about my voice say's, "safe," to her.  And mercy, she's right about that.

To worry about Barabara is natural.  It's almost impossible to not settle into the easy chair of pity, about the pitiful condition that so many people find themselves in.  It's a useful exercise, none the less, to consider the alternative: controlling for her illness.  What is it exactly that people want, where Barbara is involved.  Her safety? Her happiness?  She might actually be living an independent and somewhat fear free life on the streets of Bloomington, I don't really know.  But when I talk to her, I rarely hear as much fear as just about all my friends seem to feel nestled sweetly into the their roles on the bell curve of normalcy.  Barbara might be more of an eyesore and reminder to most of us of the shadows that lay everywhere beneath things.  Like a candy wrapper on a sprawling expanse of lawn, she says, "the symbol of this undifferentiated reality, it's seeming wholeness and unchangeability is an illusion." And trust me, most folks (sweet liberal ones, of course) basically can't stand her.  And she is annoying.  Sure.

Barbara is a beautiful woman.  It may not seem that way, due to her life, but, my god, the first time I saw her I couldn't believe what a piercing iconic look she had.  Perhaps its flirtation she hears in my voice.  I couldn't say, due to my seeming idiocy at reading the female (and male) mind.

My friend Rick has a picture in his house of two Germanic ladies (his aunts) sitting in chairs in what looks to be a park, their shoes casually cast aside, and cocktails in their hands.  Laughing.  I'd sacrifice a hell of a lot to sit with those women.  They look like my Grandmother Coffey, she being I suppose a full blooded German, and having the artifacts of her youth when she spoke German at home, in old age within her voice.  A subtlety overlain her english, different, but not dissimilar to the effect of all those Norwegians on the language of the northern middle-western United States.  Little hints, that come most alive in the moments you most cherished with her: in her excitement, and scorn.  When she was righteous, and when she was happy.  What a beautiful woman.  And I never knew her young at all.

Next to such collections of human mystery, beauty and nuanced influence, it is patently laughable to encounter what is ostensibly provided to the gobsmacked male as the epitome of feminine fashionability. While there is no way in denying the unlined mystery of a twenty year olds fullest expression of her inheritance:  the constellation of choices on offer to her, to clothe her, and to assist her entrance into the dark (as something of a costumed neon signifier) have from what I gather, not a thing to do with men.  Which explains to me the difference between Playboy and Vogue.

Young women and men are likely to be complimented on their appearance, their intelligence, and any number of other qualities that they were more or less programmed from birth to display.  It's easy to imagine most of that as something of an accomplishment.  And I don't knock such tendencies completely.  What a crusty old jerk you would have to be to wish for all appearances to be the work of their owner.  I like to look at people, and wonder.  And I am intimately connected, as a man, to all the desires, and hungers that afflict me as well as spice my days when I am so lucky as to be delighted by one of those neon costumed ladies.  The way I talk about this would seem to travel down a logical path that would have one assume I value my time with the retarded more than those who are born intelligent.  Or value my time with the ugly more than the beautiful.  My eyes and heart do not follow such a path.  I am more or less normal.

It is none the less not an academic or Sunday school exercise to dwell for a few moments to realize that beauty and intelligence are in no way accomplishments.  And since intelligence can swing in its meaning from something like cultivation to raw cognitive ability, I must remind myself that this subject is well traveled and rather confusing to me.

I mention all of this because of my frustration at being a participant in such lies, and prejudice.  The young are no more beautiful than the old.  The opposite common assumption is built on an impressive monument of rather democratic decision making: all of us are more attracted to the behavior and look of youth, than we are to the same in the old.  But come on: what is exciting to humankind is breaking the natural rules of the universe.  When you tell a small child, "Stop running," it would be a strange child indeed who replied, "of course. It's far far easier to walk, I suppose."  Well it certainly is for me!  Youth exists at the perilous, and wild apex of our escape from the cold oblivion of not being.  Not so much death, as total inactivity.  When you experience someone dying quickly of a disease, all of us recognize that moment when the critical mass of life's quiet riot, tumbles over the equal sign toward the less distressing acceptance that you will finally rest.  So life is not on some sort of mere analog between life and death, but in a more complex tangle of claims that existing makes toward love, connection, dreams, fears, and questions.  We are not a grey between black and white, but the patinated dancer who catches light and shadow, and watches her body on the wall (or two lovers who look upon their shadow.  Same difference really.)  Half the fear of death, is the lifelong desire for play.  Had Scrooge been a dancer, A Christmas Carol would simply be a book.  Nobody believes in the dancing Scrooge, until the end of the story.  And Scrooge's end became his claim, and all of ours the whole earth round.  Such is the power of the proper claim: on life and death.

Which is why I am all over the map here.  Seemingly making fun (playing on the claims) of lovely young women of a summers evening.  Seemingly tolling the impossibly tedious notion that there's nothing so great about beautiful intelligent people.  Seemingly playing ye old country cabin where saccharine delights rub your troubled chest with Vicks Vapor Creme, and coo into your jaded ears: my sweet, sweet little [identify!]

A life is a limited thing, but we humans are endowed with a limitless potential  to hold hands with The Dancing Scrooge, and perhaps live a little, where one day our living will be denied.  When I confessed this to my highly intelligent fetchingly clothed date, at the swanky place where we met, she understood me completely. From what I gather, her claims, and passions, don't inspire her to regard my Dancing Scrooge claim as proper in any sense.  She didn't wrinkle her brow.  She laughed, saying, "Get real. In a world of global warming, and mortal battle on abortion, you're Dancing Scrooge might as well await discovery on the former planet of Pluto."  I liked that analysis so much, I kindly forgot what I wanted to say about Scrooge, and listened rapt with all my chromosomes getting wound up more and more...

She, for her part, could hear in her voice, and see in my eyes, the twirling flocks of claims that her arguments let fly.  Is it not a pleasure to be listened to, especially when, like Mr. Ed, you've got something to say?  You'll be surprised, I was not thinking about horses as my longing gaze swept her face, and my brain sauteed within her perspectives.

And be appraised, we could just as easily have been talking, or rather, she could have been talking about
Wheel Of Fortune.  The content of such interactions is not of great importance.  I've heard ripe old women smile at their pleasure in watching Don Johnson in Nash Bridges.  It's tempting to laugh, and almost impossible not to smile.  But their confession contains a question: can you take me seriously?  And in order to do that, you need not come to conclusions about Mr. Don Johnson.  You only need to profoundly briefly feel.  That's life.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rodent's In It's Hair... and yet

There is a man who might as well be dead down the street from me.  Since he might as well be dead I will call him a deadman, as further description can wait till later.  He stands there, in the grass, rodents at his feet and sometimes I'd swear in his hair.  Things always seeming to take from his expression, his bodily projection, the purity and vivacity that the rest of us enjoy.

It isn't hard to let yourself go.  And indeed, once you stop living, in any sense, you're as good as dead.  At least, that's the usual perspective.

Our deadman simply waits.  It isn't that in  his mien there isn't a hint that he knows better.  He seems to look to the sky at times.  And wonder at it in the matter of all of us who are upright.  It is only that he can't convince you that he is alive.  Kinda strange, but you'd pass right past him, another being in your midst, and never know he was even there, were it not for his simple failure to thrive: and simply love the well trod pattern that all of us know is normal: especially when something wanders from the path.

To be sure he spends:  don't all dead souls spend?  With the greenbacks he can conjure he goes to the usual places, asks for the usual things that all of us at times imbibe (and if not all of us, all the time, than some of us, some of the time.)  Of course, being a dead man, one can look in his eyes and say the truth, "You, sir, have a disease."  And yet his is a matter of scale, and time, just as surely as we are meant to see in ourselves, would that we had the strength to apply this same capacity of discernment to ourselves.

And it is not that all folks who pass him look upon his  face with pity and disgust.  In fact, the only dead man I ever looked at, with pure pity and disgust was in fact a hand.  A hand that reached from a door, to grab hold of a six pack of beer, and replace it with an empty six pack, next door to the house where I was taking saxophone lessons.  I was young, and to me, this unwillingness to even grace the street upon which you live with the face that you were born with... such that the only knowledge anyone would have of you would be your hand in the act of hoarding, and tipping the worthless artifacts of your day life's waste---- I was young and did not have the experience and imagination to build that man a face, and so pitied him and was disgusted.  So young was I that I laughed at him.  I ask you... do you think I will laugh forever?

I am lying of course.  My deadman down the street is not a person at all.  He is a tree.  A Chestnut tree.  An erratic outlier, in a world that means great harm.  When I first met him I thought he was a Buckeye, having only picked Buckeye's once in my life, in the nurse tree shade of a farm I worked on a long time ago.  Those Buckeye's were memorably smooth and beautiful in their finish, like an antique, but wrought as new as the end of June, or the Fourth of July.  Fireworks indeed in their inexplicable perfection as seeds.

So when I passed on one of my constitutionals a short tree with long leaves dropping a fruit to the ground like a spongy walnut, covered in spikes, my heart soared: I'd found another Buckeye.  They are somewhat scarce in this part of Indiana, and they are so very beautiful.  Unfortunately for my pride, my Uncle Tim's proclamation at his house five years ago, "Wow, you really don't know how to identify trees!" was as true as ever.  For this was no Buckeye, but a Chestnut, according to my Field Guide To The Tree's.  Buckeye's have smooth, spongy capule's (the green part of a walnut ect.) but Chestnut's are spiny as all get out.  They hurt your hand, be appraised!  They hurt mine anyhow.

This Chestnut I found near my house was a victim of the Chestnut Blight in the past.  It is now twenty feet tall, nearing the maximum for the height of such a tree, before it again succumbs to the blight that "killed" it in the first place.  Gosh!  How wonderful.  (You'll notice that wonder renders my language a softer tone.

It's Chestnuts are waiting to be eaten, or in the more typical fashion of our temperate wealth, to be eaten by the "rodents" that I'd swear bonnet the hair of the deadmen so close to my home.

Prior to the Potato, Chestnuts sustained people in the Appalachians (one in four trees were of the type) and throughout Eurasia (even today, important there) as the ubiquitous carbohydrate to nurture in dear times.  And today plantations have finally been developed in the Americas that incorporate genes of resistant species of the Genus; specimens that have hope in the coming decades of bringing Chestnuts to their former glory: ubiquitous, and sustaining.  Not deadmen, at the corner.

Electric Company

It's funny... all of us started out as classical objects.  Seed's and circular cells and zygotes, ect.  We were all more or less spherical at one point, and from a cellular sphere of one we multiplied and grew to a larger and larger sphere.  A regular shape made up of cells.

All organisms do this, more or less.  There are a few things out there that amount to exceptions, but we can talk about them later.

You ever notice that a walk down the street doesn't exactly provide much in the way of regular shaped organsims, plant or animal?  Fish, rats, whales, vultures, hamsters, people, houseflys, and dragqueens all seem more or less elaborations on a constellation of shapes, some regular, but taken as a whole, sensuously curved and shapely.  It isn't tradition that has the student artist before the nude:  the body speaks a language instructive as it is silent.  Take a listen.

(A woman is locking her bicycle up ten feet away from me, with a chain that is so gigantic, it looks (and sounds!) like a Cirque de Soleil prop.)

When I have the time, I take a book and go nestle myself into the knobs of a tree's roots somewhere on the campus across the street from me.  When I started this blog I considered taking a picture of myself in such a position, but I'm afraid not everyone would have appreciated that as a joke.  Plenty of people think I take myself rather seriously.  For a very short period of time the front page of this blog was a picture of me sitting on Paynetown docks of Lake Monroe, here in Bloomington.  The less said about that the better. I loved telling my buddy rick about that.  He's rather paranoid that I might at any moment be summoning some kind of critical mass of earnest sentiment (about myself, of course) which will finally be the last straw in our friendship.  No longer would he then be able to sustain a feigned ignorance on the subject of my self regard.

As a kid I never realized that those tree roots were so deep in the ground, and represented such a considerable proportion of the trees mass.  Indeed, even today it is rather difficult to believe that all that wood is really there underground.  Sitting on the roots, helps focus the mind.

So why is it, anyway, that a tree is so knobby, and irregular?  Why not be spherical, or cylindrical, or cubical, like The Rest Home exterior sensibility?  Doesn't God like round stuff, and straight lines in the macrological world?  Or is there some kind of thing going on?

Well, to be honest, I am in a lovely state, on the subject.  My walks have taken on a delicious quality of musing on all the creatures world, to such an extent, that I'm afraid I look like a total idiot, way more than normal.

It is my feeling that the shapes of organisms are, of course, formed by many many factors.  It is a commonplace misconception that evolution or natural selection promotes morphological changes in the shapes of organisms according to some kind of sense.  The genius of the concept of evolution is it's absence of a reliance on sentience, and indeed, sense of any kind, and instead it's suggestion of a taut pragmatics in a species edowments.  The loss of the ability to fly has happened hundreds of times in the annals of natural history.  Which means two things, at least to me.  One: flight evolved, only to be discarded by some species (just think about that.) And two:  the genuinely soaring qualities that a person might consider in an organism, are easily discarded by our human heart as prosaic, next to our fantasies and sensibilities.  Some of the most fantastic qualities in the natural world are right before our eyes (which is such a cliche, it drones on the page like a foghorn.  Try to remember it though, in concert with the notion that poetics about the fruition and flight of life obscure the real genius of life.)

Inside a plants choloroplasts there is a little molecule of magnesium, which is responsible for dropping the falling electron, which the apparatus of photosynthesis rather focuses itself around and is  the priciple effect that the cloroplast reaches toward photons to achieve.  The delicate structures holding that magnesium are so damaged by the violence of the magnesiums perpetual discharging of electrons, that they must constantly be replaced and repaired.  Science has not a clue how that is accomplished, only evidence that it has happened, and will happen again.  This happens in every cell of a plant: every weed in my garden.  When I start seeds you better believe the first little speck of green reminds me of that discharging magnesium: I smile thinking, "there you are you goddmned miracle. All it took was water and time, but you are a universe of enzymatic fire.  How  the hell do you exist?"  To date, we just can't be certain.

So it's kind of a close encounters of the first person kind.  Organisms have their powers of ten physiological minutiae and impact on the planet as well.

If I go back to my original question, though, why aren't we, and our fellow living beings shaped like classical objects, cubes and spheres and regular in shape and proportion, various things might be suggested by that magnesium molecule's falling electrons, and our dependence on the same.

For one thing, things are rather elaborate at the level of the chloroplast.  The shapes of the structures by which the famed Z scheme in photosynthesis is achieved (if they can be said to have a fixed shape, they of course are never fixed) are very complicated, indeed, and their movement, and the originating forces that compell them are a white hot subject in research today.

In a few posts back I spoke at length as to how life on a planet takes photons and shakes them down for awhile until it lets entropy have it's way with them.  And this defiance against entropy is probably the best way to "sense" life on a planet, should you be in the position to be scanning unknown planets.

But a defiance against entropy cannot be achieved through "work" in the sense that fighting, or wrestling against entropy, only serves to cancel out the very slim thermodynamic margins life butters it's bread with.  So life has to employ a scheme that is equivalent to effort or work, or energy, but never allows for the dreaded state of equilibrium to set in in any of life's endeavors.  Thermodynamic equilibrium, you'll remember, on a planet, equals, "no signs of life."

This is why any thourough definition of entropy will include more than the subject for which entropy was named: thermodynamics; it must also include information theory.  For entropy is utilized by people who study information, and complexity, to understand better all matter of subjects that employ "info" as a rather more lively thing than a mere graph, chart, or list.

Information is a wonderful concept.  In one moment it's text on a page, addressing some issue of specificity, the next moment it's twisting the contrails of quantum mechanical objects light years apart.  And yet information has a meta quality in it's usage as a word, my favorite conjuring (from the annals of emergent behavior in the physical AND achetypal world) being that a person should occasionally ask themselves why the wave that spreads around a pebble tossed in a pond knows from one edge of it's growing circle to the other, how to spread.  How do the forces, energies, forms, and differences remain whole and coherent from the instance of the pebble from your hand to the surface of the water, to more than seventy feet across before you find it difficult to see it's whole?  What accounts for such an assemblage.  You should feel free to say, "waves," and go on merrily thinking such a word can hold such relics as I mentioned, but I'd be stopped dead by the Golden Rule in remarking freely on your hypothesis.  Used in such a manner "waves" means almost nothing.  Nothing next to the quivering aria that that rough hewn piece of metamorphic stone generated as if by accident.  And then, sinking to the bottom of the pond, became resplendant in it's achievement, a prince of pebbles, an artist among the cattails.

I won't go on about information in this context for too long, since it becomes pretty academic depending on how deep your interest burrows (and mine's digging away, so I must be thoughtful lest I end up here, alone.)  But it's worth simply pointing out, that information has been regarded for a rather long time now as impactful to phenomena in a very active and virile way.  It's a doer, and makes a difference in a manner surprising to it's flaccid place in the cabinets of common sense.

For our purposes here, information is a labrynth, employed to trick the cold vacuum of space into giving a little succor and substance to a corner of the periodic table, gone mad.  Science regards information as equivalent to energy, in many respects.  Complexity is a structure of information in space and time.  And as such, complexity is a maze down which electrons fall, at every turn denied their fervent wish to simply get hitched, and end this harrowing fantasmagora.  Imagine how peaceful it must have been for the photon travelling from the sun to the earth:  to break out of the surface of a star, after bouncing around in different forms of energy and cycles of seething titanic convection for thousands of years.  Suddenly, without warning, the photon meets the darkest ink of space, hurtling toward the earth, our planet so small it it wouldn't even be seen.  At 180,000 miles per second I'm guessing the view would be brief, once it was discernible, but in any case, for four minutes the photon gets to chill in the vacuum of space: neither at the mercy of a thermonuclear blacksmith, nor the beck and call of life's enzymatic mosquito hum.  Every time sunlight hits you, it must consider itself either the unluckiest bastard in the photonic diaspora, or the luckiest depending on the photon's generalised worldview.  If a photon likes space, well then hitting your eyeball, can truly be considered (provided it's from the sun) a total disaster.  There are photons out there flying for ten thousand years and light from the sun gets four minutes.  Were it not a scientific fact, it'd be a stinkin' miracle.  What are the odds?

Well, for all the existential angst that photons unfortunately risk once relieved of their stint in the stars, they've really got it easy next to the magnesium molecules outer shell, inside the cloroplast. As is abundantly clear to you and me now, the entire apparatus of life on a planet must be tricked out to ravish those electrons.  And the strange conclusion you come to when you think about it is: life is more or less electrical.  Based, in terms of its form, and sustenance, on falling electrons.  Not the thermodynamics of the archetypal hearth or fire.

The shapes of lifeforms take heed of all of this, along with the rest of the forces that morph us.  And falling electrons are more employable by the dendritic, fractal branching forms that our labrynthian bodily structures follow then the classical objects that our sentiments for so long have associated with perfection.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Solar Made Relations

Say you were on the Starship Enterprise and you came out of warp drive only to find yourself in a the new neighborhood of a star and a few friendly looking planets.  Now, the planets seem to be vaguely habitable places with water, mist and a strange purple light, perhaps a kind of vegetation, but your not sure.

"Captain," asks the irritatingly breathy voice of your flaming Number One, "do you think there might be some young blondes buck naked down there?"  You look at Number One, tempted to explain to him the proper decorum he has never given a damn about, but reconsider, "That's just what I'm about to discover."

Now wait a minute.  We've all seen some version of this scene before.  What you, the Captain, should do is obvious: simply ask for a "scan for life."  It's that easy.  And if you act now, I'll throw a Chop-O-Matic in, absolutely free!

What exactly would a "scan for life" look like anyway?  Ever thought about that?  What does life look like in a planetary sense?  I mean, you might start with the color of vegetation.  So we know that life has a color, on earth, which is more or less responsible for a greenish cast to the planets face, from space.  But, come on, that is surely a lame metric to use in a science fiction scenario.  We need to be more fancy and scientific here.  We have to be able to operate without a flashlight!

Well, jeez, Captain, I'm thinking as hard as I can.  I know you are, but perhaps I can suggest a few things that exist only in the presence of life, which should you be able to sense them, somehow, you'd surely know something was up, other than Number One, whilst thinking of his blondes.

For example, say you measured the amount of radiation that the planet was receiving from it's star.  Say this amount was a number, like, 1000 units of radiation.  The determining factor of radiation received by the planet would be determined by the amount of radiation that would fall on any surface in the solar system at that distance from the sun.  Multiplied then to the size of the planet.  Nothing fancy.  You just pull up alongside the planet, take a measurement for a standard measured area.  Now you know the radiation falling for the standard area.  Then measure the area of the the entire planet and divide it by two, giving you the area of the face of the planet being showered with the suns rays at any given time.  Divide the area of the face of the planet by your standard measurement that you took of the suns rays next to the planet.  And multiply the amount of radiation that fell on your standard surface times the number of them it would take to cover half the face of the planet.  Voila! you've got yourself the magic number.  We said 1000 units of radiation.

The reason we are doing this?  Well, as the whole world seems to be learning these last few years, interesting stuff happens to sunlight when it falls on planets.  Sometimes, if the surface of the planet is rocky, but devoid of atmosphere, the sunlight merely warms the surface (to an extent having to do with its distance from the sun) until night falls, whereon the surface gives the darkness of space a warm bath of infrared.  And turns so cold that Antarctica would seem a tropical isle, by comparison.

Such a scenario is exactly the one enjoyed by some moons in our solar system.  Not all rocky moons, but most of them.

Needless to say, life is unlikely to exist without geofluids such as water and atmosphere.  They help create flows of energy that life rather depends on.

In the more likely case of "scanning a real candidate for life" there would be water, like in our example above, and atmosphere.  And now, as I mentioned, we know that 1000 units of solar radiation are bathing the planet, pretty much all the time.

How does this help us to determine much in the way of whether or not life exists for Number One to chase tail with?  Simple:  entropy.

Entropy itself is not a sign of life at all.  In a sense, it's somewhat it's opposite.  Useful energy degrading into heat (or random molecular motion), not due to the Second Law of thermodynamics, but rather in accord with it.

Life increases organization with flows of energy and matter, gaining complexity, and somehow creating something of a black hole, in the smooth plane that would otherwise have graphed our planets entropy.  This should indicate to you that our test for "signs of life" must include some aspect of entropy.  And the aspect you are most likely going to guess, now that we're discussing it, is a loss of entropy, a sequestering of complexity and energy on a planet that harbors life, which would not be the case, otherwise.

So how might you do this, or determine this.  You probably already can guess: it's not really that hard.  But first I ought to give a little background as to my interest in the subject.

I first read about "entropy" in a book my parents had on their sagging shelves called, "Entropy."  The only thing I learned about "entropy" in the book, well... I actually learned nothing about entropy, but rather, learned a great deal about the scandalous lack of efficiency of the modern agriculture employed by the West.  The book, no doubt (I haven't returned to it) explained a good deal what "entropy" is, but the only thing I could gather, by reading it, was that "entropy" was the winding down of things in the universe, which somehow, everything always does, eventually.  I took it, I suppose, as a somewhat technical term for death or something.  Oh well, I was young.

After that I continuously have brushed up against thermodynamics, as I mentioned before in this blog, and not infrequently, given it's somewhat prominent role in the same, "entropy."  By and by, I think by the writings of Fritjof Capra, about  complexity, and systems theory, I slowly came to realize my ignorance, and determined at least to admit I didn't know what "entropy" was, and would one day really endeavor to figure it out.

Somehow or other I came across enough books that explained thermodynamics, that it gradually sunk in.  And then I started to understand math a lot better, and feel less anxiety about actually reading the equations, instead of skipping to the "interesting stuff."  Lo and behold:  "entropy."

It wasn't that "death" was a terrible metaphor.  It's just that, as in so many cases in life, a metaphor wasn't as useful as a visualization through the language of science.  It's almost impossible to explain the subtle difference, but suffice it to say that whereas before I was inspired by the concept of "entropy," today I can understand it's role in the language of science, on the subjects near and dear to me like: photosynthesis, agriculture, biology, and sure... climate.  "Signs of life" indeed.

So what's a Captain to do, moored out in a possibly hostile location: say the Horse Nebula Latitudes.  Nowhere to castaway, and grog went out of fashion six centuries ago.  Better find Number One something to love, eh?

Scientists, like most of us, are prone to a certain degree of bombastacy.  I'm not a Scientist, and I certainly love to make unflattering comparisons frowned on by less immodest gentlefolk.

So, while a scientist might certainly make a lovely point by sticking you in a bomb calorimeter and pressurizing the thing to some forty atmospheres with Oxygen gas, and sending a current of electricity through an igniter:  in the end all he's going to have left is some measure of the periodic table, composed of ash worth maybe $30.00 at a demon Pharmacist of Bleaker St.  I get it, I get it... life is just chemicals.  Who hasn't heard it before?  Here's the thing though... a planet without life is chemicals too.  But a planet without life doesn't decrease in it's entropic equilibrium.  Life isn't just chemicals.  Don't tell the Christians, but, Goddamn, life's kinda smart.

Though it's a bit of a cop out, the easiest way to sort of glean what I mean about all this is to think of oil, natural gas, and coal.  Guess what?  They're energy!  And guess where that energy came from?  The Sun.  So, wouldn't you agree that whatever sunlight is in the total reserves of coal, oil and natural gas on our planet were retained by our planet once the sunlight fell?  Which is to say, once the photons in the coal, oil and natural gas hit the earth, they giggled around in some ancient form of life for a good long while (twenty to forty years on average, in case you really are interested) and then settled in for a nap, in a somewhat supremely gated community.

So, if you were to measure the sunlight falling on the earth, at least a portion of it is surely going to not return to space, as was the case of nearly all of it on our rocky planet with no atmosphere and water.

This is, though crude, more or less what is meant by "negative entropy," the equally crude term of the art for life's effect on a planets thermodynamic equilibrium.  I have had the habit in my writings of referring to such phenomena as "negative entropy" as disentropic, but nowhere else will you find such claptrap.  So "negative entropy" it is.

So, by now it is clear to you what the aim of our "scanner for life" should be.  It should measure the radiation hitting the surface of the planet, and then compare that figure to the radiation escaping from the entire planet (the whole planet, not half.)  A planet giving back what it takes from the sun, in equal measure, is a very bad candidate for life.

Which if you've ever longed for a nice meal, as Number One pines for his pleasure, should make a great deal of sense.


Postscript:  Should there be some concern on your part as to my teasing that portion of our race who pine for young blondes... it might comfort you to know that I have modeled Number One on an old friend, D.H.  D.H. and I used to jog together frequently.  He was a very wonderful friend of mine.  And while running, nothing would encourage his interest in healthy pursuits so much as the rather frisky, young, slim, blonde men who passed us at intervals we had no hope of equalling.  This habit of my friend was a deep pleasure to me, when I wasn't laughing so hard at his rather "negative entropy" of desire:  a structure of deepening complexity which I hope by now has been shattered by a dozen or so unpigmented fellows.  D.H., had it been in my power, I would have grabbed them by the hair myself, and explained to them the small sacrifice their free will truly represented next to the generosity of your desire.  But, that's the rub.  I suppose it's a free country after all... and that played no small part in my pride at your friendship with me.

Will It Blend?

We've all done these things in school.  You get a piece of paper, for a test, that has a picture of a circle, with things floating inside of it, and lines coming off each part of what's depicted.  In this case its a cell.  So you write the name of each organelle, membrane, Golgi apparatus (perfect terminology there), and what have you, and when the blanks are filled, you raise you hand, having passed the test.  Unless you simply filled in the ones you didn't know with your favorite rugby players.

When I was young that's how I viewed all aspects of the body (and organisms in general.)  When I touched you, you were really a kind of solid cartoon, virtually never, until I was older, providing me tactile clues as to how your body works, and what's going on under your skin.  And that's for the best... given my rich confusion about far more obvious matters (and more relevant ones to a normal existence as well.)

When I touched my arm only only imagined dimly that it had anything at all to do with cells, or even muscles, really.  Surface was, and to a great extent it must continue to be, everything.

For a long time I have been young enough to look at things somewhat fresh, and with a sort of naive astonishment.  It is the privilege of the young to do this (though as I reminded a friend of mine, who's comments were reminding me how old we are, my privileges are running out.)

I'll never forget a wonderful drive home I had seven years ago, to Elletsville, where I lived with some punk rock kids and two little girls: Ona and Florence.  I had just bought my girlfriend the new Dixie Chicks album, and had plans with her that night for her birthday.  I had been working at the Bagel Bakery that morning, then come home and taken a nap and dragged myself about of bed (poor guy had to do something nice for his fetching girl...) to go to the bookstore and buy the present, then come home, clean up, and take her to dinner.  Having had a cup of coffee (from the bookstore) and feeling the anticipation of her pleasure and joy at my attentions, my mind was wandering pleasantly as I turned onto Ratliff road, my road, and climbed the last hill in the whitish late afternoon sunlight of autumnal equinox.  

I looked out at a hillside, for Elletsville is thick with beautiful examples, and saw the expected beauty that the late afternoon sun so regularly produces for those with the eyes to see it.  Something seemed odd though.  A part of my brain went back to a time in the early '90's when I noticed, while working for Orkin Pest Control, one day, that the shadows of the grass and tree's seemed doubled, or something, like an extra, dimmer sun had passed overhead.  To this day I can't say exactly why it seemed like that, but I remember extremely clearly pulling into an auto body shop and asking for a welding mask to look at the sun.  While waiting I punched a hole in a piece of paper and saw the image of the sun being slightly occluded by a round object, projected onto the back of my hand.  The very nice proprietors of the auto body shop, fascinated to say the least by this mad bug guy, came out and gave me the mask, I glanced up at what I already had seen, then gave the mask to the proprietor, and we grinned with mutual admiration at our pipsqueak lives, full of Wheaties, work and top forties tunes, and rarely touching in any sense on the sun and the moon.

Something about the light, as I drove up that hill on Ratcliff road reminded me of that partial eclipse in the Spring of 1994.  But, even as I smiled at the memory, I knew that it wasn't a change in the sun, but something about the quality of the appearance of the grass...  I just looked at it one more time, and then looked across the street to the east and saw something different, something different in the appearence of that grass.  Whereas the grass on the west side, between me and the sun had a kind of stained glass quality, the grass on the east side, reflecting the sun (the light of which was passing over my car and I) back into my eyes, had a buff, almost arid quality.

The grass on the western side was not reflecting light much at all, from what I could tell.  "My God," I said to myself, "it's glowing."  I wondered, rather dumbly, how long it had been doing that right before my eyes.  So, I realized for the first time, grass accepts some percentage of light, and lets it pass right through, just like stained glass.  Everywhere I looked, for about 180 degrees from the seat of my vehicle, there was, an aspect of the landscape that was not reflecting the sun, but transmitting it.

Photographers know all about the strange tricks of light, and probably know an additional thousand details about the way to look at things, when looking and choosing is your bread and butter.

But biologists and chemists and physicists  know all about why things look the way they do.  And in the next few posts, along with that test that you took in school about the way cells are constructed, or at least we were taught they were, I'd like to sing a little body electric, and make an even better case for the Church with the finest wrought windows:  'cus these windows were made for the sun.

Turns out that our little Test that we took of the cell is fine, if you only want to know some of the things there are to know about what's happening in a cell.  Back when I was a kid, most biologists had some pretty straightforward training as to how to identify the various proteins and lipids and enzymes that made up the interior of the cell.  They blended up the cell, and extracted from the smoothie what they could, then purified it, and studied it.  As science has probably shown you:  this method has worked marvelously.   We know an astonishing amount of stuff about the nature of the molecules that comprise our bodies.  It wasn't easy, but scientists have painstakingly figured a lot of our building blocks out.

There are a few details, however, that the Osterizer setting #7 (liquify) might have not helped much with.  For example:  what is the nature of the spaces in between the organelles and within the membrane of a cell.  Typically, as a kid, I just labeled it cytoplasm, a term meant to sort of conjure the space for everything that wasn't a nucleus or organelle:  I don't know, proteins, water, and the kitchen sink, or what have you.  Everyone I ever talked to about it seemed to believe it was about two kitten whiskers to the side of salt water.  Plus some enzymes and stuff.

And for most of my life, most people, for the most part were happy with such a picture.  Painter philosophers (and half drunk art lovers) love to point out that the canvas makes a significant contribution to the mature accomplishment of a painting, and one could hardly be accused of rudeness for simply reasoning that the "white space" in a cell was sitting there keeping the rest of the cell full, and the organelles and stuff from bumping into one another.

Turns out that blending the cell (and viewing it through microscopes) gave us a ton of valuable info about its building blocks.  But, like the difference between a huge pile of bricks, and a house, those building blocks had led us not only to edification: sometimes knowledge can lead you astray.

This is not to say that our understanding of cellular structure is a facile endeavor.  As I said before:  we have achieved incredible resolution of knowledge about all manner of aspects in Molecular Biology and even the structure of the cell.  I recently read about the endoplasmic reticulum, which I am not sure it was pointed out to me as a child, is a system of three-dimensional canals and spaces involved in intracellular transport and occupying a large proportion of the cell volume.  That's funny, I had thought that my cells transported nutrients through gross flows of fluid exchanged over gradients of salinity, or what have you.  Canals transporting water?  In a cell?  I found that rather surprising.  But then, after a learned a few more things, I found it, like I find mycelium, engrossingly delicious.

According to a book I am currently enjoying immensely, The Rainbow and The Worm, (The Physics of Organisms) by Mae-Wan Ho, until recently most biologists regarded the organelles of a cell to be comprised mostly of inert structural proteins, and the cytoplasm to be richly endowed with dissolved proteins and enzymes, floating randomly until plucked by the cell's metabolism for use.  The exceptions to this scenario involved respiration and photosynthesis, but basically the cytoplasm was regarded as a reservoir of sorts.

Further investigation has recently shown that the proteins thought previously to be dissolved in cytoplasm, are in fact complexed into into intricate structures, throughout the "body" of the cytoplasm.  These structures, while hardly well understood, are quite a shock to the old concept of storage and warehousing.  The structures appear to have some use, and are thought to be in intimate contact with the hydrogen bonds of the cytoplasm water: perhaps, somewhat shockingly, meaning that the proteins play some role in structuring the watery interior of the cell.  Far from being in solution (in the typical sense) they form an organized, unified structure, to accomplish some crucial role in the life of the cell.  The cytoplam is a structural matrix of protein, enzyme (a type of protein) and water.

Now do you see why blending might have obscured some of the structure of the cell?

Perhaps none of this means much of anything to you.  So what? you might be wondering.  So their is structure to cytoplasm.  "Next time I'll be sure to put some squares and triangles in the white space when I take the test on the structure of a cell.  Ok, Andy?"  Ok.  It's a start.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Lunar Saint

You might say this poem is about Monsanto: (it's been on the left margin of this Blog for awhile)

When too clever by half
Kicks the door in our house
And tens thousand shades
Cast over this land.
The simple seeds left,
What with water and dirt,
Will be as sand.
Blown into a small hill
For the winds to carry,
And water to deposit,
And earth to nurture;
Be disabled,
By too clever by half
And our friends.

Yes, there comes that day when
Uprightness is wrong.
And there comes that day of
Entropy's throng.
For the winding rendition
Of a green twister slowly
Twisting to a theme.
Maybe to hungry swallows
Following the winds hungering...
It's appetite for grass
And leaves
Like locusts
But twisting beyond a scientists

If you believe in magic
Why not imagine this loss?
What might my house be without
The roots and stem and leaves
That a seed used to
Be able to grow?
And what would become of my world?
When all the fields are fallow
Once sown.

Though, I actually think this poem is about me. You see I have been warned my whole life, by many numerous sources, literally since I was born, about the impact that my culture has on the world. I learned as a small child about the ozone hole and global warming, which just goes to show how odd it is that only recently it seems certain factions have come around. Crazy me, I thought the matter was settled in 1986. Apparently I was unaware of the manner in which we come to "know" things, or "understand" them. "That makes sense," is a privilege not extended to everyone (which you would think I would have remembered growing up in the non-sensical Christian world.)

Well... I remember very well when I first heard that among his duties in perestroika, Gorbacheav, took a tour with Reagan, of a large American farm. I've heard this story so many times, it in fact may be apocryphal, and yet I feel that I can see The Gipper and Gorbie standing there, straddling a few short rows of corn, a slight moire effect crossing your eyes as you look to the horizon behind them. For the sake of simplicity, lets say the farm was 1000 acres. Perhaps 3.5 percent of Americans were farmers, at the time. More than three times the number today. Around seven million seedcaps, adjusted for the population then.

So, Gorbie turns to Ronnie and says, "I suppose many American families are at work in these beautiful fields each day. Many, many families to tend this vast farm." But Ronnie smiles at yet another example of KGB failure, and says, "Only one family owns this farm. Only one farmer. And his John Deer tractors and combine."

Gorbie gasps. Suddenly besotted by the very symbol of his countryman, the hammer and sickle. No sickle could ever touch this field, not in the hands of one man. So Gorbie, an honest man, tells his fellow statesman, "A country with a farm such as this, run by a single man, is unstoppable." Or something like that. It's been a few years. I think I might have seen Gorbie on C-SPAN a few years ago. Then again, maybe not. It's been a long time.

When I first heard this story, it didn't particularly surprise me. My entire childhood was filled with nationalist propaganda: the space shuttle, olympics, and various different film strips at school vaguely showing Americans in smart western clothing, while folks in other countries never seem to rise above their perpetual agricultural posture. This, as crazy, as if Americans had routinely been depicted sitting on a toilet as their most typical national pastime (and take their toilet away, and you might be forced to wonder.) But seeing the inevitably dark, and always smaller than the land, peoples of the world, stooping to conquer, only seemed appropriate next to my countryman's seemingly endlessly exciting lives. We fly! We go to the moon (first!) And we grow tens of thousands of bushels of food, whilst in air conditioning in the cab of our combines, listening to G. Gordon Liddy. There was no Rush Limbaugh at the time, save Cape Girardeau, MO. At the time, as a kid, a skinny kid at that, I savored our manifest superiority. Sort of.

You can't completely blame us. We're a young country, full of land, and our adolescence coincided with the international draft of the first world wars and industrialization. When my Mom was a bit younger than me there was little more seemingly telling of where we were going in the world than a 747 (even intellectuals, Marxists too, would jump on those planes not knowing when they'd be back again. Still do.)

And when my parents were my age, 35, The Love Boat seemed to speak of power, freedom and a new life and romance, and as some songs have put it, "that's [where] we needed to go." Things (whatever they were, or still are) blow over on the seashores of old Mexico.

So even if Gorbie had been testing us with reverse psychology, which he very well might not have been, it would have been hard for us to notice, given the fabulous crew on the Enterprise (space shuttle, but also television shows) and Captain Steubing and his Pacific Princess: not the flotilla of the Hammer and Sickle, but The Love Boat. Sort of a mixture of a Trojan Horse and a Don Juan.

With a John Deer Green machine, we Americans could yawn through a 1000 acres.

This ignored, of course, the rather constant news of farmers going completely broke, due to the new agriculture. But just like the vast green meadows of Britain, where men have been free to settle down for three millennia, something had to clear the land, and I'm not talking about trees. The emerald beauty of a bucolic setting can say as much about a heartbreaking absence of human endeavor, as it suggests in its seemingly timeless aesthetics.

So my poem above asks various questions. I wrote it in about an hour, and have tinkered with it for a few years (since June 18, 2006, just as I was beginning to read Biology for most of a summer. To the exclusion of much else, save music.)

The first stanza hides its meaning behind the phrase "too clever by half." "Too clever by half" seems to be an attacker, kicking the door in, and bringing with his terrorism a banshee like collection of shades, and other fertility killers. "The simple seeds left/ What with water and dirt/ Will be as sand."

But the earth and water still flow to nurture sand like seeds. They are disabled, however, by "too clever by half," us, our scientists, and hubris, and our friends.

This poem might seem at first to be angry and apopcalyptic. But really, it's embarrassed and confessional. These are problems and processes I have known all my life about the seeds and soil. And I still contribute my two cents worth of encouragement to the problems, every day. For example, Canola Oil, is my main cooking oil. I buy as much of it, by weight, as I do coffee. And where does it come from? From the Western US, and Canada mostly (Canola means Canadian Oil: the plants original name is Rapeseed, wonderful plant, terrible name.)

For perhaps two decades, in the '70's thru the '80's, Rapeseed was merely a particularly fruitful plant. It's seed heads were gargantuan, and I think, though I am not sure, they are related to Turnips and Rutabaga and Mustard (brown, from whence all Brassica descend, through a single seashore species, to this day, on the chalk coasts of Britain.) Seed heads regarded by argriculturalist's in the '70's as one of the alternative crops to save the world from hunger. A good used bookstore will have shelves of volumes from this era with titles like, "Protein Concentrates" (taking the protein out of grass and processing it into a digestible form to feed people. It's been done, but for some reason Emeril never noticed.) and "New Food Crops To Feed The World." Such volumes can say, what else, volumes about the anxieties of an era.

So how was it, exactly, that I found myself, twenty years later in 1997, eating at a chain of steakhouses, Ruth's Chris, where a top tier eater like a steer, fed on grass and fattened on corn (the farmer I worked for had a group of machines called, no joke, Steer Stuffers?) Clearly something changed between the late '70's and the late '90's. Something had changed. My steaks weren't made with Soyelent Green, or protein concentrates off the prairie. They were made the old/new fashioned manner: with one grass to grow them, and the mutant varietal of grass, a tropical plant called corn, to fatten them. Had everyone stopped starving?

Most of us know that it wasn't so much that everyone stopped starving, as much as the Green Revolution found a way to feed most of the people, most of the time. Drought, coinciding with political meltdown, still provided for plenty of famine (such as the famous Ethiopian archetype that so many mothers mentioned to their children, or joked about, in the middle '80's.) But extremely large strides in fertilization, globally, and computerized logistics and shipping had effects not dreamed of by the phlegmatic old doomsayers of the '70's (the demise of old school Longshoreman, and two century old techniques of packing cargo onto ships, had a more than salutary effect on the efficiency of the movement of goods across the Earth.)

Another thing that happened hews more closely to the row my poem attempts to hoe. Genetic engineering. It's been said that the Green Revolution was mostly a matter of breeding better seeds more suited to environments where they previously might not have prospered. And I think that is half the truth. For one thing, in the late '70's damn little true genetic engineering as we imagine it today, where recombinant DNA is utilized to genetically modify cells, and eventually organisms, was possible. But breeding was reaching a zenith, as many biological technologies seem to, just slightly lagging the geophysical sciences. Where the '40's, '50's, and '60's seemed to speak of nuclear energy (or war,) space travel, and an establishment of a jet set on the 747, the '70's, '80's, and '90's brooked no seeming barriers to an establishment of an artificial form of agriculture, and some hoped, life itself. Biology seemed to be the new black science destined to reveal new paradigms.

So one day Rapeseed was genetically modified by Monsanto (in the late '70's to early '80's) and a marker put in its genes making it identifiable through exposure to certain chemicals (a characteristic, normal Rapeseed, doesn't have.) This Rapeseed is robust, and resistant to pests, and gives great yields to farmers, so it is planted by many, many farmers and then pressed into most of the Canola oil that we have become so accustomed to. Most of the oil I buy almost certainly comes from these plants. Farmers, at first, were probably only slightly frustrated at the cost of the seed. One of the stipulations of Monsanto's contract, however, is that you cannot keep seed at harvest to replant the following season. How strictly does Monsanto regulate and enforce against such a time honored practice?

Get this: some farmers were suspicious of such agriculture from the beginning, and so, even when most of their neighbors were planting Monsanto's rapeseed, these farmers were going organic, with open pollinated, rapeseed of old. A few years passed and these organic farmers heard at the local donut shop from their conventional farming friends and neighbors that the cost of using the Monsanto seed was even higher than advertised due to the restriction on keeping back some portion of the crop for next years' planting. This caused the organic farmers even greater confidence in their decision to stay away from Monsanto. Then one day Monsanto knocks on the organic farmers door, and presents the organic farmer with evidence that he had planted Monsanto seed, without contracting to do so with the company. The organic farmer in a fit of certitude denies and deplores the accusation. Fair to say he "knows" it is a lie. So Monsanto takes the poor seedcap to court and wins against him in trial, since Monsanto had snuck into his fields, and documented without a doubt the genetic fidelity of their product to what the farmer had growing in a fair percentage of his acreage. Monsanto wins, and the farmer is forced, by law, to destroy his crop and pay serious money to Monsanto. The farmer never planted one Monsanto seed, so what the hell is going on here?

It's a good question, and yet, all over North America this has happened. In many cases putting tiny organic acreage outside any possible certification save conventional monocropping of rapeseed: by Monsanto. There are many documents of this carnage. And the pattern is clear: the planting of Monsanto's products (it's seeds) pollutes the genetics of open pollinated crops in the surrounding fields. Since Monsanto owns the genetics, their right to the organic fields is rather similar to the rights transferred where a man establishes paternity, through a genetic test. It's not the way things are supposed to work... but it's the way things are for now. And the way we eat (more and more.) Regardless of the books we read. Regardless of where we "Shoppertain" ourselves with narratives distant to the plight of a farmer who doesn't reap, even remotely, what he did in fact sow. Parables be damned. "When all the fields are fallow/ once sown."

The half not pictured in this scenario for agriculture and biology, had to do with the changes in the worlds financial banking, and the programs put into place to establish a greater footprint on the globe of modern agricultural methods. The Green Revolution had as much to do with Greenbacks and fertilizer, irrigation and politics, as it did breeding (to say nothing of genetic engineering.)

This is important for so many reasons that I hesitate to even wade in. But since my poem is supposedly the reason I got writing about this, I will attempt a small gesture on the subject.

The bottom line was that that the breadbasket of America was gradually producing more and more, throughout the '50's, '60's and '70's. But the market for that "bread" was fixed, as long as it was constrained to the borders of the breadbasket's namesake. I mentioned in a previous post the tension in the definition of ecology throughout the '70's between pure scientists and somewhat more adventurous souls who wished the concept of ecology to move beyond that phrase in my old ecology textbook, "The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance." By whatever economic, or ecological terminology you wish to use the problems of food supply, in our world, have more than a little to do with that constraining phrase, that some found far too narrow to describe even aspects of the Biome.

It turns out that many populations in the world (perhaps, even, all) self regulated in terms of their fertility and infant mortality due to the quantity of food available to them. The classic case of such supply and demand was the Irish potato famine, which might have played some role in my being an American (or rather, existing at all.) One quarter of my heritage on my fathers paternal side, is Irish. The reasons that Irish family ended up in Kentucky is lost to me. But it might have had something to do with the Potato blight. I've certainly always assumed it did. How strange, really, my existence might have been impossible if not for a disease. Then again, in this modern world, it is a comfort to see the postmodern habit of thought, rendered solid, in the nineteenth century. Save me, please, from assumptions of novelty.

The bottom line in Ireland was that an American crop, a Peruvian potato, somewhat modified, called "The Lumper," had arrived on the Irish scene somewhat near the beginning of the 1800's. Within decades, the population of Ireland had increased substantially, not only in numbers, but in health. The average height of it's population went up a great deal as well as other metrics of vim and vigor. By the 1840's, Ireland was doing great, especially if compared to its state fifty years prior.

Then, in 1845, Phytophthora infestans met the Irish miracle. 1846 and 1848 as well (thanks to Michael Pollan for recapitulating this information for me in his wonderful book, The Botany of Desire pgs. 229-231.) This fungus darkened and killed the potato clones (for that is how potatoes are reproduced in modern agriculture today, and then.) A dark remembrance of the shadow of fertility took hold of the country, and where strides had been made, graves now were dug. An "analysis of distribution and abundance," indeed.

It wasn't, according to Pollan, until researchers returned to Peru and found the "Garnet Chile" potato, that Ireland could again return to eating it's mainstay. We had to return to where a plethora of potato varieties were grown (not in monoculture, as we continue to farm, to Gorbie's admiration and alarm) before we could vouchsafe some remnant of the Irish population under siege.

So, the complexity and diversity of Peru's more "primitive" agriculture (of the America's) saved a "modern" monocrop, and it's dependent population.

American grapes saved European vineyards, in a differently played out, but similarly ironic, fashion. The failure of the monocropping rarely is regarded as a function of the practice, and habit of the farmers. Disease becomes the boogieman of chance, risk and "acts of God." Even when such things have happened, more or less, like clockwork. All European grapes had to be grafted to disease resistant American grape rootstock in the last seventy years. Outside of that option, European vineyards would never work (as you see them today.) Pretty strange that Europeans literally grew their grapes on top of American ones while looking down their noses at the notion of our vineyards ever growing into something delicious and noble. Talk about good versamilitude: grapes grafted to grape stock look like nothing more than grapes. Then again, should the Europeans have their hands forced (in any non traditional direction) I can imagine nothing worse then the Monsantification of their Vinoculture. So, to the extent that their laws, and prejudice, protect them from treating their grape growers the way North American Courts treat organic farmers (and would be meat processors, and ect. and ect. and ect.): good for them.

In the past the North American agriculture scene has been faced with extreme losses, but they were losses bridgeable, time and again, by dipping into wells of genetic culture at a distance from the closest "fence" of the First World. Our modern Agriculture enjoys the Hybrid Vigor that it does, in part, due to it's distance up until today from the "genetic banks" of traditional agriculture found in third world and second world countries. This is one reason why I sometimes wonder why we don't ask ourselves, "Is there really such a thing as 'modern' agriculture?" It isn't a semantic exercise to point out that there is so little separation between our problems (and our erstwhile solutions) that most of the modernity to be found in the farm is simply a matter of cultivation, not "---culture."

And so with this strange house of cards we live today. Knowing, without really admitting it, that we have no clue as to the risks we face with this living thing, this strange world, this frontier to which we have kneeled since we quit hunting and gathering all those thousands of years ago: farming/ agriculture.

I learned from Fernand Braudel's sensational "The Structures of Everyday Life" that the transition to agriculture for Europeans resulted in a net decrease in their health (individually). Did you read that correctly, for I certainly had to ask myself if Braudel had again written something amazing (but only in the apocryphal sense?) The transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture resulted in a net decrease in the health of Europeans (individually.) And when you consider what agriculture was back then (wheat, barley and other grains made into porridge and bread) it isn't hard to wonder that people didn't simply die of scurvy in the winter time. Were it not for Summer, they certainly would have. For the constricting of diet that Agriculture always creates due to its basic economic effect on the character of the ownership and usage of land, leads always to more habitat for "what's Caesar's" and less for you and me. And what's habitat for you and me? Weeds and green plants to pick, animals and fish to catch and eat, mixed hardwoods and softwoods to build our lives out of, and a diversity in behavior and diet that hones the cunning of a culture, and keeps the nose far "from the grindstone" (perhaps the most gilded of prescriptions for virtue in America.) Agriculture took that description, and recognized the waste that it implies from an "economic" point of view. People became stakeholders in a few things, instead of dozens, and were paid by the "fruit" of their labor: almost never their cunning.

That is how Monsanto convinces the farmer today: no farmer, in modern agriculture is rewarded by industry or government for cunning: his only reward is to quit the whole business of agriculture altogether and start growing things again (sometimes literally expanding the garden behind his house into a business, then going from there.) All over our country (and the world) people are abandoning houses (but I'm not talking about sub-prime mortgages this time.) They are abandoning houses of worship for modern agribusiness. They do it out of desperation: the costs of the implements and feedstocks, seeds and chemicals, exceed the market price for their crops. Even with government welfare. Much of the organic movement is desperation. And many farmers are surprised what sunburns and no G Gordon Liddy can do.


If you believe in magic
Why not imagine this loss?
What might my house be without
The roots and stem and leaves
That a seed used to
Be able to grow?
And what would become of my world?
When all the fields are fallow
Once sown.

What has become of your world? It's not about Monsanto (the Lunar Saint!) It's about us.