Insubstantiate

The clouds mock
my limited understanding
of fluid dynamics
Twisting vortices
of smoky tendrils
dancing on this windy day

In my backyard
in dramatic fashion
the clouds tumble over my roof
I swear they’re just overhead
I could get on that ladder
the clouds would envelope me
and I would disappear

I remember seeing shapes
when I was younger
in the clouds
I remember animals fantastic
mundane or cartoonish
Now I see fractals
milk in my coffee
and the chance of rain

My head was in there once
dreams of futures
where I commanded fortune
The clouds are barely above my head now
just above the rooftop
I swear they’re just overhead
and I am just six feet off the ground

Song XXIX

Fizzy pop soda
Bubbly bottled brew
Shaken and stressed
Harassed and gassed
With pressure built for two

Rumbly dark cola
Tension twisted too
The cap stays on
With the anger gone
But the bottle’s bursted through

There is no use
no deposit
no excuse
for a bottle bursted through

A month for poetry

October is my favorite month. It’s full of orange and decay and warm spice. We begin to hunker down and get ready to spend time with far-away relatives. It’s a month of poetry and bitter-sweet memories.

To celebrate, I was thinking of writing a poem every day for the month. I tend to peter out of these things, but, you know, I’m forty, it’s about time I followed through with something, what else am I going to do, blah, blah. It’s just some words that take almost no time to put out there. And at the end of the month, I’ll have written half-again of all the poems I’ve written in my life.

So looking forward, I’m going to repost a poem I wrote long ago for this October-eve. It was, of course, written for a lost love and has not aged as well as some of the poems I wrote that had nothing to do with women. Such is life. But this was the first poem that had a cadence that I would unconsciously refine into something a bit sharper, a bit less morose, and a bit more universal. From 1997:

October—and the Sound of It

and I cannot fight this wind
    Our bond breaks
I am gone
separated from the branch
and spiraling down beneath the sky
the world rushes up towards me
and twisting and turning through the breeze
I’m sure that this is the end
but then I land
    Alone
    Soon to be gathered up
and placed within the safety of numbers

This is my fall
    My Autumn
This is my October

remember laughing with me
    About the silly things
    That some considered important
remember holding my hand
    Watching the fire burn in my heart
    And the dying light within my eyes
this is what Fate meant
    For what I let happen
I did not fight that wind

That was my fall
    My Autumn
That was my October

  What causes the Earth to rumble
        is often
            the stillness
                of nothing…

Value Added

The discovery of a possible diamond planet got me thinking. What is more valuable, a planet made of diamond or a planet full of wood? A planet made of gold or a planet made of molybdenum? A planet filled with jewels or a planet where we could grow rice?

The answers, I think, are obvious. So why do we think that gold and diamonds and jewels are intrinsically valuable here? Gold and diamonds do have industrial applications, so there is some small amount of practical worth, maybe on the same level as copper and graphite, but they’re both artificially kept scarce making us believe that they have value in and of themselves. And really, if a huge hunk of gold rock was found in space, would it be worth anything to go and get it?

Minds are made for changing

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were watching Bones and the main character, a scientist, said something that stunned me. I have to paraphrase, but the gist, “I’m a scientist, I can’t just change my mind.”

I cried out, when I heard it. Listen, scientists are people, too, and can be as stubborn as anyone, but the phrase was such that any scientist who said it would have immediately backed away from the totality of the statement. Scientists have to be able to change their minds. Anyone who has a sense of curiosity, who relishes discovery, is going to be able to change his or her mind.

Another aspect of that is accepting that some belief, long held, is incorrect. I argue my position, but if I’m given new information that changes my opinion, I’m much more fulfilled. I’m stubborn and seem intransigent, but learning something new is how I grow.

Over the holidays, Jennifer, my sister-in-law, said that The Beatles sing “Frere Jacques” in the song “Paperback Writer.” I disagreed, and we played the song. I’ve listened to it at least 30 times in the past 10 years. I’ve known “Paperback Writer” all my life. No way would that have escaped my notice. Sure enough, George and John are harmonizing “Frere Jacques” (clearer on one channel of the stereo). I was thrilled beyond belief. I was happy to be wrong.

There’s part of the human condition that prevents us to admit that we’re wrong. It’s a problem, though. Sometimes, we have the truth in front of us, and we still deny it. I hope I never lose the joy of discovering truths and changing my mind.

The Flat Earth Society

When I look at the sun setting, I don’t think the sun is actually moving; although, from my point of reference it may look that way. But knowing that Earth revolves around the sun and that the Earth, itself, rotates, I’ve long-since conditioned my mind to reason that when I see the sun setting, I’m seeing my little section of the Earth rotate into it’s own shadow.

It’s easy to understand in hindsight. I don’t blame the ancients for getting it wrong, but once the mechanism is understood, it sure is a lot easier to understand things like seasons and shorter or longer periods of daylight (the angle of the Earth to the sun), eclipses (bodies entering shadows cast by other bodies), and the movement of other planets (each revolves at a specific speed, and when Earth ‘passes’ the other planet, it looks like that planet is moving backwards in the night sky).

The ancients had all sorts of explanations for all of this, but they were just claptrap. Actually, some Chinese and Greeks figured it out millennia ago, but the common wisdom remained, by definition, more popular.

What continues to bother me though is that the ancients thought the world was flat. I know this is not true. The evidence for it not being flat was all over the place. I can buy that very few people had any idea how large of a ball we were on. (Columbus’s big idea wasn’t that the world was round, but that the round world was much smaller than commonly thought. He was terribly wrong in his calculations, assuming that when he landed in the Caribbean he was actually in India. Hence West Indies. Hence Indians.) But that anyone other than some backwater hermit thought that the world was flat was just not paying attention to anything.

Scientifically, it was easy to prove with shadows. The Greek, Eratosthenes, took measurements of two pillars and their shadows at known times in two different parts of the world. Using a new field of mathematics called Trigonometry, he computed the circumference of the world. Circumference, by the way, implies roundness.

The ancient world was dominated by trade and conquest. Much of this trade and conquest moved over huge portions of land or sea. Any explorer knew that the edge of the world was just an illusion. There was always something waiting over the horizon. Anecdotally, everyone knew the world was round.

By example, they knew the Earth was round. By looking at the phases of the moon, anyone can clearly see it’s a sphere, not a circle. If one were to take a flat plate, and try to mimic the phases with a light source, he would be disappointed as there would be no shadow until the light source moved completely behind the plate. It takes a sphere to produce those shadows. And the ancients, watchers of the sky, would have seen the shadow of the Earth cast in its own sky creeping along in twilight until it enveloped the heavens. That creeping shadow implies a curved edge, not the hard edge of a flat plate.

We can still see that shadow, on clear nights, but it’s difficult to notice, and, by the time I think of it, it’s already nightfall.

The evidence was all over the place. The ancients knew the world wasn’t flat. Why do we think they did?

I think of this when I hear people talk about what is commonly known, what everyone believes. How can millions of individuals know something, but it will invariably come out wrong when everyone believes it’s opposite? The world wasn’t flat, no one believed that it was, but somehow everyone thought it was flat. The political and social world of today is filled with this magical thinking. No one I know believes any of it. And yet everyone believes it.

The way to end this is to stop–not only to stop believing in the common wisdom, but to also stop believing there is a common wisdom. The people selling it are people who are selling us things that we wouldn’t buy unless we thought our peers were buying it too. This is in all things, physical and intangible. Consider that any idea that everyone believes is not to be trusted, look for it’s faults, break it into smaller pieces, and form your own opinion. In this time of the fractured media landscape, the remaining gatekeepers are desperate and determined to hold onto any group of believers that they manufacture. We don’t have to assist them by aligning with them.

Nothing but random

A yellow plastic tie shaped into a closed circle sits around the nose of ceramic Sylvester cat flower pot.

I have one superpower—incredible, random aim. Year ago, I threw a small rock across the Sunrise Highway Service Road and beaned my friend on the other side on the top of head. I wasn’t particularly aiming at him, and I was throwing the rock in a long arc. I was mocking him, as he was going home, probably saying something like, “Fine, go home, loser,” or whatever nonsense I was apt to spout back then. There was absolutely no intention of hitting him. But it clocked him right on top of his noggin. He was fine. It was a small rock under the influence of gravity only, because of the arc. But it shook me more than him. If I was aiming for the top of his head, I never would have hit him.

A yellow plastic tie shaped into a closed circle sits around the nose of ceramic Sylvester cat flower pot.This odd, eerie power continues to this day. I just casually tossed a cat toy from a set of stairs in the back of my living room. I threw it so it would arc over beam overhead, and land on the ground. I often throw in large arcs so the cats get more excited when it lands. They seem to be impressed by toys that travel greater distances. At any rate, the toy (really just a hoop of plastic) landed on the nose of ceramic Sylvester flower pot. At a carnival, I would have just won a medium or larger prize. It was a fantastic throw that I would never be able to duplicate again, nor would I have managed to land it intentionally.

So remember, if you want me to never hit you with something, have me aim directly for you. But if I’m randomly throwing something in the air, duck and cover.

It’s Alphabetic

Huh. I was going to post that I wanted to get two of ABC’s albums with “The Look of Love,” “How to Be a Millionare,” and “Poison Arrow.” I think these are on two different albums if I remember my 80s vinyl correctly. But not only are those albums not available on CD, but the songs themselves are only available as best-of collections as MP3s.

Now, ABC wasn’t known for their album-oriented rock, so I really shouldn’t have a problem buying a best-of and that’s that, but, boy, is that going to be the toughest thing to give up in our post-album world. It’s not the loss of the artwork or liner notes, which enterprising distributors are bringing back. It’s not the loss of cohesion within a group of songs, since it looks like a lot of artists are still grouping songs to release at once.

No, it’s hitting me hardest that I can’t remain smug when I, as a real fan, purchase albums and scoff at the fair-weather fans who purchase best-ofs and think they know anything about the band or the music they’re listening to. I want my high-horse back!

I answer questions

Facebook has a recently-added question area. Normally, I avoid answering the questions because many seem–well–they seem sketchy. Complete strangers asking each other about God’s existence and whether or not women who dress provocatively deserve harassment seems designed to just get on people’s nerves. But the pedagogue in me sometimes can’t resist. (And the feminist in me couldn’t resist answering the latter question with: Fuck men who think they can ever harass women.)

One question popped up which lead me to this little rant. I figure my long-suffering readers shouldn’t miss out on yet more of my brilliance, just because they’re not going to read my scintillating answers on Facebook. So, I’m republishing my answer here.

The question was: Why are unhealthy foods so tasty?

My answer follows: Because big companies spend lots of money on research to make it that way.

Which big companies? Well, your McDonalds and Kraft Foods, sure, but also companies like Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto–companies that are supposed to be in the agriculture business, but instead spend tremendous amounts of money making sure that their main products (corn and soybeans) can be used to replace any other foodstuff.

Let’s face it. Most of the foods we eat don’t resemble anything that came from an animal or grew in the ground. To do that in an efficient, mass-production way, we need cheap, readily available ingredients. So maybe corn isn’t what you expect in ice cream, or maybe you thought you had to order a soy-burger to actually get soy in your burger. Well, it’s in the beef one, too.

They’ve taken corn and soy and seaweed and sometimes just plain chemicals and combined them, reduced them, steamed them, whatever, to approximate what is missing from mass-produced foods.

In doing so, they’ve distilled the flavors to the point where (and this is true) McDonalds adds a French-fry flavor to it’s French fries. McDonalds will say it is for consistency, but a side-benefit is that it makes food we all like to eat taste MORE like the foods we like to eat. Therefore, there is no incentive for food production companies to add better ingredients, just more flavorings of the food we like to cheaper and cheaper ingredients.

So here’s something for all of us. We can totally train our taste buds. We can eat things with less sugar and less salt and actually enjoy it. I’m not telling anyone to eat organic or stop using butter–if you saw me in person, you’d know I’m a person who enjoys more than my share of butter. What I am saying is that we can eat healthier as soon as we stop to taste things. Fat isn’t a problem; sugar isn’t a problem; salt isn’t a problem–in moderation. But companies selling us prepared foods don’t have time to hit us with subtleties. They fire fat-sugar-salt! all at once and hit all our pleasure centers.