May 31, 2007

The First Blue Moon Of The Year

Blue moon, May 31, 2007. Photo © Jerome du Bois.

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May 26, 2007

The Lunaphiles

Moonlight-Spectrum Collection Instrument, created by Interstellar Light Applications. 52 feet high, 60 feet across. Weight 25 tons. 84 mirrored collection panels. 360° rotational capability. Photo copyright David Olsen. More information here.

by Jerome du Bois

The first time I started this piece, it was all complicated and front-loaded with a pop cultural quiz comparing a number of big public artworks with the work of the folks I call the Lunaphiles, creators of the Moonlight Collector. They are not artists. But by the time I got to them I was tired of reading, so imagine what my readers would feel.

All to make an overfamiliar point to readers of this blog: that life trumps art; that art is always falling short, failing to match the scale, grandeur, and mystery of the efforts of serious non-artists, whether scientists or what used to be called amateur naturalists, unaffiliated and uncredentialed, but just as knowledgeable. And this is not to denigrate art, nor to say, "You'll never be as good as life." I write this piece only to bring attention to the fact that artists aren't even trying very hard to make work with the reach of life.

Now I'll just list the artworks I bloviated about in the first rumination of this rant --all public works, and all between $500K and $2M-- and then focus on the Lunaphiles, and let the reader make the comparisons: whether their work does some of the work that art should do, but doesn't anymore .

So, to the list: Doug Aitken's fourteen-minute multi-screen "Sleepwalkers" , at MoMA NY; also at MoMA, Frank Stella's overweight retrospective. Walter de Maria's "Lightning Field", Donald Lipski's "The Doors" (which I wrote about here), Anish Kapoor's Tate Marsyas, the Millennium Fountain in Chicago, Jeff Koons's "Puppy", Louise Bourgeois's "Maman", Antony Gormley's controversial scattered Crosby Beach piece in England, Maurizio Cattelan's Sicilian Hollywood sign of a few years ago, James Turrell's endless Roden Crater Project, and Olafur Eliasson's Tate Weather Project. Actually, the Moonlight Collector looks a lot like something Eliasson would do, doesn't it?

I first read about these researchers serious about moonlight in Dennis Wagner's May 6th Arizona Republic article, Google-cached here. It was a sweet article, but it was followed by some snippy comments. Yeesh. "Lunitic"? People! You should read Wagner's piece before the jump. And by the way, Wagner left one thing out of it: the blue moon.

After my first reading of Wagner's article, I heard a voice in my head:

How do you get moonlight into a chamber?

And I remembered --who knows how?-- that this was a written question posed to the librarian in Richard Powers' book The Gold-Bug Variations. I looked up her answer, on page 36:

A: Quince: Well, it shall be so. But there is two hard things: that is, to bring the moonlight into a chamber; for you know, Pyramus and Thisby meet by moonlight.

Snout: Doth the moon shine that night we play our play?

Bottom: A calendar, a calendar! Look in the almanac. Find out moonshine, find out moonshine.

Quince: Yes, it doth shine that night.

Bottom: Why, then may you leave a casement of the great chamber window, where we play, open, and the moon may shine in at the casement.

Quince: Ay. Or else one must come in with a bush of thorns and a lantern, and say he comes to disfigure, or to present, the person of Moonshine.

--Midsummer Night's Dream, III,i.

The Chapins and ILA have gone Shakespeare's erstwhile stage-managers one better. Because the Collector is a reflector, it creates a trapezoidal chamber of moonlight itself. Who knows the benefits of bathing in its blue-white light, but who can doubt the sincerity --the complete lack of irony-- of its creators and researchers? They remind me of the guileless Rupert Sheldrake, patiently working an old folkloric seam out of its ancient shadows and into the light --the moonlight, in the Chapins' case.

Some of the critical commenters, thinking that the Chapins and their crew come in with a bush of thorns and a lantern, made the apparently obvious point that moonlight is just reflected sunlight. Not quite. According to the ILA site:

Light cast by the moon is 500,000 times less bright than the sun. This light, reflected from the sun, presents a distinctive spectrum composed of more reds and yellows, and possesses a different frequency than sunlight. This specific light spectrum has never been artificially duplicated.

Nor researched, they might have added, which is what they're doing right now.

Critics who think that moonlight has no power should reflect (yes, I know) on what the power of sunlight has brought forth upon the earth --including the very eyes they roll in dismissal of "these frauds." Light makes eyes. The moon has been around nearly as long as the Earth itself, so why wouldn't its regular cycling have its own set of luminal influences? For almost four billion years some kind of solar light, directly blazing or downshifted, has poured down upon us without interruption. We are the children of the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon.

I'll have to imagine the experience of the Moonlight Collector, as I will for all the artworks I listed above (except "The Doors"). But motivations enter here as well, both the artist's and the one who experiences. The Chapins' motivation was and continues to be healing --not a usual element of aesthetics, to be sure. People don't go to those artworks to be healed, more's the pity. They go out of curiosity or amusement or, in the case of "Lightning Field" and Roden Crater, to tick items off an intinerary of artistic experiences. Stories for cocktail parties.

As for the artists' motivations, who knows, but often it's just an infantile fantasy realized: "I've always wanted to make that thing." And too often it doesn't reverberate with others. Here's where I went on and on in the earlier piece, and lost myself. So I'll cut to the fine point and say that what truly distinguishes the Moonlight Collector from those artworks, and most others, is that it's unselfish.

Enough said--

[Sleeve tug] But what about the blue moon?

The bl--oh yeah! thanks for reminding me. There was a full moon on May 2nd, four days before Wagner published his article. And there will be another full moon arriving in the nick of time to qualify as a blue moon, the second full moon of a single month: May 31st.

I'll bet the Chapins have already lined up a record crowd. Bless them all.

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May 22, 2007

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Notice anything? Anything about this image seem unyooosual to you? Digital double pink capture © 2007 Jerome du Bois.

by The Tears of Things

We confess that we didn't drop photodocumenting the pernicious pink phenomenon on cable net news. (Check out the sidebar called "It's Not A Rose-Colored World / And Wearing Pink Won't Make It So.") In fact, we're working on another panoramic display of this dismaying trend, which is now beyond pandemic, beyond epidemic, all the way to . . . pinkdemic!

We're convinced it's an infantile reaction to horrendous times. In other words, Sean Hannity and Wolf Blitzer want to suck their thumbs, but they can't do that in public, so they wear pink ties or pink shirts, or both. For adults, there could not be a more inappropriate color either for their age level or the times. It's the fashion equivalent of fiddling while Rome is burning.

And the two women above, who are both psychologists, should really know better.

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May 18, 2007

Some Contentious Notions in The Physics of Christianity

The reflection in Hubble's eye: the visible universe, courtesy of NASA.

If the laws of physics be for us, who can be against us?
--Frank J. Tipler

by Jerome du Bois

I've seen no major reviews of this pugnacious book yet, and this won't be one either, but in the few online notices, micro-reviews and comments, I found no mention of some of Frank J. Tipler's more contentious, more outrageous notions. I'm going to list a few, but first I'll begin with a fact that should be shouted from the rooftops: Tipler has suffered professionally and financially for his views. Near the end of this new book he writes:

. . . A number of people who have read an earlier version of this book have asked me if I really believe the arguments I am presenting here.

I do. I think of myself as a Physics Fundamentalist, by which I mean that we have to accept as true the consequences of the five fundamental physical laws --quantum mechanics, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, general relativity, quantum cosmology, and the Standard Model-- unless and until an experiment shows these laws to have a limited range of applicability. To date all experiments are consistent with these fundamental laws. Therefore, I believe them. Therefore, I believe their consequences, which I have developed in this book. I will continue to believe in the fundamental laws of physics even if doing so results in my professional death as a physicist. It is not acceptable today for a physicist as physicist to believe in God. But I do; I believe in the Cosmological Singularity, which is God. I have a salary at Tulane some 40 percent lower than the average for a full professor at Tulane as a consequence of my belief. So be it. (P.268, emphasis mine.)

Back in 2002 he gave an interview to some transhuman promoter, where he expanded on his situation:

What I was unprepared for [after The Physics of Immortality] was the hostile "stone throwing" I received at Tulane University. I was actually formally tried for heresy (this word was not used by the panel convened to try me. Instead, I was told that I "didn't think like everyone else in the department"). I was not fired --- it's difficult to fire a tenured full professor, especially for unorthodox thinking, exactly what tenure is supposed to protect. But my salary was frozen: since my work was "worthless", it is clear to University officials that I should receive no raise. So now my pay is some $30,000 less than the Tulane full professor average, almost at the level of a starting assistant professor at Tulane, and definitely less than the assistant professor at a place like Cal Tech.

Not only that, the university has effectively and legally (Louisiana!) entailed the copyright to anything he might publish as an employee. Tulane should be ashamed of itself. Tipler's ideas are strange, all right, but so are those of Edward Witten and David Deutsch, and Julian Barbour and João Magueijo, and even Paul Davies and Lee Smolin and John Wheeler, and they get kudos, prizes, and support. Tipler gets the hind end. He deserves some vocal defenders, especially Deutsch, Barbour and Davies, who have used Tipler's ideas.

Now, about these new contentious ideas. I think they're more worth investigating than what the reviewers are concentrating on, which are the miracles, and whether Jesus was an XX-male. Take a glance:

1. Christianity requires the multiverse.
2. The Jews are helping advance Christianity.
3. Islam never contributed a damn thing to science.
4. Darwinism is gnostic.
5. Humanity "in the normal sense" is doomed in about fifty years due to the abuse of baryon-annihilation superbombs. The future --oh yes, the future's guaranteed!-- and it belongs to AIs and human downloads.

I'm amazed nobody, so far, has raised questions, objections, or hackles about these notions. (We are, after all, in the middle of a swell of atheist-scientists, bright and arrogant, beating their chests.) Although I'm not going to explore these ideas exhaustively, I'd like to unpack each one just a little.

1. Christianity requires the multiverse in order to be a "possibly true theory of reality." And he asserts that quantum mechanics requires the multiverse (p.95):

Nevertheless, the laws of terrestrial physics show that there are worlds invisible to us (as asserted by the Nicene Creed). I refer to the other universes of the multiverse, whose existence is required by quantum mechanics. These other universes are usualy considered to be a consequence of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, but this phrase is misleading, because it suggests that there may be other interpretations of quantum mechanics. This is not so. There is no other interpretation of quantum mechanics! More precisely, if the other universes and the multiverse do not exist, then quantum mechanics is objectively false.

The multiverse means reality jammed end to end with millions of analogues of you and everything else, some identical, most quite different, but still a kind of you, all strung out and connected across endless dimensions in a serpentine of seeming serendipity but actual inevitability. This is not Tipler's zany idea; many of the world's top physicists subscribe to the multiverse. String theorists call it The Landscape.

Personally I think that, like a shot of good single malt, the multiverse smooths out the kinks with too much facility, but I'm left with only Roger Penrose, maybe Lee Smolin, and words of cold comfort from physicist Daniel Greenberger:

Einstein said that if quantum mechanics is right, then the world is crazy. Well, Einstein was right. The world is crazy.

Great. Now I know. Tipler doesn't think the world is crazy, but he does think that only Christianity --because of its unique Trinitarian God-- can be coextensive with an accurate physical theory of reality.

2. The dedication reads, To God's Chosen People, the Jews, who for the first time in 2,000 years are advancing Christianity. Followed by a quotation from Genesis 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse; and through you will be blessed all the families of the Earth.

And at the end of Chapter Ten, entitled "Anti-Semitism is Anti-Christian," he writes,

The influence of contemporary Jews on this book should be obvious, and I have thus dedicated this book to those Jews who are advancing the Christian cause. To hate the Jews is to hate both Christianity and science.

No wonder Jesus counselled us to develop slap-resistant cheeks. I won't go into Tipler's argument, but it follows from his conviction that only Christianity can help science and everyone into the future. Apparently he believes many Jews are helping people become Christian. To me that's like slapping a Jew on back and saying, "Thanks for providing us Jesus. That was a real gift."

A brief interview from Jacksonville published online May 11 contained this bit:

Tippler says his equations prove there is only one true religion: Christianity.

It's his conclusion that all the other world religions are, in a word, wrong. "Wrong as a matter of physics," he says.

When asked if he's ready for the firestorm that statement will cause, Tippler is unapologetic.

"Well, if people don't like that two plus two equals four, that's their problem," he says.

Well, you must say he has the courage of his convictions. And so far, no firestorm; not even a whiff of smoke. Curious --to me, anyway.

3. His dismissal of Islamic science, which I wholeheartedly applaud. I've heard enough jabber about al-jabbar. Page 113:

In fact, it [Islam] actively discourages the very idea of physical laws. In 1982, the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan, recommended that science textbooks be modified to emphasize that all change was due not to the action of physical law but to God:

There is latent poison present in the subheading Energy Causes Changes because it gives the impression that energy is the true cause rather than Allah. Similarly it is unIslamic to teach that mixing hydrogen and oxygen automatically produces water. The Islamic way is this: when atoms of hydrogen approach atoms of oxygen, then by the Will of God water is produced.

The implication being that God may change His mind in the next instant, and water would not be produced. . . .

. . . In my own rather extensive studies of Islam, I have never been able to find a single significant scientific discovery made in the entire history of Islamic civilization up to the twentieth century. The examples in the literature of Islamic scientific achievements are essentially trivial. . . . From the point of view of science, Islamic civilization did not exist. I attribute this fact to the Islamic theological doctrines against the idea of experimentally confirmed natural law just quoted, combined with the fact that, through Islamic history, anyone disagreeing with the prevailing theology has been regarded as an apostate, and the overwhelming number of Islamic jurists have agreed: the penalty for apostasy is death. No one is going to search for the laws of nature if even suggesting they exist makes him or her subject to the death penalty. A conference of seventeen Arab university presidents was held in Kuwait in 1983. The major topic of discussion was "Is science Islamic?" The Saudi delegation argued that science is not, being intrinsically secular and, hence, automatically against Islamic beliefs.

I haven't much to add except that this reflects the kind of mind which conceives the kind of god whose most precious attributes are capriciousness and irrationality --the power to cancel nature at will, to break his own laws-- which a criminal profiler will tell you fits the power killer mode.

5. The doomed humanity, baryon-annihilation, and AI takeover scenario. No, we haven't seen this movie before. This is where I hope Tipler has taken off for Loop City, because it's too fookin' scary for these times.

He starts off with a homey example: we all remember at the end of the original Back To The Future, when lovable ol' Doc returns from the future "with the car now powered by garbage dumped into a hopper on the car, and propelled by a rocket engine whose exhaust does not damage the immediate surroundings." Sweet. Plus: "Once we have mastered the techniques of baryon annihilation, oil, coal, hydroelectric, and nuclear forms of energy will be obsolete." Even better! But Tipler continues:

Unfortunately, this revolutionary new form of energy will bring with it a great danger: the possibility of revolutionary new weapons. . . . the baryon-annihilation process allows 100 percent of the mass-energy of ordinary materials to be converted into the energy of an explosion. Worse, since any material can be converted completely into energy, there is no rare material constraint to building a bomb nor any limit on the bomb's size . . . With the baryon-annihilation process, a few kilograms of garbage, converted entirely into energy, will annihilate a city.

A terrorist's dream come true. Concurrent with this rough beast's rousing will be the final geek dream come true: human-level AIs and the ability to download oneself into silicon and serenity, to shuffle off the mortal coil without dying; indeed, AIs and downloads will have us meat puppets beat brainwise, without the limitations of the body, so we'll be forced to become downloads too. (But I don't know; Doc got the idea for the Flux Capacitor when he bumped his head after falling doing a household repair above the toilet. You can't do that without a body.)

At any rate, according to Tipler, these two things will doom flesh-and-blood humanity: "So real-world human history is destined to end sometime this century, either with a bang or a download."

By the way, the baryon-annihilation process was revealed to us long ago (page 173):

. . . if the universe is to evolve into the Omega Point, then there must be a practical, small-scale method of annihilating baryons to provide energy before the recollapse of the universe provides gravitational energy. . .

Suppose the Son became incarnate to provide us this information. Notice that He can do so only be simultaneously providing us with knowledge that we ourselves one day will be resurrected with bodies in all essentials like the body Jesus had after His Resurrection. Also, we can obtain the necessary information only by believing in Him, believing that He is God, and believing that He rose from the dead. Without such a belief, no one would investigate Jesus for clues of constructing a practical device for annihilating baryons. If He provides us with the essential hints for how to construct such a device, He saves the entire world.

Reducing the Sacred Heart to a tech manual won't endear Tipler to most Christians, though he seems to count himself among them these days. He's very much out there, that's for sure. Among some of his other ideas: (1) evil is coded in our DNA; its been that way since we were metazoans (so don't feel guilty; I don't); (2) the correct theory of quantum gravity was discovered in the the Sixties by Richard Feynmann (a surprise to Lee Smolin and a generation of physicists who have been working on this their whole careers); (3) the multiverse solves The Problem of Evil; and (4) the Holy Spirit is the Initial Singularity (just before the Big Bang), God the Father is the Final Singularity, and Jesus is the All-Presents Singularity. Together they hypostatically become the Cosmological Singularity. Together they unite the multiverse.

What can I say, brother Tipler, except Amen? And travel well, because I see more travail coming your way.

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May 13, 2007

Mystic 3


Paranormal Photography by Catherine King. © 2007

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May 08, 2007

Watching (For) The Doughnut Holes

When you go through life,
Make this your goal:
Watch the doughnut,
Not the hole.

--Burl Ives

by Jerome du Bois

A corny reference above, I know, but --like the word corny itself-- it serves up a pulpy, homegrown, old-fashioned wisdom, grown by reason. Remember reason?

Ron Rosenbaum brought "The Doughnut Song" to mind with a couple of postings, and their comments, on the hollowness at the core of core studies in universities today. For example, he complained that you can earn (?) a degree in literature these days without studying Shakespeare. Then he received an email from one of my favorite people, the visionary physicist and postmodern theologian Frank J. Tipler of Tulane University. (Even as I write, I'm halfway through his new doozy, which is, in a word, outrageous.) From reading Lee Smolin's new book The Trouble With Physics, I learned that the academic physics landscape was pretty rocky; but Tipler adds that it's also barren: you can earn (?!) up to a PhD in physics without knowing a damned thing about either The Standard Model or general relativity. So, according to Tipler, there's a black hole in the center of one's physics education these days.

It gets even more long-faced and dreary.

In the comments to Rosenbaum's posting "The Damage Done (2)", a pastor named Jeff says that you don't need much to become a spiritual shepherd these days:

most seminaries have very sketchy Bible requirements, rarely require an entire semester course on preaching or evangelism, and offer nothing on basic group dynamics/leadership.

Even worse:

I have lawyer friends who talk about how little Constitutional Law is offered other than to undergrads, and I'm a history geek who gets to teach at the college level as an adjunct/lecturer whenever i want, because no one wants to teach "Intro to American History," which is often required for general bachelor's degrees, but tenured History profs run from like the plague.

Literature, physics, pastoral training, law, and history --the list thus far-- each with its central engine removed, but with the wheels still spinning --though they're only spinning in place. For example, there's a guy at ASU --the chairman of the English Department, as a matter of fact-- Neal A. Lester by name-- who has been braiding a steady career around the subject of African-American hair. Consult his web page for details, and Catherine's series Just 'Fro Stories for the real skinny on the deal.

To this list we add art training and art curating, of course, with an abundance of evidence from posts on this blog --here's a recent one-- and all the social sciences, especially teacher training, which teaches self-loathing in the name of social justice for others. Your soul is worthless, theirs are priceless. Bye bye soul, hello teaching certificate. We wrote about that --the Zombie Dispositions-- here.

Professor Tipler notes at the end of his email:

. . . this corruption of education is probably universal across all disciplines. If so, then all advanced education will have to be obtained outside of the university. If this is the case, then why should universities exist at all?

Damned good question.

Beyond the universities, and largely because of them, these frozen-hearted soulless holes grow, the very asafoetida of anti-nourishment, filling the emptiness with cruelty, sadism, and schadenfreude, sprouting like black, bleak flowers throughout the culture, suckering and then sucking in all the light and beauty and goodness and dignity. If we're speaking of art, I don't need to point across the pond to the Dwarf of the Flies, Damien Hirst, for an example. Look around, just locally: the gruesome Body Worlds 3, artists who love to touch dead things --such as Mayme Kratz, Kate Breakey and Brent Adrian (@Central downtown now)-- the dealers who promote death images, such as Amy Young and Kimber Lanning (Colin Chillag's shotgunned faces, which you can read about in Catherine's piece "What Would They Say If I Blew (Myself) Away?"), the bug-eyed, cartoon perversity --skewering human glory at every chance-- oozing out of damn near every downtown art venue.

So much of the culture has been emptied of empathy, because of an institutional erosion of the self, that we have forgotten the true dimensions of death, and how to stand before death.

I use as my example the orchestrated public mourning after the Virginia Tech Massacre. The university spin doctors made sure, in record time, that everyone understood that the attack was on Virginia Tech, and not 32 innocent, unique, unrepeatable persons. They also wanted to make sure that everyone moved right into the healing phase, so they broke out the now-standard, debased, helium-filled moony marshmallow mourning confections: makeshift memorials, white balloons, white flags, teddy bears, and ribbons. And everybody went for it --damn it!-- because they're used to it. That's how we do it nowadays. Need to mourn mo' murder? Head for the balloon shop. Closure, like the little collar on the helium flower, ready to Heaven go.

Next came the group gatherings, at which everyone was encouraged to wear the school colors. Not black formality, but sweaterwear. It was about the stamina and persistence of the . . . Hokies, they call themselves, as they did so often that week, breaking out in school chants. ("Spontaneously," the media dutifully reported.) VT has put together a website to memorialize the victims; there's a list on the right which says in a link at the bottom, "More on the fallen Hokies." As if that would be each and every victim's first self-description, if asked. And the administration couldn't resist providing a bunch of promotional links at the bottom of the page. I guess they fish for students wherever they can.

Finally came the coup de cliché of professor and poet Nikki Giovanni's prose-poem address which, again, is all about the university, as if that twisted evil asshole attacked the university. But, unlike the 32 people who would not go on to have lives far beyond the provincial confines of Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech would go on, and that's what's most important here, according to Ms. Giovanni, and to the school officials, too. At one point she refers to "the Hokie Nation." Whaaaaat?! Jesus, Professor --you institutional husk with a hole where your soul used to be-- most students, unlike you, will not be staying to suck from alma mater for the rest of their lives; they --the live ones left now-- will go on to have lives, and many of them will forget all about VT, except perhaps for that one day, long ago, when the rusty red blood briefly blotted the purple and orange.

Another excerpt from the address:

We do not understand this tragedy
We know we did nothing to deserve it
But neither does a child in Africa dying of aids
Neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by a rogue army
Neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory
Neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water
Neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of night in his crib in the home its father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destablized

To repeat: Whaaaaat?!

Using dead people for political purposes is vampirism. Plus, she doesn't mention the victims, not once --it's all about the survivors, for her. She has a hole in her soul. I have one final bit of evidence for this claim.

Prof. Giovanni had the killer Cho in one of her classes. He was such an evil presence that this is what this "warrior poet" decided to do: if he was not removed from her class, she would resign.

Noooooooo, Nikki, nooooooo. Don't leave us!

Once we get over our shock, we begin to think of what the good professor could have done instead of threatening to retire to, say, the coast of Mexico, or a Greek island. She could have confronted Cho and said something like this:

"Two things. First: You think you're scary, but I'm not afraid of you. I've already arranged for 24/7 protection for myself; they should be here by the end of this meeting. Wait until you see my bodyguards. Second: I'm going to use every resource I can find on this campus to make sure there's eyes on you --and people in your face-- all the time until you're under some serious psychiatric care. Be prepared for all kinds of nosy campus people ringing your dorm doorbell, asking questions until they get answers that satisfy them. Look at me. Look at me. Listen: you don't scare me."

But it's my contention that Nikki Giovanni has had her backbone leached and bleached, and her minimal talent stroked beyond what it deserves, for far too long. She couldn't say something like that. She wilted, and threatened to run away, and became yet someone else --on that campus and all the way back to his family-- who could have made a difference in over two dozen lives. But she didn't, because for her, it was about her.

For the rest of us: The postmodern corrosion, the sadistic scooping out of the center of the soul, only now dwindling after thirty-plus years, must run its dolorous course. All we can do now is call attention to this quieter, though no less consequential tragedy, while we work to bury cruelty and resurrect civility.

CODA: You Can Thank Raymond Chandler

Yes, I'm back to blogging again, and I'd like to end on a higher, lighter note.

I was angry and depressed for months, and sick of my own voice. Instead of writing, I've been reading about physics and time. But I also reread some Raymond Chandler, and I'd like share a few jazzy riffs he wrote. You see, reading those lines, I saw what fun Chandler was having writing them, and I remembered what that was like.

Ross Macdonald said that Chandler wrote like "a slumming angel." In The High Window he knocked me out of my rut with his language play and wiry wisecrackery:

My face was stiff with thought, or with something that made my face stiff.

. . . From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.

And then in Chapter 17 he stretches himself (as Marlowe) and riffs out some extended jazz poetry, as when Marlowe arrives at a high-class Idle Valley nightclub:

The lobby looked like a high-budget musical. A lot of light and glitter, a lot of scenery, a lot of clothes, a lot of sound, an all-star cast, and a plot with all the originality and drive of a split fingernail. Under the beautiful soft indirect lighting the walls seemed to go up forever and to be lost in soft lascivious stars that really twinkled. You could just manage to walk on the carpet without waders. . . .

The bar entrance was to the left. It was dusky and quiet and a bartender moved mothlike against the faint glitter of piled glassware. A tall handsome blond in a dress that looked like seawater sifted over with gold dust came out of the Ladies Room touching up her lips and turned toward the arch, humming . . .

A check girl in peach-bloom Chinese pajamas came over to take my hat and disapprove of my clothes. She had eyes like strange sins.

A cigarette girl came down the gangway. She wore an egret plume in her hair, enough clothes to hide behind a toothpick, one of her beautiful naked legs was silver, and one was gold. She had the utterly disdainful expression of a dame who made her dates by long distance. . .

A tall fine-looking man in a gray suit cut by an angel suddenly stood up . . .

And so on. Wonderful writing, no? At any rate, it was this passage that knocked me out of the rut. Chandler was having so much fun writing. . . . I felt left out.

And now I'm back, with this advice: watch the doughnut. The hole? It's old. Fill it back up with your self. It's still there, you know.

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May 07, 2007


Nature Photography © 2007 Catherine King.

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May 05, 2007


Spirit Photography © 2007 by Catherine King.

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