Something is Going Well Around Here!

The 1,000 “like” road marker disappearing in the rear view mirror…

The WP auto-post function just told me that I have accumulated 1,000 “likes,” which are all because the imaginary “you” have been appreciating what I’ve been pouring forth since June 22nd. It hasn’t been four months yet and I have so many “likes!” Who knew?!?

I’ve logged 87 posts (one was a repeat, so doesn’t really count and one was a reblog in respect for a new WordPress-induced friend) in 111 days, meaning that I’ve hit about 78% of the days between start and present. Not bad. Could be better. Let’s see if I can pick up the slack.

Thank you, everyone!

MSOC

Another Slow Day in Paradise

It was another slow day in paradise.

It was another slow day in paradise. A and B were flitting about the huge meadow with its vast and varied flowers, shrubs, and trees, all of them spaced perfectly so every flower, shrub, and tree got the perfect amount of sunlight, the perfect amount of water sipped from the fertile earth. Every kind of beetle, fly, bee, ant, butterfly, and spider floated about in the gentle breeze, while every kind of bunny, mouse, cat, dog, horse, goat, sheep, pig, lion, giraffe, elephant, and gazelle pranced about, munching on all of the good things there were to eat, which sprang back up as soon as they were nibbled. A stream ran through the center of the meadow but then again there were streams with stepping stones every so often all over the place. Some had waterfalls and some had pools of just the right depth in their centers, causing the stream to widen a bit more than usual, then tighten back up after the pool was behind the coursing waters.

Theit (that’s what it liked to call itself when it came down to check in with A and B; it wasn’t a real name, sort of a joke—”the it”—you see?) had just wafted in from everywhere and coalesced in the form of a fluorescent tapir. Theit had tried subtler appearances but had to spend too much time convincing these two that it was it. Theit did it gently as the last time it at coalesced, A and B had run off screaming and it took precious seconds to find them cowering behind a baobab tree. This time, Theit found form behind a yew bush growing near one of the streams and strolled out to talk to “the experiment,” as it called them in its mind.

“Hi A. Hi B. How’s it going down here?” The fluorescent tapir spoke in a perfect East African accent, which sounded startlingly like many of the sounds A and B heard on a daily basis, except shaped more carefully and regularly into sounds that made sense to their minds.

A and B stared at the tapir and knew what it said. This sort of thing had happened before and while it had been confusing and a little terrifying at first, they had grown accustomed to unexpected creatures sauntering up to them and having a chat. After all, they spent a good deal of any day doing the same thing with squirrels and horses. Walking up, having a chat, the creatures chatting back. Why not this oddly-hued beast with truncated snout?

“Hi Theit!” they said in unison. It was like they shared a brain. Not always in a good way either. “It’s going the same as always. Nothing new to say, just having a nice day speaking to everyone and enjoying the sunshine and streams and fruits. Did you want something in particular?”

“Well, yes. It’s lesson time.” Theit noticed that both of them shuddered. Theit was aware this was not their favorite activity, which was exclusively wandering about bothering their fellow creatures and picking an excessive number of flowers, which it had warned them about on numerous occasions: “They’re for the bees and butterflies, you two. All you’re doing is taking beauty out of the ground, sniffing it, then throwing it down. Just lean over and do your sniffing on the living thing, please!” he had said. They went ahead and picked flowers as if they had no memory at all.

“Do you remember what we talked about yesterday?” Theit had a really confused sense of time as it meant nothing to it at all, while still being this counter-function it had implanted in the world so that stuff might eventually get done.

A and B shook their heads. No surprise. And, to be fair, it may have been more than a day. Theit needed to work out how to be more regular in lesson-giving.

“Well, we worked through addition and subtraction. Remember those? I give you two fruit, then I give you two more. How many fruit do you have?”

“Two” they said in unison.

Theit breathed in slowly and then let the air escape from the tapirs lungs. “No. I first gave you two fruit. At that time you had two fruit. Then I gave you two more. How many fruit did you have?”

“Two” they said in unison. Then B said “Two two.”

“Good, B! And how many is two two? What do we call that number of fruit?”

“Fruit” said A. “Two two” said B.

“And what do we call “two two,” B?”

“Four?” said B. “Fruit” said A.

“Very good, A! I can hear that you remember the word for two two! That is very nice! Please teach that to A so he remembers, okay?”

“Yes” said B.

“Okay, let’s see how you remember subtraction. If you have four fruit and I ask for two fruit back so that I may share them with other creatures. How many fruit do you have?”

“Two” said B.” “Fruit” said A. At this point Theit thought A’s time might be better spent smacking himself in the head with a rock but Theit didn’t make him do that. Although that made sense. That would have been beneath Theit’s mission with this experiment, which was purely about creation, observation, data, and outcomes.

“B, could you help out A with this subtraction concept? There are bigger numbers to add and subtract and even different ideas that are not addition and subtraction and we must talk about them as well.”

“Okay” said B. A said “fruit!”

Theit was a little worried. It seemed that B was slowly understanding the information being shared but A was not. And both of them, to be honest, seemed more concerned with playing with the creatures and picking flowers than they were in learning. How was multiplication and division going to go if adding and subtracting up to four was proving this difficult? Theit let a rare shudder ripple through the tapir’s frame, although Theit was the one shuddering. Was this another failed experiment like the bacteria that ate all its own young and didn’t multiply? Or the lizard that popped off its own head when it was caught by a predator? They seemed like good ideas at the time—bacteria that controlled themselves, lizards with an escape mechanism—but those had gone wrong.

Theit didn’t really know how long that thought lasted. Was it brief or was it really long? In any case, Theit looked up and A was chasing a bunny through the meadow grasses and flowers and B was chasing A. Neither A nor B were catching what they chased but they laughed as they ran. You couldn’t really hate that.

“Come here, you two” said the fluorescent tapir. “More studying to do!”

A and B took their time but came over looking a little petulant with the tapir, which was an odd look as tapir’s usually provoke giggles rather than petulance. Theit didn’t care. It was time for lessons.

“Okay, let’s try something. It’s a trick I use all the time and it works on stars, planets, galaxies, and universes. I even used it here to make all these grasses and trees and flowers and bunnies. You like all these things, right?”

A stared and B nodded. A looked at B and noticed the nodding thing, which he had seen before, and nodded as B took the time to stare.

“Now, I’m going to talk about multiplication. It’s a way to make big numbers of things out of small numbers of things. Just listen and see if you get a pattern. We’re going to start with “one.” One multiplied by one is one. You can say this more simply just by saying “times” whenever you would say “multiplied by,” okay?”

“Okay” they said in unison. Theit had no idea if they were mimicking him or understanding, so he went on.

“If one times one is one, guess what one times two is?”

A said “one” and B said “two.” Perhaps there was some hope for B.

“Next. One times three is what, B?”

B said “three.”

“A. Anything?” asked Theit.

“One” said A, looking quite determined. Inside, the fluorescent tapir sighed a little sigh.

“B, what is one times four?”

“Four” replied B. A rubbed his leg and looked at a flower.

“Let’s try it something, B. What is four times one?”

“One” said B. Theit’s brief snout wiggled a little. It was confirmed. This was going to take a long time. Whatever would happen when the discussion turned to algebra? The snout wiggled ferociously at this thought. Theit sent a calming wave of thought through the tapir and got it to settle down. No one liked a condescending teacher, even if the teacher was a loveable tapir in bright colors.


Theit had a thought. There was a lot to do. Although Theit was coalesced in various forms all over this universe and every other universe doing this same kind of stuff, Theit thought that it might be time to pay attention to some of the more curious experiments and leave these two to their own devices. Their meadow too. It was a nice meadow and was perfectly balanced to live without dying and replenish itself without looking too sad. That took a certain amount of stamina from Theit’s other projects, which were infinite in number and completely manageable but still….

paramecium_caudatum

Theit visited A and B, this time as an enormous paramecium with lots of undulating cilia. A and B knew it was Theit because they had never seen this thing before. Although they found it sort of horrible, they also knew that it was okay to approach it as it ciliated its way over to them.

“A. B. How are you?”

“Good” they said in unison.

“Getting enough to eat?”

“Yes.”

“Finding enough playmates among the squirrels and bunnies?” Theit asked about these because it seemed that A and B had a particular fondness for them over the larger animals or the ones who roared, although they all lived well next to each other. As was planned.

They both nodded. That seemed like an advance. Perhaps B had taught A the nod thing.

“Okay. Well. I have good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”

“Good” they said again, although perhaps they meant that they would like to hear the good news first. That’s how Theit interpreted it.

“Well then. The good news is that all of this stuff you like is going to stay here. You can play with it all and eat fruit and drink from the streams and have as much fun as you like. Would you like to hear the bad news now?” Theit asked.

“Good,” which Theit took as a tacit understanding that they would now like to hear the bad news.

“Well. Hmmm. The bad news. Erm. I’m not sure how this is going to work out but I’m going to be away for a while. I’m not going to be able to perform maintenance on this place. Instead, you’re going to have to start doing it yourself. What does this mean? Well, it means that I’m going to give everything the power to multiply and divide but I’m also going to give everything the power to add and subtract. New stuff will come alive and old stuff will die. Bunnies and horses and trees and flowers and bees will all multiply but their cells—the little bits of life inside them that make all of this stuff work—will divide. That probably makes no sense to you at all since you haven’t really graduated from basic addition and subtraction (and I really don’t want to think about algebra or calculus, Theit said internally) but I’m hoping that if you see it happening it will make sense over time. It may take a while.”

A and B stared at Theit and didn’t move. They really had no idea what Theit was talking about. This was often the case and sometimes if they remained really still for a sufficient amount of time, Theit was quiet and loped off into the trees. It didn’t seem like this thing was going to lope but they could hope.

“It’s been nice, A and B. You’re the only ones I’ve made that are as hairless as you are. Really, you’re just a variation on a theme. See the hairy ones over there? The ones chasing after a zebra? Yeah. You’re the hairless—relatively speaking, of course—variety. And you walk on your back legs without using your front legs. I’m pretty sure that’s going to have consequences, by the way, but that’s beside the point. I do like you. Don’t take any of what’s about to happen personally. It’s not. Really. I just have a lot to do.”

With this statement, Theit coalesced a giant chunk of wrapped paper blocks out of the air and opened one to a middle page.

“See these? I’m going to call them “books” because they don’t have a name. They don’t have a name because I’ve been thinking about them and it’s come time to make some, so here they are. If you look at this page (it’s called a page, guys), you’ll see black squiggly marks. That’s called “writing” and this writing is in the first language of your creature-type. It tells you stuff. But I can’t wait around for you to learn what it says. I’m going to call this “homework” and you have to worry about what it says or you’re going to be a little out of luck for a long time. Okay?”

“Okay” said A and B.

“Okay” said Theit. Then he made the paramecium lope off into the woods.

A and B stared at the “books” and then stared at each other and then sat down.

Then they got up and ran after the bunnies and squirrels.


After a while, A and B noticed that the grasses changed colors and were replaced with other grasses and other flowers and that when they picked the flowers, they didn’t grow back. They noticed that when they picked fruit from the trees, the fruit didn’t grow right back. They noticed that the beasts who roared stopped other creatures from moving and tore them apart and that the smaller creatures kept away from the roarers. Some of the larger creatures were none too thrilled with the roarers either, so a lot of creatures moved away from them and lived in trees. A and B moved along with them. After they ate all the low-hanging fruit, they climbed trees to get the other fruit. After they ate those, they started to look at the bunnies and squirrels sort of like they saw the roarers looking at the bunnies and squirrels. They caught a few and tore them apart but then the bunnies and squirrels got smart and stayed away. And then the streams dried up, so A and B had to start walking. Their hips hurt. Their feet hurt. Their lower backs hurt. And they learned to feel pain, which led them to cry. Then they learned to say mean things to each other, which made one or both of them cry more.

Then one day, B got fatter and fatter and eventually a new creature popped out. B took care of the little creature until it grew. A wandered around playing with animals and flowers and leaving B to do all the work of raising the creature, which was as hairless as they were. And they kept walking until they found a place to call “home,” which was not much like their old place and had less fruit and the creatures stayed away. But it was home and they raised their creature and then another.

There was only one thing they had forgotten. They left the books at the place where Theit made them and had no idea how to get back there.

It took a long time for them to figure anything out. They remembered Theit fondly now and made up some stories, almost none of which were true. And they left out the bits about the fluorescent tapir and the enormous paramecium. They had a difficult time believing those themselves. So who would believe them?

Featured image

Paramecium caudatum
Facade

I Was Nominated (and Accept)

Confabler nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award!

My distant, yet close friend Confabler has nominated me for the Shiny Shiny Sunshine Award. I love her imagination and sense of whimsy; she lets her muse du jour lead and she follows. There’s a wonderful freedom to that which is (1) difficult to allow in the rational process of “writing” and (2) enjoyable to find.

1. If you were to choose an insect that would take over the world after human extinction, who would that be?

It sort of depends on our route to extinction. If it involved an epidemic, the population of flies might see a giant uptick. This would be a good one:

mydas_sp
Gauromydas heros

If it is a slow process, then I nominate the Japanese Rhinoceros beetle because it would be awesome if creatures  with such improbably fashioned protuberances were to be the alpha species (Megasoma and Titan beetles would be acceptable alternatives):

800px-kabutomushi-japanesebeetle-july2004
Allomyrina dichotoma

 If our extinction took all other terrestrial life along for the ride, I would like to see this enormous isopod (a relative of our terrestrial roly-polies) rule the seas (note inclusion of actual human hands for sense of scale):

Giant_isopod.jpg
The underside of a male Bathynomus giganteus, a species of giant isopod captured in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2002.

2. How old were you when you first read Harry Potter? And your favorite author of course?

I was pretty old when I read my only Harry Potter book (the first one). I didn’t enjoy it enough to complete the series, although I’ve seen all the films and enjoyed them well enough. In the period I read that first one, I was typically reading a lot of history and didn’t find that it was a good use of my time. When I was really young, I read the Classics Illustrated versions of novels, which were quite good at introducing a curious young mind to the wonders of literature without having to do the work (sort of illustrated CliffsNotes (I didn’t use these in school though), if you will). When I was a little older, I read Robert E. Howard, Sax Rohmer, John Carter of Mars, H. Rider Haggard, Stanley Weinbaum, George McDonald fantasies, etc.

My favorite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez for One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. His writing is so rich, amusing, full of simple wisdom and abundant humanity it is hard to believe he was just a human being writing about the lives he saw playing out around him. I literally would read some passages and have to put the book down as if I had just sipped the richest chocolate elixir in the world and needed to savor it until I sipped again. His Spanish-to-English translators did a good job in getting it right; Gregory Rabassa (OHYoS translator) was even praised by Garcia Marques himself!

3. If you were invisible what is the craziest thing that you would do?

Here’s an odd one: Go and hang around bigots, transcribe their conversations, and publish them for the world to see how terrible people speak when they think no one is listening (but, oh yeah, we have the internet so this already happens). If I could walk through things, which seems fair since I’m invisible, I would go around seeing what it felt like to do that—see if there were different textures to different things on the inside than on their surface.

4.what food makes you feel like a hungry hyena?

This has changed so much over time! These days, I don’t get this kind of urge anymore. In my early adult (late teen?) years… ICE CREAM!!!!

5. A song that makes you dream?

Gymnopedie #1 by Erik Satie


6. Have you ever planted a tree?

Yes. Unasked but answered: quite a few!

7. Choose your man: superman/ Spiderman/ iron man and if he was your best friend one thing that you would make him do?

Can I choose Supergirl? If I can, I would have her take me around to various places in the world, build shelters so I could stay there and visit free, then whisk me off to the next place on “our” list (she would be enjoying the sight-seeing with me, of course! What kind of boor do you think I am?!?!).

8.How much time do you spend in front of the mirror everyday?

As little as possible, which involves shaving and brushing my teeth. I find that shaving my teeth first helps with the brushing.

9.why you started blogging and tell us about the post enjoyed the most making.

I was having a bunch of conversations with people who did not seem to understand the wonderful humility of learning and doing science and wanted to see how well I could write about how science is a discipline that can assist us all in not leaning out too far over our skis (getting ahead of ourselves and pretending we know stuff we don’t). Blogging has become so much more than that since my first post on June 22, 2016, and I have had so much fun writing fiction and revisiting some poetry I wrote several decades ago (and finding them easier to “fix” than I remembered).

I’m not sure which of my posts I enjoyed the most. They’re all my children so I like them all? I probably like the odd bits of fiction that I had no idea were inside me when I woke up and then found them on the page looking up at me. I like The Big Day of these. Of the science posts, I like The Mess: Parts 1 & 2 and the Appendix 1 items best (maybe). Of the historical pieces, I like Risk Management. Of the life pieces, I like Building Blocks the best. Anyone who reads this is encouraged to make up their own mind; I am hopelessly biased.

10. Which social media platform are you addicted to (including WordPress)?

I don’t do much social media except WordPress. I don’t like Facebook at all and deleted my account. WordPress is addicting but in a very healthy way! You get to create something and share it with new friends from all over the world. That’s a great addiction have.

Now the rules:

1.thank the person that nominated you.

Thank you, Confabler. You are a true virtual friend, and I don’t mean that in any Pokemon way either!

2. Answer the questions from your nominator.

Done.

3. Nominate fellow bloggers you follow.

Hereinafter lie the following nominees in no particular order (order, of course, being an illusion):

Confabler – it would be completely wrong not to boomerang this thing back at her; how could I like what she writes and like that she nominated me but ignore why we share interests at all?

November_child –  in her poetry, every word is judiciously considered for its various meanings and the images they stir and she makes great short stories that are deep and playful and serious all at the same time

anonymouslyautistic – for doing an AMAZING job of writing about this misunderstood spectrum of living – and for inviting others who share her interest to contribute

English Lit Geek – because she searches the web and her library for poems that communicate her inner soul to us all out here in the ‘sphere and I appreciate this!

Wiser Daily – because this guy writes REALLY well about every single subject he wraps his mind around, because he is not a scientist but writes extremely clearly about science, because he is just a damned good writer!

Breathmath – because they are doing an astonishingly serious job of trying to get the world to see the beauty in mathematics

Sheryl – because she’s written a book, is working on others, has great tips for doing the same, and kindly visits my offerings fairly often

The Nexus – because he writes REALLY well about physics and does a great job of doing what I set out to do, whether I’m doing it on any given day or not

The Biology Yak – because she is passionate about biology and shares her passion in every word on every topic she chooses

afternoonifiedlady – even though I have no idea what it is to be an afternoonifiedlady, I love her rants about living with and without her ex and trying to wrestle with notions of romance – she is very witty and amusingly pissed off!

Yaskhan – for her lovely, succinct way with words

urbanagscientist – because she is at least as worried about the misunderstanding of science as I am

Luke Atkins – because he writes really well about difficult subjects and he writes like the stuff matters a lot, which it absolutely does!

And there are more in my list of 119 writers that I am following but this is enough for now.

4. Give them 10 questions to answer.

If you wish (and I clearly cannot impose this on any of you, please respond to confabler’s funny questions. I enjoyed them, maybe you will too!

Kind regards, MSOC

https://confabler.wordpress.com/2016/09/20/shiny-shiny-sunshine-award/

It was Generous of confabler to choose me. Now I have to Jump off and do other stuff!

The Needle, The Compass

Illustration: The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, Georges de La Tour

Back when I was young, I worked construction jobs during my summer vacation. The first couple were dirt labor work. Some of the activities I had to perform involved objects called  “hand tamp,” “red clay pipe,” and “ditch.” A backhoe would come along and dig a ditch, then a couple of idiots like myself would get in the ditch and level the ground therein. A boss would come around and give us red clay pipe lengths to place in series at the bottom of the ditch and he would get them all joined up on the nice, level ditch bottom. He would then provide a hand tamp. Our hand tamp was a nine-inch square of steel welded onto one end of a five-foot long galvanized steel pipe. The object of the exercise was to place about six inches of loose dirt around the length of the pipe, then jerk the hand tamp up and down without (1) hitting the clay pipe, (2) compacting any more than six inches oF dirt at a time and (3) weeping like someone imprisoned in a medieval dungeon for self-punishment. The tamp was heavy and the boss could see a suitable tamp rhythm from his vantage point elsewhere among the living. If the tamp and your hands were not seen every 5 seconds or so (give or take time for placing another six inches of dirt around the pipe), then he would come over and provide comment.

His favorite comment was “tamp it, don’t pat it! If you’re not gonna tamp it, don’t do nothin’ at all!” delivered in good humor before he wandered off singing his favorite song Drinking Wine, Spodie Odie, although with less fervor than demonstrated below:

What the boss knew and we were learning was that the hand tamp, and particularly this special medieval variety of hand tamp was liable to result in cheating. After jerking this thing up, then impelling it down a few dozen times, arms, shoulders, and back were all fed up, yet there the ditch and its precious red clay pipes were, leering up at us and our tamp. just over the lip of the ditch was the boss man, ready with his imprecation and his song. We were going to cheat. Our bodies demanded we do so. And he was going to know. We weren’t his first idiots eyeball-deep in a ditch.

There are forty-three synonyms for the word “lie” in the English language, although some of them need to be employed with just the right amount of eyebrow-arching and backspin to get them to fit. If I leave that sentence as is, I’ve just lied; the list doesn’t include “lie” and, for some reason that escapes me, omits the word “untruth,” which I’ve added back.

aspersion, backbiting, calumniation, calumny, deceit, deception, defamation, detraction, dishonesty, disinformation, distortion, evasion, fable, fabrication, falsehood, falseness, falsification, falsity, fib, fiction, forgery, fraudulence, guile, hyperbole, inaccuracy, invention, libel, mendacity, misstatement, myth, obloquy, perjury, prevarication, revilement, reviling, slander, subterfuge, tale, tall story, untruth, vilification, white lie, whopper
(some of these stretch the relationship to “lie” pretty thin)

But even this is a prevarication. If one starts down the “lie” rat-hole, picking each word from the list provided by thesaurus.com, even more synonyms appear like rats scurrying for the dark holes whence they came. I chose “fib” just to see what would happen:

canard, crock, equivocation, evasiveness, fabrication, fairy tale, falsehood, falsity, fiction, invention, jazz, line, mendacity, misrepresentation, prevarication, spinach, story, tale, undetailed lie, untruth, untruthfulness, white lie, whopper, yarn
(redunancies with the first list marked in italics)

I could iterate through each of these for some time but I won’t. I have learned something: If one leans into the word “spinach” with one eye closed and a hint of a belligerent manner, you might have accused someone of lying. That’s an important lesson!

It is interesting to note that an antonym of “truth” is “untruth,” as if to call such a statement a lie would be crossing a dangerous line in interpersonal communication. “‘That is an untruth, sir!’ bellowed the magistrate at Mr. Pidget.” If the magistrate had said “that’s a lie,” do any of us believe that Mr. Pidget, liar or not, would have felt less offense? Similarly, it is odd that “fib” is defined as an “undetailed lie,” as though the concision of a fib gets a gold star for attempting a clean getaway.

Today, the topic is Cheat. I don’t see “to cheat” here but that is how I’ve been thinking. The word “cheat” doesn’t appear in the blocks of words associated with “lie” and “fib” but each definition involves deceit, fraud, dishonesty in some measure. To get this housekeeping out of the way, let’s put down a block of “cheat” synonyms:

bluff, charlatan, chiseler, con artist, confidence operator, conniver, cozener, crook, deceiver, decoy, defrauder, dodger, double-crosser, double-dealer, enticer, fake, hypocrite, impostor, inveigler, jockey, masquerader, pretender, quack, rascal, rogue, scammer, shark, sharper, shyster, swindler, trickster

There are nine additional pages of words synonymically related to “cheat.” That is not where we are headed but let’s consider that, along with the pages of “lie” synonyms. In spite of our general human agreement that lying and cheating are dastardly, no-good, contemptible, and undesirable ways of conducting ourselves, we have all of these words to describe the acts in various nuanced ways. It’s like that weird thing we temperate-landers sometimes tell each other about Laplanders: “y’know, the Laplanders have 173 words for “snow!” we say, astonished at their inventiveness. Whereas we know how to say “lie” and “cheat” in a whole bunch of ways! Which is more astonishing? We are horrified at others (and secretly ourselves) for doing “it” but we wouldn’t want the perpetrator to be offended by our discovery of their shenanigans, their “oopsie” with facts, their pernicious pratfall of prevarication.

You wouldn’t want them to disappear in a pillar of punitive smoke but why not call them out? You could be wrong or you could only know part of a story. Perhaps it is best to ask some questions and determine the full scope of the contortion. Perhaps the person you heard from first was the liar and the person in front of you the aggrieved party. That makes sense. Be civil. Don’t jump to conclusions. Recognize that there may be value in delaying your judgment. Once you completely understand who lied about what, why couch your sentence in consideration? Why search your mind for which carefully circumloquacious construct fits this particular matter?

We all have the ability to avoid persons who fabulize. Is that why we are careful? Because we can rearrange our lives to remove the liars? If we do, aren’t we lying to ourselves by pretending that the person and their anti-perspicaciousness are alright as a free-range purveyor of falsehoods? Aren’t we doing a disservice to our fellow inmates on the world stage? It’s a moral dilemma, one that we face too often and resolve too infrequently.

[N.B. I am not a follower of Judaism. In the following section, I thought it would be helpful to look at what the Christian Bible calls “The Ten Commandments” as they originated with Moshe (Moses) as he led the Israelites away from Egypt and slavery.]

In some ways, it seems that the burning bush provided Moshe with the ten commandments to give the refugees from Egypt a cheat-sheet for what to do first—and often. I wondered how the people following Moshe thought of the ten commandments; they were certainly not stated in English by the burning bush or by Moshe. It turns out that the words describing the ten commandments in Torah translate from Hebrew to “ten statements” rather than what we call them these days. In fact, there are six hundred thirteen (613) commandments in Torah. The ninth of those first ten utterances is one which we defile through lying, then get busy denying we lied:

Ninth Commandment (Exodus 20:13): You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Narrow interpretation might lead you to believe that this only applies to (1) false statements against (2) your neighbor. As Torah was first to codify the “ten statements,” perhaps some digging is required. Judaism understands that these are ten classes of behavior into which the complete list of 613 commandments sort. Under the ninth statement falls a group of more explicitly defined sins relating to speech (lashon ha-ra). This translates literally to “the evil tongue” and includes “sins against other people committed by speech, such as defamation, gossip, swearing falsely, and scoffing.

There it (they) is (are). The “ninth statement” and all of its corollaries. Many of us are busy violating it (them) in at least a few ways every day, either to ourselves or others. Does this make lying more acceptable? I do not believe so. Does it make it inevitable in the way we conduct ourselves? Probably but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to curtail it in our own behavior, as this is the only behavior over which we have immediate influence.

For me, although “cheat” is not included among the synonyms of “lie” and has its own ridiculously large set of synonyms, it is definitely a type of lying.

The card and dice cheat is transformed into the video game cheat who uses exploits to do things most players don’t know about or would prefer were not available.

The politician cheat who has a coterie of escorts available when they are working at the state or nation’s capital is lying to his constituents (and to all those who voted for his opponent), his family, his wife and children, his friends (unless they are complicit), his pastor/rabbi/priest/imam; he cheats us by not sharing the venal truth behind his public lies. The televangelist that does the same thing is no less a cheat and a liar.

The athlete who works with a pharmacist, physician, chemist, or trainer to use substances that may give them an advantage in their chosen events lies to those who witness their “hero” doing amazing things on the field. The pharmacist, physician, chemist and trainer are cheats and liars too.

The scientist, whatever their discipline, who feels defeated by their lack of results in a potentially lucrative field, or who wants to get their PhD faster and get a good salary, are cheating in an intellectual arena in which their peers will review their work and discover their lying, their cheating, their misrepresentations of what they have achieved, and they will be banished from practicing… if there is any justice.

The religious leader who parrots the words “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” or its equivalent in other religions and then violates the children and their trust cheats people of a moral code, cheats the entire congregation. The religious leader who begs for donations to the poor, then diverts those funds and pays for a new house, a new car, art, furniture, land, vacations, fine wine, dining, educational opportunities for their children, fashion for themselves and their spouses, cheats and lies in a less physically terrible way but they are no better for this difference.

The business that lobbies for subsidies, then files taxes that allows them to claim profits they would not achieve are cheats; they have molded government to their needs rather than attained the success they pretend to have gained. They lie and cheat their shareholders and their employees by hiding the truth behind their complicated, nominally legal tissue of lies. The business leader that tells the employs that the business cannot afford to raise their wages, then awards themselves and their peers huge bonuses is cheating and lying as well.

The banker who takes a loan application without doing their due diligence on whether the applicant has any likelihood of paying, who sells that loan on to hedge funds who bundle it with other loans of that type and create investment derivatives associated with the putative value of the loans, their bundles, and their derivatives, cheats other banks, entire nations, and their citizens of the possibility of having a stable lifestyle and retirement. The investment firms that tease their clients into buying shares that are priced exorbitantly compared to recognized valuations are cheats as well.

The student who employs a paper-writing service or a test-taker to stand in for them cheats their classmates in their immediate institution and their eventual institutions and employers if they go undiscovered. The students who hack into their school’s grade database or who steal a test the night before it is given or who copy answers from their neighbor do the same and cheat the same pyramid of people who they have deceived.

The policeman or soldier or citizen, whatever the country and whatever the “reasons” for the conflict, who kill each other for convenience rather than in the honest pursuit of their duties to their communities and nations, are cheats. If they compound the sin of murder with the sin of lying to themselves, their fellow public servants, and to the communities in which they serve, they cheat their fellow servants worst of all but serve none of us well.

In the book The New Ethics: A Guided Tour of the Twenty-first Century Moral Landscape by Anita L. Allen, advice is given to all of us who might improve our ethical practices, which certainly include anything that could be construed as cheating or lying. Honestly, though, she doesn’t add a single thing to our brief tour of the ten statements and their corollaries, those 613 additional commandments few of us ever even view.

It is possible that “you” are going to lie and cheat to some degree. By “you,” I mean all of us. The idea of a moral compass is that it should point us away from these practices and towards improving our behavior and those around us, whenever possible, at every turn. Let’s set our compass and steer away from what we know is wrong. If winds toss us and we go off course, remember the compass and head where it indicates.

3 Days, 3 Quotes #1

I have been nominated by Julie of Everything and Nothing for the “3 Days, 3 Quotes” challenge. To fulfill my challenge, I must:

I have been nominated by Julie of Everything and Nothing for the “3 Days, 3 Quotes” challenge. To fulfill my challenge, I must:

  1. Circumnavigate the earth on an airborne leaf;
  2. Recite the Mahabharata1 backwards from memory;
  3. Achieve lifetime banishment from the Monster Raving Loony Party without their knowledge.

O wait! Wrong challenge (way to reveal first three items on my bucket list)!

To fulfill my challenge, I must:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you

Thank you, Julie, for being such a swiftly welcoming and kind person as I enter the blogosphere.

3. Post 1- 3 quotes in three consecutive days

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another which states that this has already happened.” – Douglas Adams, preface to Restaurant at the End of the Universe

A lot of what I attempt to say has probably already been said by Douglas Adams, although with more wit, more finesse, less blather, and possibly other qualities only perceivable in the many alternate universes he must be visiting at present. I kneel at your tomb, by which I mean the finite, starry sky, the door to infinity.

3. Nominate 3 bloggers

This is by far the most difficult of the three challenges as I have not been doing this for very long and have only a small idea of the scope of writing here on WordPress. But I will start with these three and hope I have a chance to nominate others as I familiarize myself more thoroughly:

  1. INKBIOTIC – a writer of mysteries but no mystery writer;
  2. moviejoltz – many of his reviews (and there are many going back at least to October 2011) start with really strong pieces of prose that stand on their own;
  3. Ayoka –   For having the good sense to “attempt to rekindle a passion for poetry.” It is no longer kindling and will blaze if tended.

I hope I have respected Julie’s nomination. It provides me with additional incentive to dig in the intertwined universe of words that is WordPress.

1With the utmost respect to the Mahabharata and other Sanskrit epics; I’ve only read the most famous sub-section – Bhagavad Gita – and it was transcendent!

MSOC

Julie

Do They Exist?

The Muses were a beautiful idea the Boeotians might have originated some time before 700 B.C.E. The Boeotians were one of the peoples of what we now consider Greece, sort of southeastern, yet central to all of the Grecian realms in that era, but the poets Homer and Hesiod are the first persons to expound on the nine of them at any length. In Greek mythology, they were the daughters of Zeus (king of the Grecian gods) and Mnemosyne (goddess of memory, one of Zeus’s aunts; the Grecian gods sort of mirrored the relationship turmoil of their human inventors and were thus more relatable). The Muses were:

It is pretty interesting on its surface that this list includes astronomy but does not include art, whether painting, drawing, or sculpture, although the Greeks were doing all three, but does include two kinds of poetry (three if you include “hymns,” devotional poetry set to music). It is also interesting that historians have their own Muse, although one might think that it was simply the duty of the historian to document what was known (or thought) to have occurred. Theatre gets two Muses, music and dance one each (although you have that crossover region for Polyhymnia, where it is music, poetry, and devotion). It is kind of striking that there is no Muse for philosophy, for non-poetic fiction, for science  (although one for astronomy, which one would assume was a pre-existing condition and not one that required further inspiration). And you’d think that there might have been a Muse for mechanical contraptions, rudimentary as they might have been. We can forgive Z and M for not spawning a muse for photography or film, though. As immortal as they might have been, they did not imagine the 19th century.

I’m not sure whether the muses got up to pranks like many of their parents, siblings and descendants did. It is easy to imagine them conjuring naughty or insulting lyrics (or being blamed for them at least). But their job, their primary purpose in the lives of mortals was to inspire humans to rise above their mundane lot and create something (or at least try) that would last through the ages. I read somewhere that Aeschylus was known to have written over seventy plays; only seven survive into our time. If he and his fellow writers could have seen forward to a time when so few of their works survived, it would not have provoked a kind thought for whoever misplaced – or destroyed – them. So much inspiration, so little longevity for the works! Perhaps there should have been a muse for the arts of preservation and restoration… Oh well. We can’t go back in time and get Z and M to crank out a few more, so we’re stuck with those muses from so long ago.

I have to say that I don’t really believe in the muses. How inspiration occurs – how a perfectly sensible, normally functioning human being is compelled to write, draw, paint, sculpt, dance, create music, engage in science (which the Greeks saw, at least in astronomy, required some inspiration for whatever reason), or do anything else creative – lies in the realm that is beyond our intelligence to comprehend, at least for the time being.

There’s this weird duality to inspiration as well, which may be what the ancients were addressing when they dreamt up the Muses. One the one hand, an artist working in any medium starts creating because they are almost compelled to do so. There is a compulsivity to their behavior and while that word (and that syndrome) have a negative implication that is often serious (those behaviors can and do destroy lives), it is also true that an artist works to fulfill a drive to get better, go deeper, do new things with their tools that they have not done, work through visions that have not materialized, listen to the sounds their brains make and extrude those sounds onto instruments and into the air around us, or through a pen, pencil, keyboard (typewriter, for that matter), or even through their voice alone (storytellers, slam poetry, rap), through the way their bodies move in space and time and synchronize to music or images, or in science through the way in which the work of other scientists and their observations and data intertwine to create new thoughts, hypotheses, experiments, possible theories, and laws that had not yet been imagined during our existence.

And when the “inspiration,” whatever that mental gymnastic is, dries up the artist is left there, brush, pen, instrument, body, chisel in hand, gawping at what might be next and seeing nothing but a void, a place where inspiration once was and is no more – at least for a while. Some artists go the rest of their lives without another apparition turned flesh beneath their yearning fingers. Some die young, shattered by the sudden absence in their lives. Some figure it out and do something mundane that keeps them alive, hoping that the inspiration will return. What is this mad thing that sings to us one moment and clutches us with cruel talons the next? Why is the Muse so fickle, so generous one moment and parsimonious the next?

The only thing I know that works is work. Work at whatever it is you’re trying to see or do or make and work at it until it becomes what you need it to be. If it will not be, come to terms with that and move on. Don’t wait for those nine sisters, flirtatious and cruel, to visit you and provide their gifts. Find something to do and do it as well as you can. The kindest Muse for you will be Life and its enduring, bountiful joys.
Muse

4%

We are all (I assume) very comfortable with the tangible, observable facts that surround us. I am sitting in a chair at a desk in front of a computer I assembled a couple of Augusts ago from parts recommended on the www. My desk is cluttered with papers, CDs (some music, some software), a few groupings of office supplies, and some random stuff that I haven’t gathered the courage to toss yet.

We are all (I assume) very comfortable with the tangible, observable facts that surround us. I am sitting in a chair at a desk in front of a computer I assembled a couple of Augusts ago from parts recommended on the www. My desk is cluttered with papers, CDs (some music, some software), a few groupings of office supplies, and some random stuff that I haven’t gathered the courage to toss yet. Oh, and a work glove – I really have no idea what it’s doing here. Beyond the desk, there are a few tables, one for a scanner, one for a printer, one for a reading light next to my recliner (I should call this the Sleepinator™, or perhaps the Napinator™, as I only nap (or “have a kip,” thus the British trademark for the Kipinator™ is born) in it). My cat (her name is Emma) is sleeping on the window seat (a little earlier, she was sleeping in my left armpit as I read in the Napinator™).

A brief paws for a picture of my kitty (it’s a little blurry, but captures her majestic qualities quite well I think; as she spends a lot of time sleeping, this is an “action” shot).

IMG_0656

The floor has a nondescript light brown carpet but is covered by a Persian rug. Various electronics lie about with a nice efflorescence of cabling (I prefer LAN lines to WiFi), and too many books in boxes (although tidy boxes, I might add). Beyond the walls and windows, all objects as well, lies the planet at large, with a scattering of trees interspersed liberally with asphalt and concrete, grass and weeds, shrubs and (less obviously) the invisible beds of fungi waiting to fruit a body and exhale a cloud of spores so that more invisible beds of fungi will grow (and let’s not forget their friends, the adventitious bacteria, etc.). There are squirrels and a variety of birds with wonderful voices, a few neighborhood cats and when accompanied by their obedient masters a variety of dogs, usually of the small and yappy kind (see majestic cat above). An unnecessary miscellany of automobiles, some small and energy-efficient (relatively speaking), some comically large, supported on wheels that would do a gargantuan earth mover proud, move around out there, rushing on errands that may or may not be as important as indicated by their speed. And then there is lots of earth and rocks and sky and, eventually, ocean and, down further, mantle and magma and other molten earth essentials, simmering away at 3,000 to 3,500°C (5,432°F to 6,332°F for non-scientists and Americans) and at a pressure of 1,250,000 (1.25 million) times the pressure up here in my writing room.

Inner Structure of Earth

Above our sky lie other stars, other planets and moons and asteroids and comets and meteors with all of the associated atmospheric heterogeneity imaginable (methane or sulfuric acid or nitrogen or hydrogen sulfide of frozen water or… well, just about anything) and maybe other life forms, other squirrels and cats and dogs and grass and weeds and shrubs and trees and intelligent bipeds (I mean, whom among us really knows at this point in our young, relatively unevolved lives; there are, apparently, in excess of 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) galaxies known to date (with the limits of our present instrumentation) and each of those galaxies is estimated to have 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) stars, each with who knows how many planets and moons and asteroid belts and all the rest). There is a ton (by which I mean way more than a ton) of “stuff” around us, very near and extremely far away and we have some idea of what constitutes it all – molecules (small and large), elements, atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, subatomic particles, weak and strong attractive forces, electromagnetic particles and waves (energy), gravity, all the subatomic particles you can blast out of nuclear hiding places in the various kinds of accelerators we have designed and built.

But all of it, if gathered into a giant ball in giant and ethereal hands like a ball of dirt, composes about 4% of the substance of the known universe. The rest of the universe is composed of “stuff” called dark matter (26% of the universe) and dark energy (70% of the universe). As what I have just said may be new to your way of thinking (and/or you may have just stopped reading as I may be entirely nuts), this is an excellent time and place to watch the following video by Dr. Patricia Burchat of Stanford University.

Note how completely energized she is by these ideas (I really love to see passionate people talk about their work). Now, when Dr. Burchat and others in her field speak or write about “dark” matter, they are using words in a very imprecise way. They are finding words that are place-markers for the mathematics that they have worked through, math that is perched on the shoulders of other math worked through by other physicists and mathermaticians, reaching back to the Greeks. But you need to be a deeply committed practitioner of those disciplines to understand what really underlies the metaphorical “dark matter” and “dark energy.” I am attempting – as Dr. Burchat does – to expand on these insufficient metaphors.”Dark” matter isn’t dark in color – it’s not black (a color that appears to our eyes and minds when an object has absorbed ALL wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum), it is not dark in a spiritual or theological sense, it is not dark in the way that

“Dark” matter isn’t dark in color – it’s not black (a color that appears to our eyes and minds when an object has absorbed ALL wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum, which is in turn a very tiny sliver of the overall electromagnetic spectrum), it is not dark in a spiritual or theological sense, it is not dark in the way that Scandinavian “black” metal is dark (that compels me to reach for the “stop” button).

Dark matter is only apparent because of its influence in the fabric of the universe, its effect on gravitational forces that, by way of Einstein (and Riemann) permeate that blackness up in the sky at night and hold the shiny bits (including our apparently sky-blue bit) in place. The observation of dark matter is seen in the behavior of galaxies; stars at the edge of galaxies, if only under the influence of gravity, should move more slowly than stars closer to the center. They don’t; the speed of stars rotating around the center of a galaxy move at the same constant rate as the stars towards the middle of the galaxy, so there must be matter that is interacting throughout the galaxy that forces the exterior stars to move at that rate. An oversimplified analogy might be that we do not see air, but we see the effects of wind (but air and winds are composed of atoms of gasses and have mass and energy that we understand very well, so this is a poor, earthbound analogy indeed). The effect of dark matter is seen not only in the circulation of outer stars (and their planets, etc.) around the center of the galaxy but in how galaxies cluster together and how the light from individual galaxies smears due to gravitational lensing. This unseeable matter has enormous effects in our universe, but we are still struggling to find a method of “seeing” (this is a poor word to use here) it. For some stunning computer simulations of how the universe might have evolved in the presence of dark matter and dark energy, watch the “full-size” version of the film at this website (bottom of page).

Now, if all 96% of the remaining “stuff” in the universe was dark matter, solar systems and galaxies and clusters of galaxies would tend to cluster and the universe would not seem to be expanding outwards. Instead, we (well, astrophysicists and their ilk) observe a universe that is expanding. Space itself is spreading apart. The hypothesis is that this occurs due to dark energy, the predominant “ingredient” in the universe, one so powerful (in spite of its unseeable nature) that galaxy clusters and the universe that contains them in a web of gravitational force are expanding away from each other, the opposite of what we would expect to see from the more neighborly, clustery behavior of galaxies and their contents.

This is weird suprahuman stuff, stuff beyond touch and beyond our usual intuition, unless one bathes the brain in a nutrient-rich broth of advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and similar elixirs. The concepts of dark matter and dark energy are elusive to those of us who crawl the earth looking for groceries and the next mortgage payment, but I am extremely (EXTREMELY!) pleased that some of us are paying attention to how this whole amazing thing fits together.

To close, while I was writing this thing I thought about a great Brian Eno song called “Help Me Somebody” from his amazing collaboration with David Byrne “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.” The song centers on samples of Reverend Paul Morton letting his congregation know what time it is but is fattened up by funk of the most satisfying kind, delivered by Eno, Byrne, John Cooksey (drums) and Steve Scales (congas, other percussion); I dare anyone to stay still while listening to this track.

The “lyric” (i.e. Rev. Morton’s sermon) includes the following, which I will paraphrase:

“It’s so high you can’t get over
It’s so low you can’t get under
It’s so wide you can’t get around”

I obviously dilute Reverend Morton’s intent here, but the song and lyric popped into my mind and seemed to be telling me that this is the nature of the universe – so high, so low, so wide. That’s the 96%. We live in the 4%.

As in all of these weighty posts, I encourage whatever readers I have to explore the additional materials. Some of them might make your brains hurt or itch or explode or collapse in on themselves. All of those are good! Do more of the things that make these things happen! There is great happiness available to those that feed their minds!