Small thoughts from Bert Hornback and the Center for the Advancement of Peripheral Thought.

CAT SONGS  Tue Apr 22, 2008

The old song,

Oh, it ain't gonna rain, no more, no more,
It ain't gonna rain no more!
How in the heck can I wash my neck
If it ain't gonna rain no more?

was written, obviously, be a cat, and is part of cat lore and culture. We deduce that by noting that cats, always serious hygenicists and washing themselves several times a day, can't wash the backs of their necks. So they depend on rain for that. In case you hadn't noticed.

SqB=DP  Thu Apr 10, 2008

Einstein's equation is surely the most famous equation in history. The second position has never been contested, but SqB=DP may be in line for that distinction for its contribution to our understanding of evolutionary history.

Research conducted by the scientists at the Center for the Advancement of Peripheral Thought proposes that the dinosaurs disappeared because the cold weather of the ice age sent their main source of food underground.

Dinosaurs had notoriously bad eyesight. Coupled with that, they had trouble with balance when they tried to bend over, head to the ground. Bananas were bright yellow, when ripe, and grew high up in the banana trees. They were ideal food for dinosaurs.

When the ice age came the bananas went underground, to save themselves from freezing. Tendrils ran down from the trees to the little bananas, growing under the ground. Because they were cold, they shrunk, and they grew shells to help them stay warm. To survive the cold and the food shortage, the dinosaurs grew smaller--their new food supply wouldn't really support traditional dinosaur size--and grew fur.

The shape and relative size of a dinosaur's head, its shorter forelegs, big hind quarter, and the long tail, all reduced, and covered with fur: it looks like a squirrel. And of course it used to be one--before the ice age. Those little shelled fruits--they aren't really nuts--growing in clusters at the ends of those tendrils were originally bananas.

The equation now inspiring evolutionary scholars is elegant and precise: SqB=DP.

If you feed bananas to squirrels, you know what you'll get: squirrels times bananas equals dinosaurs times peanuts.

THE NEWS.  Tue Apr 08, 2008

I want to talk about something we USers don't talk about. I want to talk about a problem.

USers no longer have problems. Problems are indicators of trouble. USers don't want to have troubles. We all know that--because, God Blesses America, we have no problems. The most difficult things we ever have are issues. So I suppose I am being troublesome by insisting on talking about a problem. I suppose I am becoming an issue.

Here's today's problem. Most nights lately I turn on the television. I choose between games: athletics, or politics. They are both presented as entertainment. For sports programs, I can turn off the sound--the idiot announcers saying nothing that makes any sense--and enjoy the play. Politics doesn't have anything I can enjoy; the candidates, though mostly respectable, are forced to suffer through this nonsensically long campaign in which nothing makes sense, and spend hundreds of millions of dollars that could much better be spent on basic services for prospective voters. The commentators talk of candidates "slogging it out"--whatever that means!--in various pugalistic encounters, and pillory them for their pimples without ever checking to see if they have major intellectual, social, or moral problems. By November the USer electorate will probably be dumber than it was before the campaign season started.

What is called "the news" in the US is just more of what we call "entertainment." And like the entertainment, the news is mostly bad. Entertainment depends of what the industry calls "personalities," and that's what news programming in America has become. The networks however, aren't even entertaining. The anchors--particularly at CBS--have been chosen for image rather than intelligence or understanding. CNN offers us Lou Dobbs as a thoughtful man, Wolff Blitzer as a serious investigator and explicator. Blitzer and Larry King Live are supposed to be deeply thoughtful interviewers who ask "tough questions"--like "Is that so?"

The athletes I see generally are good athletes.. Very, very good, for the most part. The coaches and managers seem competent. The sports commentators, however, are utter idiots. But they are no worse than the political commentators. And at least the sports commentators don't congratulate themselves every other breath on being the best in the business; only the cartoon characters at CNN do that.

The sports announcers talk too much, and rarely say anything. The news commentators and analysts don't know how to say anything, even if they knew anything to say. They are like the sports commentators in their dedication to crisis mentality; they add to that their determination to underscore insignificances, misstate even the obvious, and conflate evidence and opinion. They also seem to find something worth giggling about in almost every story they cover--to help us avoid taking anything seriously, I suppose, or to excuse their idiocy.

Maybe part of the problem is that the commentators are expected to speak extemporaneously. About ninety-five percent of them are incapable of such. The most profound things any of them ever say turn out to be tautologies.

And now the news folks want to recruit us to join them, to contribute our bits of news or what might be news. Maybe we could raise the level of reporting for them--but they would have to comment on our comments, and would no doubt garble them.


NOMINATION  Mon Apr 07, 2008

The Democratic Party has made such a huge mess of the nominating process that they may end up without a candidate at all, and not even on the ballot in Florida and Michigan.

But this could save the day. And it all turns on experience. Though Clinton claims experience, she bows out gracefully. Obama acknowledges that he lacks experience, and asks Al Gore if he can be Gore's running made this November. Gore-Obama then trounce McCain-Lieberman.

The Democratic party will be saved. And they can let everybody vote all they want to at the convention. And we won't even remember that the party had given itself veto power over the Democratic primary voters'choice; superdelegates will disappear.

GREED  Sun Apr 06, 2008

I was watching the semi-finals of the NCAA basketball tournament. A wonderful comeback by North Carolina against Kansas, ruined by a kid in a North Carolina t-shirt: "TAKE EVERYTHING, GIVE UP NOTHING."

No thanks, kid. No thanks, North Carolina. No thanks, greed learned from playing basketball.


2. ULYSSES.  Sun Apr 06, 2008

Right at the beginning of Ulysses, James Joyce tells us who is in charge. He is: within, behind, beyond his handiwork, but always involved in it. Stately Plump Buck Mulligan is playing priest this morning, climbing up onto the open deck at the top of the Martello tower in Sandycove that he shares with Stephen Dedalus. His priestly bathrobe is fluttering behind him in the air, displaying his namedness, and he holds his shaving cup up as he intones, Introibe ad altare Dei--"I will go unto the altar of God."

But wait--he isn't going. "Halted," the narrator says, and Mulligan stops. Mulligan has no audience; Stephen is still below. Buck is always on stage, always seeking attention--like Lenehan, much too much like Lenehan for us not to notice it the first chance we get. Joyce dislikes Buck quite seriously; in many ways he--rather than Boylan--is Bloom's antagonist.

The main thing for us to notice here, however, is the quiet critical involvement of the narrator in the action. We will have to get used to that, to read Ulysses. The narrator--"like the God of creation" as Stephen said--is always within or behind or beyond his characters; though he may seem to be disengaged, he in intimately involved with them and their story.

More later, if you want.

1. ANEMONES.  Sun Apr 06, 2008

In the late 1960s a lot of taboos disappeared in our society, mostly for the good. The ones that I had the most difficulty with were verbal. The negative ones were easier than the positive ones. I wasn't accustomed to speaking of love, or loving, particularly in public. I wasn't uneasy saying "Peace"to anybody, even hawks. But saying "Love,"or "Love and peace" was difficuly. And even more difficult was signing letters that way. Not that I didn't want to.

So I said "Eleven peas." And I signed letters "Eleven peas." And I hung a wreath made of eleven huge peas and some frosted greenery to hang over my door at Christmas. And through various linguistic adventures and misadventures, I came to Anemones My Footstool.

Anemones My Footstool has been sitting in my head for several years now. It leads the list of book titles I have ready and waiting if ever I get around to writing the books. It has lately made it to my computer: there's an empty file called "anemones my footstool." Now that I am retired I sometimes accomplish more in my head than with my pen, though once I get started I have the true leisure to get things done.

I hope that I haven't just made an idle boast. (Because the spring is late this year, there are a number of idle boats here in Amsterdam--but it being Amsterdam, there are no idol boasts or boats about.)