Thursday, March 31, 2011

Don't (Ray Davies Lyric From Phobia) -- La Brea Tar Pits Reflections

Walking 'round this metropolis
With its buildings that reach to the clouds
There must be millions of people out there
Walking 'round with their heads bowed
This city kills me, but it thrills me
Now something's gone and held up the crowd
They're pointing at a man standing high on a ledge
And somebody just cried out loud:

He's heard the cries of the lunatics facing defeat
The cheers of the winners
Who are dancing in the street
Perhaps the crime and corruption finally got through
And the violence of the city
Just broke him in two
Now a voice from the queue shouts:

Note:  Not strictly relevant, but still kind of interesting, like the wonders of Phobia itself.
Photo credit: Jane Roberts, Strange Phase Studios (Click on images to enlarge.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Herakleitos Fragment 43 (The stuff of the psyche is a smoke-like substance)

The stuff of the psyche is a smoke-like substance of finest particles that gives rise to all other things; its particles are of less mass than any other substance and it is constantly in motion; only movement can know movement.

Trans. Guy Davenport, Herakleitos and Diogenes. San Francisco, Grey Fox Press, 1976.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bravery (Part 1)

Jean-Joseph Benjamin Constant (1845-1902), Arabian Nights

        In considering  Doughty’s writing, it is necessary to examine his circumstances.  He started with no more than two large saddlebags, in one of which was a little money and a stock of medicines which he sold.  He went into the heart of a country in which it was held a merit to kill Christians for their faith and fair sport to murder any traveler, whatever his religion, for loot.  He set out with no other protection than a revolver and to the last retained a fixed determination, amounting to mania, never to say, the few words, no more than, “There is no God but Allah”, that would have spared him the people’s fanaticism.  His money he spent, or had stolen from him, before he turned homewards, and while he was yet some weeks away from the safety of the coast, he was destitute, being offered work as a herdsman.

David Roberts, R.A. (1796-1864),  Approach To Mount Sinai.

        Abide with me, Khahil, till the Haj come and return again, next Spring.” “How might I live those many months?  is there food in the khala?”  “You may keep my camels.”  “But how under the flaming sun, in the long summer season?”  “When it is hot thou canst sit in my booth, and drink leban; and I will give thee a wife.” Hearing his words, I rejoiced that the Arab no longer looked upon me as some rich stranger amongst  them!”

David Roberts, R.A. (1796-1864),  Arabs Of The Desert.

        A man’s style is like the clothes he wears, an expression of his personality.  But what a man is also makes the way he writes, as the choice of a shirt goes to make up his appearance  which is, essentially, a side of his character.  There are fashions in underwear, for the most part unconscious in that we are not particularly aware of how we dress.  It is possible to date almost any paragraph within fifty years by the use and juxtaposition of words in it.  The more mannered the way of life, as in the eighteenth century, the harder it is to break through the convention to the man beneath.  But with Doughty the man’s integrity is such that he writes on his own, if the dates were not available it would be hard to say when.

"The clouds of the second locust brood . . . wreathing and flickering as motes in the sunbeam, flew over us for some days, thick as rain, from near the soil to great height in the atmosphere. They alight as birds, letting down their long shanks to the ground; these invaded the booths, and for blind hunger, even bit our shins, as we sat at coffee. They are borne freely flying at the wind's list, as in the Psalms, 'I am tossed up and down as the locust" -- Charles M. Doughty, Travels In Arabia Deserta

Reader Note:  Paragraphs 1-3 excerpted from: Henry Green, Apologia (Published in No. 4 Folios of New Writing, 1941); Republished in Surviving – The Uncollected Writings of Henry Green, ed. Matthew Yorke.  New York, Viking, 1992. 
Interested readers might also wish to take a look at this and this.

"as the choice of a shirt goes to make up his appearance  which is, essentially, a side of his character"

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ornicopia 5: What is the largest bird known to have lived?

Giant moa

782.  What is the largest bird known to have lived?  The giant moa of New Zealand which apparently became extinct about 5 centuries ago stood, according to reproductions of their skeletons, as much as 12 feet tall.  They were flightless birds built for running. The giant moa belonged to a large family that ranged in size from the 12-foot giants down to small species about the size of turkeys.

Lake in Pyramid Valley, South Island, New Zealand, 2008

783.  What caused the extinction of the giant moas?  The cause of their extinction about the fourteenth century is not known.  However, some were eaten by the primitive people who then inhabited New Zealand.  Others died in “graveyards” containing hundreds of skeletons of moas, which suggests that they may have been herded together by some catastrophe, perhaps fire, that caused simulataneous death to great numbers.  In Pyramid Valley of South Island a very sticky lake deposit  over which a thin film of humus and vegetation spread trapped many moas. The heavy birds broke through the surface and were caught in the treacherous mire where they floundered helplessly and died.

Sir Richard Owen KCB (1804-1892) and the skeleton of a Giant moa. Owen, a prominent biologist, paleontologist and comparative anatomist, coined the word Dinosauria (meaning "Terrible Reptile" or "Fearfully Great Reptile") and was the driving force behind the establishment of the British Museum of Natural History in London in 1881.

784.  Have any other birds approached the giant moa in size?  The elephant bird (Aepyornis maximus) may have weighed as much as 1,000 pounds and reached 11 feet in height.  Like the giant moa it was flightless and resembled an ostrich in form.

Elephant Bird -- Artist's rendering and skeleton

Reader Note: For more on the extinction of the Giant moa and other animals inhabiting the Pyramid Valley, see this from Time magazine, April 25, 1949.  And also this.

Text excerpted from:  1001 Questions Answered About Birds by Allan D. Cruickshank and Helen G. Cruickshank (Toronto, General Publishing Company, 1958)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fireman Flower

       It was not fear, but rather an oppressive sense of expectancy that made the fireman study his belt buckle with such nervous interest.

            At the time he was riding to a most important fire.  Looking out from the back of the van he could see the streets had been washed by the night.  The racing tarmac slipped back so smoothly that the trailer pump’s heavy tyres no more than rustled.  Now and then the towing pin slugged heavily in and out of its oiled sprung socket.  Sometimes, on an acute camber, a silver thread of petrol fountained from a pinhole in the petrol tank cap.  There was little other movement.  The vehicle raced evenly forward.  The fireman saw only the dark linoleum road slipping backwards:  or, if he raised his eyes, the departing rows of houses, the terraces, the crescents, regular, eyeless, washed grey by the moonlight.

           The fireman scrutinized the buckling of his belt and thought:  “Now I can see quite plainly, perhaps for the first time, that this is me, that this is Fireman Flower, that I am riding my pump to a most important fire, that inevitably I shall soon be engaged on my most important task.  I knew the nature of that task as soon as I heard the call to this particular fire.  My task is succinctly – to discover the kernel of the fire.  I must disregard the fire’s offshoots, I must pass over the fire’s deceptive encroachments, and I must proceed most determinedly in search of the fire’s kernel.  Only in that way can I assess efficiently the whole nature of the fire…"

Excerpt from: William Sansom, Fireman Flower. Included in Fireman Flower and Other Stories.  London, The Hogarth Press, 1944

Semi: Self: Portrait

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Readymades (Vivian Stanshall-Neil Innes)

Wendy Wetlip stares from a poster,
Ignoring the drawing adorning her smile.
Her lover has shuffled away,
Looking the other way

Ronnie the Raincoat hangs out in a book store.
He's never seen his own wife in the nude.
Somebody called him depraved.
But think of the money he saved. 

Dwarf on a moped speeds through the park,
To Kilroy's Renaissance -- the Temple of Art.
Signs with a flourish and makes it his own,
Pockets his pencil and slyly rides home. 

Annual cultural African dancers,
Bereft Isabella in rubber thigh boots.
A man was arrested today,


Note to reader: Link in last line to Exploding Sausage film featuring the Bonzo Dog Band "at play" and en famille.  Songs featured are: (i) Quiet Talks and Summer Walks (from Keynsham); (ii) We Are Normal (from The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse (UK) and The Urban Spaceman (US)); and (iii) Readymades (beginning at 5:10)(from Tadpoles). It's really wonderful footage to watch of a great, inspired, and highly original band. No other group could have or would have dreamed of making the wonderful Readymades. The song's mood kind of reminds me of this.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thalia (άλεια) and Ganesh (गणेश)


        Thalia and Ganesh keep me company in my Tuxedo Park office.

        They arrived together in boxes sent from the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift shop years ago and have been with me ever since, throughout days and nights, in light and heavy weather, unchanging.

        To some extent, their constancy, serenity and good cheer have preserved me (although I don't look half as good as they do).

         Like Jane's favorite stuffed animal, Tiger (born in China and returned to China to bring Jane home), they guard the house and are precious and eternal.

         All manner of good news and bad news -- Princess Diana's shocking car crash; Roxy Music's reunion; September 11th;  jobs becoming former jobs and new jobs replacing them; hurricanes, tsunamis and local politics; War and Rumours of war -- arriving at any time in the Day or Night:

          Thalia and Ganesh learn everything first chez nous and they listen intently to the Tuxedo forest sounds every night, unlike I, unfazed.


Reader Notes:

Thalia: "the joyous, the flourishing" (from Ancient Greek: θάλλειν, thállein; "to flourish, to be verdant") was the muse who presided over comedy and idyllic poetry. In this context, her name means “flourishing,” because the praises in her songs flourish through time. She was the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the eighth-born of the nine Muses.

According to pseudo-Apollodorus, she and Apollo were the parents of the Corybantes, Other ancient sources, however, gave the Corybantes different parents.

She was portrayed as a young woman with a joyous air, crowned with ivy, wearing boots and holding a comic mask in her hand. Many of her statues also hold a bugle, a trumpet (both used to support the actors' voices in ancient comedy), a shepherd’s staff, or a wreath of ivy.

Ganesh:  also spelled Ganesa or Ganesha, also known as Ganapati, Vinayaka, and Pillaiyar, is one of the deities best-known and most widely worshipped in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India and Nepal. Hindu sects worship him regardless of affiliations. Devotion to Ganesh is widely diffused and extends to Jains, Buddhists, and beyond India.

Although he is known by many other attributes, Ganesh's elephant head makes him easy to identify. Ganesh is widely revered as the Remover of Obstacles and more generally as Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles, patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom.  He is honored at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies and invoked as Patron of Letters during writing sessions.

Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits and explain his distinct iconography.

Ganesh emerged a distinct deity in clearly recognizable form in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta Period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors.His popularity rose quickly, and he was formally included among the five primary deities of Smartism (a Hindu denomination) in the 9th century. A sect of devotees called the Ganapatya, who identified Ganesha as the supreme deity, arose during this period.  The principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesh are the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa.  In his praise the Ganesha Chalisa is sung.

Photographic credit: Jane Butler Roberts, Strange Phase Studios, Tuxedo Park, NY; Berwyn, PA; Bangalore India

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ghost Train (Kevin Ayers Lyric and Link)

I'm sitting here picking the holes in my sneakers --
Watching the moves of those Midnight Creepers.
There's a smell of a song rustling through my head --
Something about being somewhere else instead.

And the ghost train comes blowing on in -- through this town;
Picking up the passengers -- Then putting them down.
And the wind steals a leaf,  Like the ghost of a thief,
And the autumnal wind blows around and around.

Oh those horses of smoke! -- Sneaking in through the trees.
There's a shaking and a shuddering that goes to my knees.
And I wonder what's happening?  Did I miss the joke?
Another year sleeping; 
I never awoke.

There was plenty of war; And plenty of death.
Plenty of hunger and Wasting of breath.
And all I did was scratch myself and Dream a few dreams.
And I wrote a few notes on what I think it all means.

But reading them all now -- They don't amount to much.
There's no meat to eat;  No flesh to touch.
A few dreams of you  -- And a few fish to fry;
I just sat there watching 
Another year go by.

Oh  those horses of smoke! -- Sneaking in through the trees.
There's a shaking and a shuddering that goes to my knees.
And I wonder what's happening?  Did I miss the joke?
Another year sleeping;  
I never awoke.

Reader note:  The gray (or should I say grey?) link in the second stanza takes you to a good 1998 live performance of this Kevin Ayers-Ollie Halsall composition that took place at a venue called The Gig in Los Angeles.  I would highly recommend, however, purchasing the original studio version of the song, which appeared on the 1992 Kevin Ayers lp Still Life With Guitar.  That record, which is available on the Market Square label in the UK, is one of Ayers' best and contains such other fine Ayers songs as Feeling This Way, I Don't Depend On You and the best version of Leadbelly's Irene, Goodnight I know.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Suspended Animation (Japan and Libya)

Elisabeth Sladen (as Sarah) shows the effects of suspended animation in Doctor Who 

       The tragic, still unfolding events in Japan and Libya have awoken in me a curious and disturbing sense of suspended animation., i.e., the slowing of life processes by external means without termination.

        It seems so strange  -- the protracted and seemingly endless alternation of unverifiable, unreliable and  unsustained "good news" and "bad news" from Japan, dispensed and rotated through half, quarter -- even shorter -- cycles.  Things must seem twice as incoherent over there  -- unless they're receiving different and more consistent information than we are here -- and they are as unaware of our alternate universe as we surely are of theirs.


Jupiter Mission:  2001, A Space Odyssey

        Libya, a completely different situation and one suffused with an obvious (except in the sense of being easily understood) political superstratum, is scarcely more coherent and confuses both spatial/political (right and left) and compass directions. (Civil wars are like that.)   Please note that this is not a political posting expressing a personal conclusion or point of view on these matters.  However, for an opinion/analysis of a person on the right (Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post),  click here.   To read a "left" alternative view (from Michael Kinsley in the Los Angeles Times), click here.   Both writers are knowledgeable and thoughtful.  Neither paints anything like a happy, contented picture.

        While both catastrophes are still "current events", they now each seem to have gone on for so long without obvious milestones or signposts that I feel myself cryonically frozen in a permanent fuzzy present tense with no expectation of any future arrival at any point of entry or safe harbor.

Where my knowledge of suspended animation first began.

        On a much more trivial level, a similar sensation of suspended animation arises from experiencing the continuing, practically incessant television appearances of former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, former Tennessee U.S. representative Harold Ford, and former Newsweek magazine editor Jon Meacham (the man who single-handedly wrecked Newsweek, in business since 1933, by making it unreadable, uninteresting and actually physically unpleasant to the touch) on various news shows where they each discourse interminably about subjects they know very little about.  At least Rendell is in his element here -- turn on the switch and he just Goes, kind of like Jane's brilliant Kung-Fu Hamster.  The other two just emit wheezy sounds. 

Unrelenting blowhard, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who will speak at any length on any topic.

Former U.S. representative from Memphis, Tennessee, Harold Ford -- icy opportunist and "higher office political hopeful" turned soggy pundit and  "investment banker"/Rolodex whore.  Encountering him on a Manhattan street is scary -- is he a revenant or an extra-terrestrial visitor from an ongoing real-life "V" invasion?  And why is he making that face?

Jon Meacham -- he actually destroyed Newsweek magazine all by himself.  By making its appeal more "selective", he completely eviscerated it so quickly that he should receive the Admiral Graf Spee Award for speedy scuttling.  A cure for insomnia in human form, being subjected to Meacham's Hamlet-like soliloquies is clearly collective karmic payback for some mysterious wrong thing each of us did to someone sometime somewhere.  For what it's worth, I'm so sorry.  As Linda Blair once said so memorably: "Mother, make it stop." 

Kung-Fu Hamster -- in Todd Rundgren's words, A Wizard, A True Star.  
Click on link above and here to see hamster in action.