Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The humor of Stephen Hawking

I'm just finishing reading A Brief History of Time. At best, I think I've understood about one-third of it, much of the rest has just been a mind-numbing mechanical exercise involving simply moving my eyes across the words on a page. But it's been absolutely fascinating, nonetheless. Here are a couple of fun excerpts:

We know that every particle has an antiparticle, with which it can annihilate. (In the case of the force-carrying particles, the antiparticles are the same as the particles themselves.) There could be whole antiworlds and antipeople made out of antiparticles. However, if you meet your antiself, don't shake hands! You would both vanish in a great flash of light.

The movement of the earth in it's orbit around the sun produces gravitational waves. The effect of the energy loss will be to change the orbit of the earth so that gradually it gets nearer and nearer to the sun, eventually collides with it, and settles down to a stationary state. The rate of energy loss in the case of the earth and the sun is very low - about enough to run a small electric heater. This means that it will take about a thousand million million million million years for the earth to run into the sun, so there's no immediate cause for worry!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Something that is

Jonathan Adler, Color Bubbles
Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is – and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought back together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and when all this perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.

~ Mark Helprin, Winter's Tale (1983)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Native Sense

Chick Corea & Gary Burton. WOW!
Listen to the title track

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Nature is a temple where living pillars
Let escape sometimes confused words;
Man traverses it through forests of symbols
That observe him with familiar glances.

Like long echoes that intermingle from afar
In a dark and profound unity,
Vast like the night and like the light,
The perfumes, the colors and the sounds respond.

There are perfumes fresh like the skin of infants
Sweet like oboes, green like prairies,
—And others corrupted, rich and triumphant

That have the expanse of infinite things,
Like ambergris, musk, balsam and incense,
Which sing the ecstasies of the mind and senses.

~ Charles Baudelaire

Friday, March 27, 2009

Held. Dann sind wir helden!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sound waves on fire!

Blowing in the East Wind

One should raise
the self by the self;
one should not
degrade the self.
Indeed, the self alone
is the self's friend;
the self alone
is the self's enemy.

The self is the friend
of that self
by whose self
the very self is conquered.
But for one who is not
truly one's self--
in enmity, that very self
would remain like an enemy.

For one whose self is conquered,
who is peaceful--
that one is fully absorbed
in the higher self
While in cold and heat,
happiness and suffering,
likewise, honor and dishonor.

One whose self is
content in knowledge
and in realized knowledge,
who is focused on the highest
with senses conquered--
That one,
"absorbed in yoga,"
is said to be a yogi
for whom earth, stones,
and gold are the same.

~ from the Bhagavad Gita

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Watcher

Ann Tanksley, Harvest of Life
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.

~ Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Painted Lady in Time-Lapse

Monday, March 23, 2009

Amazing Stories - Philippa Schuyler

Philippa Schuyler, 1946
Amazing - encompassing the strange, curious, tragic, pathetic (her parents, it would seem), and, in the end, the somewhat ironic. I first encountered the name Philippa Schuyler while reading The Time of our Singing by Richard Powers just a few weeks ago. He brings her into his story, briefly, on a single page, writing about a particular concert performance, and then about Mayor La Guardia's interest in her many talents (so much so that he proclaimed a Philippa Schuyler Day in New York City). This is the better part her Wikipedia entry:
Philippa Duke Schuyler (August 2, 1931-May 9, 1967) was a noted American child prodigy and pianist who became famous in the 1930s and 1940s as a result of her talent, mixed race parentage, and the eccentric methods employed by her mother to bring her up. Schuyler was the daughter of George S. Schuyler, a prominent black essayist and journalist of pronounced conservative views, and Josephine Cogdell, a white Texan and one-time Mack Sennett bathing beauty from a former slave-owning family. Her parents believed that intermarriage could "invigorate" both races and produce extraordinary offspring. They also advocated that mixed race marriage could help to solve many of the United States's social problems.

Cogdell further believed that genius could best be developed by a diet consisting exclusively of raw foods. As a result, Philippa grew up in her New York apartment eating a diet predominantly comprising raw carrots, peas and yams and raw steak. She was given a daily ration of cod liver oil and lemon slices in place of sweets. "When we travel," Cogdell said, "Philippa and I amaze waiters. You have to argue with most waiters before they will bring you raw meat. I guess it is rather unusual to see a little girl eating a raw steak."

Whatever the efficacy of Cogdell's dietary program, her daughter was indubitably gifted. Recognized as a prodigy at an early age, she was reportedly able to read and write at the age of two and a half, and composed music from the age of five. At nine, she became the subject of "Evening With A Gifted Child", a profile written by Joseph Mitchell, the celebrated correspondent for The New Yorker, who heard several of her early compositions and noted that she addressed both her parents by their first names.

Schuyler began giving piano recitals and radio broadcasts while still a child and attracted an enormous amount of press coverage. New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia was one of her admirers and visited her at her home on more than one occasion. By the time she reached adolescence, Schuyler was touring constantly, both in the US and overseas.

Her talent as a pianist was widely acknowledged, although many critics believed that her forte lay in playing vigorous pieces and criticised her style when tackling more nuanced works. Acclaim for her performances led to her becoming a role model for many children in the United States of the 1930s and 1940s, but Schuyler's own childhood was blighted when, during her teenage years, her parents showed her the scrapbooks they had compiled recording her life and career. The books contained numerous newspaper clippings in which both George and Josephine Schuyler commented on their beliefs and ambitions for their daughter. Realisation that she had been conceived and raised, in a sense, as an experiment, robbed the pianist of many of the illusions that had made her earlier youth a happy one.

In later life, Schuyler grew disillusioned with the racial and gender prejudice she encountered, particularly when performing in the United States, and much of her musical career was spent playing overseas. In her thirties she abandoned the piano to follow her father into journalism.

Schuyler's personal life was frequently unhappy. She rejected many of her parents' values, increasingly becoming a vocal feminist, and made many attempts to pass herself off as a woman of Iberian (Spanish) descent named Filipa Monterro. Although she engaged in a number of affairs, and on one occasion endured a late and dangerous abortion, she never married.

In 1967 Schuyler traveled to Vietnam as a war correspondent. She was killed in a helicopter crash off the coast near Da Nang while engaged in a mission to evacuate a number of Vietnamese orphans. Schuyler, who could not swim, survived the crash but drowned in the sea about 70 yards from shore.

Freddie Mercury and those other guys

Queen's last video shoot. 30 May, 1991

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Priest of the Sun

Georgia O'Keefe
Tosamah, orator, physician, Priest of the Sun, son of Hummingbird, spoke:
" 'Peyote is a small, spineless, carrot shaped cactus growing in the Rio Grande Valley and southward. It contains nine narcotic alkaloids of the isoquinoline series, some of them strychnine-like in physiological action, the rest morphine-like. Physiologically, the salient characteristic of peyote is its production of visual hallucinations or color visions, as well as kinesthetic, olfactory, and auditory derangements.' Or, to put it another way, that little old woolly booger turns you on like a light, man. Daddy peyote is the vegetal representation of the sun."

The Priest of the Sun was going to conduct a prayer meeting, and he had painted himself for it. The part in his hair was a bright yellow line; there were vertical red lines on either side of his face; and there were yellow half moons under his eyes. He was a holy, sinister sight. Everything was ready. He stepped upon the platform with a gourd rattle and staff in one hand and the paraphernalia satchel in the other. One by one the celebrants followed and sat down in a circle. Cristobal Cruz was the fireman, Napoleon Kills-in-the-Timber the drummer.

~ N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, J. S. Bach! 21 March, 1685

The Prelude from Bach's English Suite No. 2

I remember this piece from one of the many disturbing scenes in Schindler's List. As German soldiers are storming a Jewish apartment building in the Warsaw ghetto, and with total chaos and terror reigning in the background, one soldier quietly and nonchalantly sits down at a piano (that belongs to someone being thrown out, obviously) and begins playing this beautiful piece. Such beauty amidst all the horror. Classic Spielberg, I suppose.

On listening to Bach, Hermann Hesse wrote:

And now it comes. With majestic free deportment Master Bach enters his temple, does grateful homage to God, rises from worship and, following the text of a hymn, happily falls into his reverent Sunday mood. But hardly has he made a start and cleared some space for himself than he begins to drive his harmonies deeper, interlace melody with melody, harmony with harmony in animated polyphony; he reinforces and lifts and rounds out his edifice of notes far above the church into a starry space full of nobly perfect systems as though God had gone to sleep and handed over to him His staff and mantle. He makes lightening play from towering clouds and throws open serene sunny spaces, he triumphantly guides forth planets and suns, he rests relaxed at high noon and at the proper hour elicits the cool showers of evening. And he ends in splendor and power like the setting sun and, as he falls silent, leaves the world full of glory and of soul.

~ Old Music (1913)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sage advice for young ladies

A few samples from English Folk Rhymes 1892 by G. F. Northall
under the heading Superstitions, sub-heading Divinations:

A very singular divination, practised at the period of the harvest-moon, is thus described in an old chapbook. When you go to bed, place under your pillow a prayer-book, open at the part of the matrimonial service, "With this ring I thee wed;" place on it a key, a ring, a flower, and a sprig of willow, a small heartcake, a crust of bread, and the following cards: the ten of clubs, nine of hearts, ace of spades, and the ace of diamonds. Wrap all these in a thin handkerchief of gauze or muslin, and on getting into bed, cross your hands and say--

"Luna, every woman's friend,
To me thy goodness condescend;
Let me this night in visions see
Emblems of my destiny."

If you dream of storms, trouble will betide you; if the storm ends in a fine calm so will your fate; if on a ring, or the ace of diamonds, marriage; bread, an industrious life; cake, a prosperous life; flowers, joy; willow, treachery in love; spades, death; diamonds, money; clubs, a foreign land; hearts, illegitimate children; keys, that you will rise to great trust and power, and never know want; birds, that you will have many children; and geese, that you will marry more than once.


On Valentines Day, take two bay-leaves, sprinkle them with rose water, and lay them across your pillow in the evening. When you go to bed, put on a clean night-gown, turned wrong side outwards, and, lying down, say these words softly to yourself--
"Good Valentine, be kind to me,
In dreams let my true love see."


A young unmarried woman must sow the seeds of butterdock on the grass, gradually, and on a Friday morning, in a lonesome place, half an hour before sunrise, saying--
"I sow, I sow!
Then, my own dear,
Come here, come here,
And mow, and mow!"
The seed being scattered, she will see her future husband mowing with a scythe at a short distance from her. She must not be frightened, for if she says, "Have mercy on me!" he will immediately vanish. This method is said to be infallible, but it is looked upon as a bold, desperate, and presumptuous undertaking.


The late Venerable W. Brocklehurst Stonehouse, Archdeacon of Stowe, and Vicar of Owston in the Isle of Axholme, furnished the author with the following piece of folklore which he had picked up in his own parish. Repair to the nearest churchyard as the clock strikes twelve, and take from a grave on the south side of the church three tufts of grass, the longer and ranker the better, and on going to bed place them under your pillow, repeating earnestly three several times--

"The eve of St. Mark (April 24th) by prediction is blest,
Set therefore my hopes and my fears to rest,
Let me know my fate, whether weal or woe,
Whether my rank is to be high or low;
Whether to live singly or to be a bride,
And destiny my star doth provide."

Should you have no dream that night, you will be single and miserable all your life. If you dream of thunder and lightening, your life will be one of great difficulty and sorrow.

Murderous Murmurings at Maidenhead

Two gents
An' a ladye
At the Hundred of Hoo Alehouse
On the dank, dreary banks of the Thamesis
With regards to an old nagging Nemesis
Returning from abroad
Conjurin' up some long lost tale
Only misdemeanors I hears 'em detail
They be settin' 'im up for to kill
Puts a poor soul to wonderin'
'Tis well 'tis the wiser forgotten
"Another tin o' gin over 'ere!"
(Now where be that pot to piss in. . .)

~ Ailith Sickley (1760)

Swan and Shadow Swan

Thus did I by the water's brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Revers├Ęd there, abused mine eyes,
I fancied other feet
Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

By walking men's revers├Ęd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, 'tis a world indeed;
Where skies beneath us shine,
And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people's feet against ours go.

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
Where many numerous hosts
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

~ Thomas Traherne, Shadows in the Water

Meaningful words

The following day, Mrs. Moore awakens after sleeping outside. She slept there while trying to watch the moon: In England the moon had seemed dead and alien; here she was caught in the shawl of night together with earth and all other stars. A sudden sense of unity, of kinship with the heavenly bodies, passed into the old woman and out, like water through a tank, leaving a strange freshness behind.

~ E. M. Forster, A Passage to India

a steaming cup of peyote

It was raining in the quadrangle, and the quadrangular sky looked like the grimace of a robot or a god made in our own likeness. The oblique drops of rain slid down the blades of grass in the park, but it would have made no difference if they had slid up. Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote.

But the truth is that she had only had tea to drink and she felt overwhelmed, as if a voice were repeating a terrible prayer in her ear, the words of which blurred as she walked away from the college, and the rain wetted her gray skirt and bony knees and pretty ankles and little else, because before Liz Norton went running through the park, she hadn't forgotten to pick up her umbrella.

~ Roberto Bolano, 2666


the Royal
Astronomer's late,
* hunched there, his mind aswirl with more *
than whimwhams of an emperor - all bemused
by signatures of something from above:
the daedal snowflake crystalizing in six.
Old thunders roll: "Hast entered
into the treasures of the snow?"
Not yet; but mind is given to know;
the great world to be known. Why six?
Perhaps no reason but exuberant joy?
Pattern's a pleasure; often nature plays
* not for rude truth but loveliness of line: *
item: this Gothic
set of

John Frederick Nims
The Six-cornered Snowflake

some trees

So, we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have a rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

- Lord Byron


On the black gallows, one-armed friend,
The paladins are dancing, dancing
The lean, the devil's paladins
The skeletons of Saladins.

Sir Beelzebub pulls by the scruff
His little black puppets who grin at the sky,
And with a backhander in the head like a kick,
Makes them dance, dance, to an old Carol-tune!

And the puppets, shaken about, entwine their thin arms:
Their breasts pierced with light, like black organ-pipes
Which once gentle ladies pressed to their own,
Jostle together protractedly in hideous love-making.

Hurray! the gay dancers, you whose bellies are gone!
You can cut capers on such a long stage!
Hop! never mind whether it's fighting or dancing!
- Beelzebub, maddened, saws on his fiddles!

Oh the hard heels, no one's pumps are wearing out!
And nearly all have taken of their shirts of skin;
The rest is not embarrassing and can be seen without shame.
On each skull the snow places a white hat:

The crow acts as a plume for these cracked brains,
A scrap of flesh clings to each lean chin:
You would say, to see them turning in their dark combats,
They were stiff knights clashing pasteboard armours.

Hurrah! the wind whistles at the skeletons' grand ball!
The black gallows moans like an organ of iron !
The wolves howl back from the violet forests:
And on the horizon the sky is hell-red...

Ho there, shake up those funereal braggarts,
Craftily telling with their great broken fingers
The beads of their loves on their pale vertebrae:
Hey the departed, this is no monastery here!

Oh! but see how from the middle of this Dance of Death
Springs into the red sky a great skeleton, mad,
Carried away by his own impetus, like a rearing horse:
And, feeling the rope tight again round his neck,

Clenches his knuckles on his thighbone with a crack
Uttering cries like mocking laughter,
And then like a mountebank into his booth,
Skips back into the dance to the music of the bones!

On the black gallows, one-armed friend,
The paladins are dancing, dancing
The lean, the devil's paladins
The skeletons of Saladins.

~ Arthur Rimbaud


When the creation was new and all the stars shone in their first
splendor, the gods held their assembly in the sky and sang
`Oh, the picture of perfection! the joy unalloyed!'

But one cried of a sudden ---
`It seems that somewhere there is a break in the chain of light
and one of the stars has been lost.'

The golden string of their harp snapped,
their song stopped, and they cried in dismay ---
`Yes, that lost star was the best,
she was the glory of all heavens!'

From that day the search is unceasing for her,
and the cry goes on from one to the other
that in her the world has lost its one joy!

Only in the deepest silence of night the stars smile
and whisper among themselves ---
'Vain is this seeking! unbroken perfection is over all!'

- Rabindranath Tagore, Lost Star

Soft trails and thorns

If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere. And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly, every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy, whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

- Mary Oliver

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