Monday, October 19, 2020

Himalayas


When continents settle, slumping

back to back, mountain ranges rise in violence and distress.

Did India mean the Himalayas? Should it have known better?

Or was it Asia's fault, standing in the fairway and gawking at the view?

Still, a whisper and a feathery touch behind the knees

tells me I am not out of the woods. Whose woods these are --

well, that would be telling, now, wouldn't it? The right road lost:

and mid way was a long long time ago. 


Again. Heave up the carcass for another flense:

waste not want not.  I have not explained the multiplicities

and variances carefully enough. No one measures

properly these days. Even my old and scattered notes make clear

that loving you could not be helped: not Archimedes' steering oar

could have have turned this sub- and rich and deep-spiced 

-continent aside. There is such a thing

as momentum.


Whosoever hath -- to him shall be given. Says so in the Bible.

Who am I to question holy writ? If I seize your wrist, if I scrape

my teeth against your palm as if it were the buttered leaf

of an artichoke, and find the space between your fingers with my tongue,

then it was written so. But that's to register as fate

the most contingent thing, the matter most free,

in all my life so far. The mountains stand white against the sky:

they could have been otherwise. I could not have been.


If I am not right, then am I wicked? Or mortally confused?

I walk the more surefooted in this blind dark

than ever I stepped in the sun. I have your hand for guidance.

When I press it to my ribs, my heart knocks against it,

and we walk under fir branches under the stars

under the weight of time.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Should you Pay Attention to the Polls?

 

electoral-vote.com

No: if you're asking, then no.

Especially if you were shocked by Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016: no. Pay no attention.

If you don't have enough statistical savvy to interpret them properly, then they will just lead you astray; instill false confidence or false dread. Don't do that to yourself. You don't need to get fancy. You don't need to scry the future. Just vote. 

I follow the polls daily, as I did in 2016. I was not surprised by Trump's victory in 2016, though I was deeply distressed. On the eve of that election, you remember, I wrote: "My heart is convinced that Trump will win this election." I knew precisely what the polls said: they were giving us four chances in seven of winning, which is pretty close to a coin flip. If you didn't get that, then stay the hell away from polls. They'll do you more harm than good.

At this point -- at this point -- the best forecast has six chances in seven of Biden winning. Those are good odds. I like them. But that still means that if you held the elections seven times, and there was a reasonably fair count, Biden would win six times and Trump would win once. (I know, you can't hold the elections seven times. One time in each of seven identical dimensions? Something like that.) That is nothing like certainty. 

Soldier on. Fight for fair elections, wherever you are. Vote as early as you can, and if your state doesn't really know how to vote by mail, vote in person if you can. But most of all, just vote. There is no way to know what happens next.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Hombres Buenos


I am reading, for the second time, Hombres Buenos by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. It deals with two members of the Spanish Royal Academy who, toward the end of the 18th Century, undertake to travel to pre-revolutionary Paris, purchase the French Encyclopédie -- the distillation of Enlightenment thought -- and bring it home for the shelves of the Academy, despite the fact that the work is (theoretically) banned in both nations. They have a dispensation for the Academy from the Spanish king, but the task is a tricky one, nonetheless; the more so because vested interests in Spain are keen to keep the Encyclopédie out of the country, and dispatch an agent to follow them and to ensure their failure. So, as always in Pérez-Reverte, there is a boys' adventure story at the heart of things, to which we can turn whenever the struggle of the enlightenment becomes dull. And, also typically, there is a double narrative: we move in and out of the historical narrative, and Pérez-Reverte's first-person narrative of his discovery and investigation of the book-hunting expedition, which serves both as a relief from the 18th Century, for the historically short-winded, and a proof of Pérez-Reverte's care for historical accuracy.

The two members of the Academy -- the Good Men of the title -- are the Academy librarian, Don Hermógenes Molina, and a retired naval officer, Don Pedro Zárate. We follow them under the nicknames  of Don Hermes and el almirante (the Admiral). The heart of the story is the exploration of the extent their commitment to Enlightenment ideals; the most endearing qualities of both being the places where they simply cannot and will not follow Reason. For Don Hermes, the line stops at Church and King: a world without royal and religious authority is one that he can't contemplate. For the Admiral, it stops at the honor of a soldier. Or perhaps it's at fighting over male status and the sexual favors of beautiful women? Is there a difference? He is not sure, and neither is the reader. In any case, there is a sword-duel at dawn which is everything a boys' adventure aficionado could want. And of course, brooding over all is the impending revolution: we are well aware that the elegant Parisian philosophes and dandies of the narrative are headed, in a few short years, for the guillotine. It's all going to get very real very fast.

The book will feel very old fashioned to readers for whom the Enlightenment is remote and unimportant, a done deal; and that will include a lot of modern literary people. What have we to do with the tug-of-war between Reason and the Church, or between Reason and codes of honor? But to Pérez-Reverte, and to many people in the world, it's not a done deal at all. It's still a central, inescapable question: how much can we cede to Reason, and where must we balk? How much reality can we bear? How much should we bear? The political stresses of present-day America suggest to me that these questions are as active and important as ever, however  irrelevant they may feel to the present professional-managerial class. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

La Bloga Nuova

 



A number of things happened at once, I guess. For one thing, there was that blog post that went viral, and eventually found itself on Huff Post and in Reader's Digest: I got my fifteen minutes of fame and found that I loathed it. The very last thing I want to be is a public person. 

For a long time I had thought that I wanted to be a public person. Or, I don't know, you just fall into that, if you like to write, and people praise your writing. If you want to write, you must want an audience, right? And a bigger audience is obviously better than a smaller audience. It's your step for launching into immortality: make it as broad and sturdy as possible!

So -- yeah. But it turns out I don't want immortality. I don't want fame. I don't want to belong to my message and have to scurry around promoting myself and endorsing myself. I want to criticize myself, and discover everything that's wrong about what I said last week. A "brand" is exactly, precisely, what I do not want to have. Ever.  Immortality at the price of immobility? Too steep. I ain't paying that kind of money.

But I was already ruined, by then: I was thinking about my accursed audience, and what I ought to say, and what they needed to hear. Which was generally, "not any of things I am currently thinking about."  

So, yeah: fuck that. Incipit vita nova. 

So anyway, how y'all been doin'?

---

With my massage practice on indefinite hold, I have a bit more disposable time. And I may not resume that practice, even when this country limps its way to some extraordinarily belated end of the pandemic. I'm winding down. I'm not even sure I want to keep my day job till I'm seventy, at this point. There are other things I'm anxious to do: and I don't know how many years I'll still be sharp enough to do them.

So what am I doing? Let me count the things.

1) I'm maintaining my food and exercise regimen. For two years I've held my weight around 160 pounds, and I've laboriously added five or ten pounds of muscle during that time. I basically know what I'm doing, now. This takes a lot of time and focus and effort, and any fantasy that it would ever be effortless, something I could do on autopilot, is long gone. It's going to take about 25% of my disposable time, until I no longer have any disposable time. So be it. It's the price of mental acuity, and it's not negotiable. 

2) Spanish. I was in a holding pattern, really: for the last four years I've been tracking my reading (which has been the only skill I've been cultivating) and really it's been stalled out at ten or eleven pages of reading per day, for that whole time. I have gradually read somewhat harder texts, but the process is taking far too long. If I want the skills -- even the reading skills -- I need to do something other than noodle along reading a dozen pages and drilling myself on vocabulary every day. I've doubled my reading volume. I'm beginning to watch videos in simple Spanish. And I need to start producing Spanish, speaking it and writing it. I still believe (basically) that massive input is the key, but obviously it's not going to deliver the ease I want, even in reading, without an active component. I must start writing and even -- somehow, no matter how painful it will be -- speaking. Speaking might not happen this year: it might be an after-pandemic item. But it has to happen.

3) Reading great books. I want to read all the great books. Obviously, my death will intervene before I'm done, but so what? 

4) Writing in my blog, for my own precious self and no other persons, unless they decide to hang around, for whatever odd reasons, and at their own risk. I'm not editing myself on anyone's behalf. Done with that.

Until I retire, this is really all I have time for. There are other things I would like to do. I would like to program some games; I would like to program some stock-picking algorithms; I would like to learn statistics in depth. I'd love to build some climbing structure with ropes and monkey bars to play on. Acroyoga, wouldn't that be a blast? And how I would love to get back to cartooning. Oh, there's lots of things I want to learn and do! I don't have time for those things now, and I don't see where the room for them will open up. If I get my fluency in Spanish I'll just want to go on to recovering my German and French: I don't think I'll ever want to forgo languages. Those are central. So, for now, it's the Four Things, and that's about it.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Diagonal Slices of Cubes

Hexagonal grids can be represented as diagonal slices of cubes. Oh my. My brain has not strained this hard to comprehend something for a long time.

I noticed long ago, of course, that the silhouette of a cube is a hexagon, and I knew there had to be some useful application of that, somewhere in the wide world.

Visualize a 3x3x3 Rubik's cube, give the center cube coordinates of 0,0,0, keep all the sub-cubes the sum of whose coordinates equal zero, and voila! -- you have the representation of a hexagonal grid, one central hexagon surrounded by six others. The central one shares an edge with all the others: each other shares one edge with the central sub-cube and an edge with two other neighbors. And you can calculate distances between hexes and all sorts of things using plain old spatial xyz coordinates.

I did not invent this idea. I don't know who invented it. It comes to me by way Amit Patel, whose interactive explanation of the idea is a gorgeous piece of work.

And so by way of Amit Patel's (free) website I come to discover that someone else has actually written a Python library for manipulating hexagonal grids, which you can use -- even commercially! -- for free. I haven't used it yet, so I don't know if it actually works, but my God. The staggering amount of value that is being added daily to the human world! It boggles the imagination. This is just one trivial example: but it's happening all over the world, all the time. 

Which is why, despite all the man-made disasters we're enduring, I do not quite lose hope. A Python library for manipulating hexagonal grids is never going to be headline news, but the increase in human strength -- in our capacity for intellectual cooperation -- that it represents, may be bigger news really than this year's wildfire season.

The morning comes yellow, smoky, and dreary, and there's a dusting on ash on the skylights: but my heart is full of delight and gratitude this morning.

---

How many political posts have I written, and left unpublished? It must be dozens. I read and think much about politics these days, and I work things out sometimes, to my own grudging satisfaction; but as I do so I realize more and more how ignorant and superstitious my opinions have been all my life; how wrong I have been about so many things. And so I write things out, and then I leave them sitting as drafts. So much I don't know, so much I don't understand. I would only mislead and misrepresent. Let the damn ideas simmer a while. I need to know more, so much more. The last thing the world needs is one more Rush Limbaugh. Which is what I would be, a left-wing version of him, if I let my tongue loose.

---

Rain will come to the Northwest again, eventually, and the fires will go out, and in a year or two the pandemic will have faded, and there will be a clear bright fearless dawn, whether I'm here to see it or not. Much love to you all, my dears!

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Cardenillo

The Spanish for "verdigris" is cardenillo. I have had a hard time learning this, because cardenillo seems to me like it should mean some shade of red: I guess I have "cardinal" and "carnation" and "carmine" in mind. Pretty much the opposite of verdigris.

The Spanish derives from the Latin carduus, thistle, which arrives as the sturdy Spanish cardo, munched by good Spanish donkeys in a thousand stories Which seems at first only to make matters worse, because thistles are resolutely purple. Cárdeno means purplish or violet. What does that have to do with the green of a green penny? 

Verdigris is actually as blue as it is green: sometimes more blue than green. If you google "blue thistle" you will find pictures of flowers that are not too far from the color of oxidized bronze. Maybe that's the way of it.

But there's still the odd matter of the diminutive. The "bronze disease" is the "purple-itty"? I'm not  satisfied. I still can't make cardenillo feel like it should mean "verdigris," even with blue thistles dancing in my head: there's a mystery here.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Twelve Chin-Ups



Twelve chin-ups, today! Four years ago I couldn't do one. So that's cool. I look pretty silly when I'm doing them, because I wear a knit cap so as not to scrape my bald spot on the rough ceiling when I bump top.  A superannuated sailor-man.

Possibly more exciting than the number (though there is a deep, childish pleasure in getting a new number!) is the control. I don't swing or sway or wriggle or lunge. Up I go, like I owned the place.

Resistance training is the most gratifying thing in the world: if you do the work and avoid injury, making better numbers is pretty much guaranteed, and -- in sharp contradistinction to the way most of the rest of life works -- the rewards are greatest right at the start. The payoffs come really fast, when you're starting out.

My whole home gym probably cost me $75.00. My dad gave me some old dumbbells, and a barbell, and a few weights. I had to buy a few more plates, over the years, as I got stronger. For a chin-up bar, I bolted a grab-bar that I bought for $3.50 onto a beam in the ceiling. I splurged and bought a nice band with handles. That's it. A towel and a pillow play supporting roles, but I already had those. On an ordinary day I'll have two or three exercises on my to-do list, which I fit in whenever I feel like it. (Today is chin-ups, leg scissors, and shoulder raises). No big deal: ten minutes here, fifteen there, when I'm sick of screens and books, and feel like my brain could use a power wash.

Since I yam what I yam, it involves spreadsheets and meticulous tracking, of course, and a elaborately-worked-out 14 day cycle. But a normal person could skip that part.