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“A Small Needful Fact

By Ross Gay

Ross Gay (B. 1974)

“A Small Needful Fact”
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

———

blessing the boats

By Lucille Clifton

Thelma Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

———

A Dream Within a Dream

By Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

———

April is a Dog’s Dream

By Marilyn Singer

Marilyn Singer (B. 1948)

april is a dog’s dream
the soft grass is growing
the sweet breeze is blowing
the air all full of singing feels just right
so no excuses now
we’re going to the park
to chase and charge and chew
and I will make you see
what spring is all about

———

Ultimately

By Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899-1961)

He tried to spit out the truth;
Dry mouthed at first,
He drooled and slobbed in the end;
Truth dribbling his chin.

Pix o’ the Day

More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

Galileo

Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian intellectual and polymath known as the father of, among other things, physics, astronomy, and the scientific method.

In his time, the world believed what Aristotle had decreed 1500 years earlier: that Earth stood at the center of the universe, and all other celestial bodies rotated around it. This was the geocentric model.

Science was a fledgling thing in the 1500s, but slowly, it was examining the old beliefs and often calling baloney on them. This did not please the Catholic Church, which saw a threat to its influence. To the church and many common folk, questioning the traditional teachings was blasphemous.

To be clear, Galileo and others who rejected geocentrism didn’t get it right, either. They believed in heliocentrism, which said the sun is at the center of the universe. Not until the 1700s did we figure out that the sun is just an ordinary, unregarded star.

That error aside, Galileo’s achievements were many and impressive. And his ideas were so radical and disruptive that the Catholic Church eventually locked him up for them.

Galileo was born in Pisa, and both of his parents were from prominent families. His father wanted him to pursue the lucrative profession of medicine, but young Galileo was drawn to mathematics and various sciences.

His studies led him to teaching positions in Pisa and Florence and the beginning of a long series of scientific breakthroughs.

As a young man, he invented the thermoscope, a device that measured temperature changes and evolved into the thermometer.

He dropped items of different weights from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, demonstrating that the speed of fall is not proportional to weight, the prevailing wisdom at the time.

He also built a series of refracting telescopes, first of 3x magnification, then 9x, then 30x. The devices immediately became a sensation in the nautical world and gave Galileo a profitable side business.

Observations with his telescopes led him to deduce that the supernovae of 1572, 1691, and 1694 involved distant stars. The Catholic Church was not amused.

Observing the Moon through a telescope, he concluded that the mottled lighting and uneven appearance is caused by craters and mountains. At the time, the surface of the Moon was believed to be smooth.

His telescopes also located four “fixed stars” close to Jupiter. After studying their motion, he correctly declared them to be moons orbiting Jupiter.

The idea of moons orbiting another planet directly contradicted geocentrism. The church fumed.

Galileo concluded that all stars and planets are round. He also said that the Milky Way consisted of so many stars that, as viewed from Earth, they have the appearance of a cloud.

By his 50s and 60s, Galileo had become famous, wealthy, influential, and probably somewhat cocky. But the church and a host of enemies opposed him, and finally, his activism went too far.

In 1616, he was hauled before the church’s dreaded Roman Inquisition — which had been pursuing witches and blasphemers since the 5th Century — to answer for his sacrilegious views. There, he was told he could write about heliocentrism or anything else as personal opinion, but he was ordered to stop teaching heliocentrism as scientific fact.

Galileo agreed, and for a time stayed out of trouble. But only for a time.

Eventually, he wrote a book that featured the account of a fictional geocentrist and heliocentrist making their respective arguments. No surprise, the heliocentrist won easily — and proceeded to refer to the geocentrist as a “simpleton.”

His enemies pounced, claiming the comment was directed at Pope Urban VIII. Galileo vehemently denied it, but the Pope could not allow himself to be subjected to public ridicule. Accordingly, in 1633, the 70-year-old Galileo faced the Inquisition in Rome for a second time.

Galileo faces the music again, 1633. This painting depicts him pushing a bible away.

This time, he was found “suspect of heresy.” His writings, past and future, were banned from publication, and he was placed under house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Historians point out that the Inquisition generously did not convict Galileo of heresy per se, for which he would have been executed.

During his years under house arrest, Galileo wrote at length, refining and organizing his works of the previous 40 years. But his health steadily declined, and in 1642, he died of heart failure at age 77.

In 1718, the church announced that Galileo’s works could be published, if they were edited to remove the offending heliocentric references.

In 1758, the church modified its Index of Prohibited Books to allow authors, including Galileo, to assert that Earth is not the center of the universe.

Finally, in 1992, 360 years after the fact, Pope John Paul II formally declared that the church was wrong to condemn Galileo and lock him up.

A truly magnanimous gesture. Who says the Catholic Church invented science denial?

First Contact

Here’s another gem from Fredric Brown, the master of superb sci-fi short-short stories with zinger endings. Brown was without peer in that category. If that is, in fact, a category.

Over the years, I’ve posted half a dozen Fredric Brown stories on this blog, and all of them, in my humble opinion, are worth your time.

Just type “Fredric Brown” in the handy search box in the upper right corner of this page, and voila.

———

Earthmen Bearing Gifts

By Fredric Brown
Published in Galaxy Magazine, June 1960

Dhar Ry sat alone in his room, meditating. From outside the door he caught a thought wave equivalent to a knock, and, glancing at the door, he willed it to slide open.

It opened. “Enter, my friend,” he said. He could have projected the idea telepathically, but with only two persons present, speech was more polite.

Ejon Khee entered. “You are up late tonight, my leader,” he said.

“Yes, Khee. Within an hour the Earth rocket is due to land, and I wish to see it. Yes, I know, it will land a thousand miles away, if their calculations are correct. Beyond the horizon. But if it lands even twice that far the flash of the atomic explosion should be visible.

“And I have waited long for first contact. For even though no Earthman will be on that rocket, it will still be first contact — for them. Of course our telepath teams have been reading their thoughts for many centuries, but — this will be the first physical contact between Mars and Earth.”

Khee made himself comfortable on one of the low chairs. “True,” he said. “I have not followed recent reports too closely, though. Why are they using an atomic warhead? I know they suppose our planet is uninhabited, but still —”

“They will watch the flash through their lunar telescopes and get a — what do they call it? — a spectroscopic analysis. That will tell them more than they know now (or think they know; much of it is erroneous) about the atmosphere of our planet and the composition of its surface. It is — call it a sighting shot, Khee. They’ll be here in person within a few oppositions. And then —”

###

Mars was holding out, waiting for Earth to come. What was left of Mars, that is; this one small city of about nine hundred beings. The civilization of Mars was older than that of Earth, but it was a dying one. This was what remained of it: one city, nine hundred people. They were waiting for Earth to make contact, for a selfish reason and for an unselfish one.

Martian civilization had developed in a quite different direction from that of Earth. It had developed no important knowledge of the physical sciences, no technology. But it had developed social sciences to the point where there had not been a single crime, let alone a war, on Mars for fifty thousand years. And it had developed fully the para-psychological sciences of the mind, which Earth was just beginning to discover.

Mars could teach Earth much. How to avoid crime and war to begin with. Beyond those simple things lay telepathy, telekinesis, empathy…

And Earth would, Mars hoped, teach them something even more valuable to Mars: how, by science and technology — which it was too late for Mars to develop now, even if they had the type of minds which would enable them to develop these things — to restore and rehabilitate a dying planet, so that an otherwise dying race might live and multiply again.

Each planet would gain greatly, and neither would lose.

###

And tonight was the night when Earth would make its first sighting shot. Its next shot, a rocket containing Earthmen, or at least an Earthman, would be at the next opposition, two Earth years, or roughly four Martian years, hence.

The Martians knew this, because their teams of telepaths were able to catch at least some of the thoughts of Earthmen, enough to know their plans. Unfortunately, at that distance, the connection was one-way. Mars could not ask Earth to hurry its program. Or tell Earth scientists the facts about Mars’ composition and atmosphere which would have made this preliminary shot unnecessary.

Tonight Ry, the leader (as nearly as the Martian word can be translated), and Khee, his administrative assistant and closest friend, sat and meditated together until the time was near. Then they drank a toast to the future — in a beverage based on menthol, which had the same effect on Martians as alcohol on Earthmen — and climbed to the roof of the building in which they had been sitting.

They watched toward the north, where the rocket should land. The stars shone brilliantly and unwinkingly through the atmosphere.

###

In Observatory No. 1 on Earth’s moon, Rog Everett, his eye at the eyepiece of the spotter scope, said triumphantly, “Thar she blew, Willie. And now, as soon as the films are developed, we’ll know the score on that old planet Mars.”

He straightened up — there’d be no more to see now — and he and Willie Sanger shook hands solemnly. It was an historical occasion.

“Hope it didn’t kill anybody. Any Martians, that is. Rog, did it hit dead center in Syrtis Major?”

“Near as matters. I’d say it was maybe a thousand miles off, to the south. And that’s damn close on a fifty-million-mile shot. Willie, do you really think there are any Martians?”

Willie thought a second and then said, “No.”

He was right.

Original illustration from Galaxy Magazine by “Carter.”

Mementos

Over time, I have developed two noticeable habits: I have allowed assorted collections of things to accumulate and proliferate, and I have taken to placing esteemed items on display around my house.

Re the former, I have assembled a number of disparate collections, as detailed in the 25 Random Things post elsewhere on this blog. Re the latter, I display individual treasures on every available flat surface because the items please me and evoke nice memories.

Walk around my house, and you will see family photos, enlargements of scenic shots from my travels, works by folk artists, favorite pottery pieces and sculptures, and assorted knick-knacks that I enjoy having around.

The truth is, my house looks like an antique shop or a thrift store. Every table, wall and counter is adorned with… stuff. Lots of eclectic stuff.

I do this because I can. I’m divorced and living alone, so no one is here to dissuade me. It’s a bit quirky, I admit, but harmless.

However, one aspect of all this, I have come to realize, is a bit sad. Let me explain.

Most of my mementos are self-explanatory. Their value is unambiguous — more or less obvious at a glance.

For example, I bought this foot-tall figurine at an art show in the 1990s. It’s a replica of a pre-columbian statue, possibly Mayan.

The figurine is simply an interesting $50 reproduction, and I enjoy it as such. As would anyone.

Likewise, I bought this sculpture several years ago at an art gallery in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s a raven by Oregon artist Steve Eichenberger. His crows and ravens are handsome and wonderfully expressive. Look him up.

You get the point: the value of most of my treasures is in their beauty or uniqueness and usually is self-evident.

On the other hand, many items in my possession have significance for other reasons — reasons often known only to me.

Take, for example, this three-inch tall carving that you would conclude, correctly, to be an Eskimo. When my dad was stationed at Thule AFB in Greenland in the 1950s, he purchased it from an Inuit man who carved it from walrus tusk.

You would have no way of knowing that.

Nor would you know that these glasses belonged to my grandfather, Walter Anthony Smith, Sr.

Nor would you know that this railroad spike is a souvenir from my first dayhike — literally my first hike ever — in the summer of 1979.

Nor would you know that this cheeky ring holder was a gift from a friend during my Air Force years.

A fellow lieutenant brought it back from the Philippines and gave it to me as a joke. It has been on my bedroom dresser for half a century and counting.

Another memento with special meaning is this paring knife, which belonged to my Savannah grandmother, Stella Smith.

I watched her use it countless times when we visited Savannah, starting when I was a little kid and continuing until I was an adult. In my mind’s eye, I can still see her hands as she peeled potatoes and sliced carrots in the kitchen sink. She would slice, rinse the knife, and slice some more, often humming to herself.

Long after my grandmother died, my aunt continued using the knife. A few years ago, when the house was finally sold, I claimed the knife. I use it almost daily.

I’m fully aware that the subject of my special treasures is trivial. Everyone has had experiences similar to mine, and we all have equally treasured possessions.

But it’s an unfortunate fact that when we’re gone, all of those small, intimate memories are lost, as well.

Like tears in rain.

The Questions…

1. Before they formed the Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were members of what group?

2. In olden times, what was Ethiopia called?

3. What do former presidential candidates Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton have in common?

4. On a standard keyboard, all of the vowels except one are on the top row. Which one is not? No fair peeking.

5. A male donkey is called a jack. What is a female donkey called?

The Answers…

1. The Quarrymen.

2. Abyssinia.

3. All four won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College.

4. The letter A is the leftmost key on the second row.

5. A jenny.

Tune o’ the Day

I think of “Against the Wind” as a song about aging and how life’s burdens become heavier as we get older. Bob Seger told an interviewer it’s about “trying to move ahead, keeping your sanity and integrity at the same time.” Close enough.

Seger ran cross-country in high school, so the running metaphor came naturally. We also know why he calls the queen of his nights “Janey”: His girlfriend from 1972 until 1983 was Jane Dinsdale.

Against the Wind

By Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, 1980
Written by Bob Seger

It seems like yesterday,
But it was long ago.
Janey was lovely, she was the queen of my nights,
There in the darkness with the radio playing low, and
And the secrets that we shared.
The mountains that we moved.
Caught like a wildfire out of control
‘Til there was nothing left to burn and nothing left to prove.

And I remember what she said to me,
How she swore that it never would end.
I remember how she held me oh, so tight.
Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.

Against the wind.
We were runnin’ against the wind.
We were young and strong.
We were runnin’ against the wind.

The years rolled slowly past,
And I found myself alone.
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends,
I found myself further and further from my home. And I
Guess I lost my way.
There were oh, so many roads.
I was living to run and running to live,
Never worried about payin’ or even how much I owed.

Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time,
Breaking all of the rules that would bend,
I began to find myself searching,
Searching for shelter again and again.
Against the wind.
A little somethin’ against the wind.
I found myself seeking shelter against the wind.

Well those drifter’s days are past me now.
I’ve got so much more to think about.
Deadlines and commitments,
What to leave in, what to leave out.

(Against the wind) I’m still runnin’ against the wind.
I’m older now but still runnin’ against the wind.
Well I’m older now and still runnin’.
(Against the wind)
(Against the wind)
(Against the wind) Still runnin’.
(Against the wind) I’m still runnin’.
(Against the wind)
(Against the wind) I’m still runnin’.
(Against the wind) I’m still runnin’ against the wind.
(Against the wind) Still runnin’.
(Against the wind) Runnin’ against the wind, runnin’ against the wind.
(Against the wind) See the young man run.
(Against the wind) Watch the young man run.
(Against the wind) Watch the young man runnin’.
(Against the wind) He’ll be runnin’ against the wind.
(Against the wind) Let the cowboys ride.
(Against the wind) Aah!
(Against the wind) Let the cowboys ride.
(Against the wind) They’ll be ridin’ against the wind.
(Against the wind) Against the wind.
(Against the wind) Ridin’ against the wind.

https://rockysmith.net/2013/03/09/tune-o-the-day-30/

Thoughts du Jour

Sins and Virtues

In olden times, all religions had a seriously Old Testament mindset, and the masses were lectured vigorously about the basics: behaviors to avoid and behaviors to emulate.

To codify the message for easier consumption, two handy lists evolved: the “Seven Deadly Sins” and their mirror image, the “Seven Heavenly Virtues.”

Neither list is mentioned in the Bible, but over the centuries, they nonetheless became well known and influential, and they remain so today, dear to the hearts of religious conservatives.

To refresh your memory, the Seven Deadly Sins are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

The Seven Heavenly Virtues are humility, charity, patience, kindness, chastity, temperance, and diligence.

I certainly agree that greed, gluttony, and all that are negative behaviors, and that humility, kindness, etc. are solidly positive. I do not, however, find it necessary to sit people down and explain it to them. Everyone understands basic morality perfectly well by the time they are five.

On the other hand, if folks are not gathered in a group, you can’t pass the collection plate.

The Seven Deadly Sins,” attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1500.

Aerodynamics

The game of golf as we know it originated in Scotland in the 1500s. It probably evolved from either the Roman game of paganica or the Chinese game of chuiwan, both of which involved using a stick to knock a ball into a hole in the ground.

When the Scottish version arose, golf balls were fashioned by hand of beech wood. They were more or less round, but often were off-balance, making them maddeningly unpredictable in flight.

Sometime in the 1600s, a slight design improvement appeared: a leather ball stuffed with feathers. This version was better balanced and thus less erratic. But a dry ball did not behave like a wet one. Plus, the feathers had to be boiled and softened prior to stuffing, making the process labor-intensive and costly. And still, the balls were round in only a general sense.

In 1848, a Scottish clergyman discovered that the rubbery sap of the sapodilla tree could be heated, placed in a round mold, and allowed to harden into a sphere. With this “gutta percha” ball (translation: Sumatran latex), the mass manufacturing of cheap, reasonably aerodynamic golf balls finally was made possible.

Fifty years later, the sap was replaced by a core of tightly-wrapped rubber thread. Further, someone discovered that adding dimples to the ball improved control of the ball’s trajectory.

Fast forward to the present. The governing bodies of the game closely control the specifications and manufacturing of all golf equipment. Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 billion golf balls are manufactured each year.

Annually, in the US alone, some 300 million golf balls are lost.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm and Carry On is the perfect slogan to be corrupted into memes. I mean, it practically begs to be parodied.

Keep Calm and Carry. Keep Calm and Carry On My Wayward Son. Keep Calm and Carry Hand Sanitizer, Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake. Freak Out and Run.

The slogan originated in 1939 on a motivational poster created by the British Ministry of Information to boost public morale as World War II approached. The idea was to call upon the British self-image of remaining calm and resolute when facing adversity.

Actually, the government designed three posters and was poised to distribute millions of copies if a German attack came. Each poster featured the Tudor crown, a symbol of the state.

Immediately, the government was criticized for wasting money and patronizing the public. Very few of the posters were distributed, and the program soon was canceled. According to one historian, the effort was a “resounding failure” by clueless bureaucrats.

The posters essentially were forgotten until 2000, when copies were discovered in an English bookshop. Only a few original prints were know to have survived until Antiques Roadshow turned up a batch of 15 prints in 2012.

I think the criticism of the project was misplaced. Patronizing? Baloney. To me, the posters seem perfectly “stiff-upper-lip” British. Straight out of a Churchill speech.

The critics should have just, you know, kept calm.

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The human nose has about six million scent receptors. A dog’s nose has about 300 million.

● In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors set the record for the most points scored by a player in a professional basketball game: 100 points against the New York Knicks.

In 1983, the Detroit Pistons defeated the Denver Nuggets 186-184 in triple overtime. The combined score of 370 points is the most points scored in a single pro game.

● If you drove your car straight up at 60 mph, you would reach “outer space” in about one hour.

● The water of Lake Hillier, a salt water lake on an island off the west coast of Australia, is the color of bubble gum. The cause is a red dye created when algae in the water combine with the salt. Other than the pink color, the water is normal and harmless.

● Gravity varies with mass, so a person weighing 200 pounds on Earth would weigh 505 pounds on Jupiter and 13 pounds on Pluto.

● John Quincy Adams, who was President from 1825 to 1829, kept a daily journal from age 12 until his death at 80. It revealed that during his term as President, he arose each morning between four and five AM, walked two miles around the city, and, when the weather was nice, went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River.

● In the mid-1960s, the CIA launched Project Acoustic Kitty, a plan to implant tiny microphones and transmitters in cats and train them to eavesdrop on the Soviets. After a few years, the agency decided the project was impractical and canceled it. The implants worked fine, but no one could train the cats.

● In the late 1880s, Gustave Eiffel proposed building the Eiffel Tower in Barcelona, Spain, and was told to get lost. He then approached Paris, and the city agreed to let him erect the tower for the 1889 World’s Fair.

The tower was not popular with Parisians, who considered it just plain ugly. One critic called it a “metal asparagus.” After the exposition, it was scheduled to be dismantled and sold for scrap, but it was spared because the French army found it useful as a communications tower.