Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Blue Ball (the one living dot)

Reading Simon Winchester’s A Crack In The Edge Of The World (Harper Perennial), about the ’06 San Francisco earthquake, he quoted Lewis Thomas regarding the view of the earth from the moon with the earth looking alive. Astronauts saw the moon they were standing on as “dry, pounded surface… dry as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist gleaming, membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos…organized, self-contained look of a live creature.” Winchester himself described the planet as “one entire and immense system….It is a living system four and a half billion years old….meanwhile there is life, almost in global terms a brief irrelevance…the blue and green and white ball that was hanging in the ink black sky.”

In my poem Lazarus on a Spur Line I described the contrast between a deserted railroad train car, a rusting inanimate—lifeless—object, upon which, inexplicably, life begins to grow. The greatest mystery of all. But I’d never thought about that on such a cosmic scale as Thomas or Winchester.

The universe, the cosmos, I wonder which word describes the “out there” with the greatest immensity? Scientists have pondered what lies at the outer edge of the universe? One physicist says it doesn’t end. Can that be? If the universe is nothingness, then I suppose that nothingness doesn’t end, because if it did, it would have to end in something. What something? I mean, is there anything more nothing than space? Is there anything more dead, more silent, more cold, more black, more forlorn, more empty? Well…it’s not empty. There’s planets and stars. But look at the other planets—the ones we’ve been able to see. “Dry pounded surface…dry as an old bone.” Gray as concrete dust floating in the cold, silent, dead-black, black-dead, ghost-gray, dead body gray, mummy-dust they are. Yeah, certainly as far as the eye can see or Hubble can be, and maybe as far as far is, and is is forever. Except…except…what the bloody-hell is that? The one thing in that immenseness that never ends, the one thing that is not a star, yet glows; iridescent, luminescent, bright as first life…a baby’s smile…the blue ball…“…the blue and green and white ball hanging in it’s ink-black sky…one organized entire immense living system…with the self-contained look of a live creature…a gleaming membrane of bright blue sky, this rising earth…the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.” One solitary, tiny ball suspended in eternal and endless nothingness. What are the odds? Join me for a drink, Laz?

Snapshots (of 34 years on the line)

When I began writing my 3rd book, I started with some exercises based on my memories. I remarked to myself that people remember, not in epochs, but in snapshots. So I jotted down numerous snapshots. Then in the year it took me to write the book "Fire and Ice" I'd forgotten about my list of snapshots and never inserted them in the book. There's not enough to justify another book, but too dear to me to throw away like table scraps. So, I thought I'd put them here. These are some snapshot taken during my 34 years in firefighting, ambulance runs and search and rescue operations in Alaska. I'll lay them out like poetry….

Thirty-four years on the line pounds images
into random flashes of scenes in no order nor logic.
Mostly, we remember, not in epochs but in snapshots.
Sometimes I flip through these snapshots after I turn off the light.

I've seen the ER doc absently brush chunks of vomit off her smock at three a.m.
as the bleary-eyed medics stood like numb statues,
the snow flakes melting on their jackets.

Huddled in the lee of boulders barely big enough
to offer protection against the moaning wind.

I've stood in front of the crowded Saturday night sidewalks
as our medics picked him foul and witless from the pavement.
Sympathetic Joanie; sober and meticulous Vicki; amused Kyle;
backdropped by the jovially bellowing crowd

Joanie always saw the best in everyone,
always had a kind and uplifting comment for the least of us.
And she meant them.
Regarding others, for her the glass was always half full and filling up fast.

Vicki, the captain, would be the last to seek peer approval.
She was straight forward and never bothered seeking homogenized words.
She laughed readily or spit out admonishments whenever needed.

A simple, early-evening house fire.
Gently blowing curtains of gray smoke
wisping through the sidewalk crowd –
silent people with handkerchiefs to their noses.

A rescue operation in the dead of winter
and the fog of exhaled breaths puffing in the moonlight
while everyone else in town slept

The father of a dead child can't absorb the finality of it,
clutches the child's shoe and can't let go

Young people committing suicide….
No – too sterile
Young people killing themselves.

Firefighters at night: Red flashing lights flickering against greasy faces;
streams of rain water running off helmet brims and
Glistening on the black coats under the stark lights of the fire engines.
Looking up at the streaks of rain cutting through the harsh street lights.

The middle-aged transient man who lived his life alone,
found dead in his bed, looking like an over-inflated rubber doll.
He was swollen and dark, completely naked
except for the white glove on his right hand.
We strangers had to move him.
His final humiliation.

The silent and beaten crew at the fire station, drinking beer,
glances at me because I'm supposed to say something,
but I'm too beaten to think.
Our most veteran member says, "God decides who lives and dies. You don't."
and puts an end to it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Jammin' at Eagle River's "NORTH SLOPE"

Not only is Thursday an odd day for jam sessions, but jammin' with a horn section is really odd nowdays. And if I had a photo of Kyle on alto sax or Steve on flute, I'd post them, too. But as it is, here's what I've got: On the left (bari sax) is Eli who drives all the way in from Girdwood. Mike (center) on tenor...he owns the place. That's why I always make sure his solos are better than mine. That's me on the right...I'm up to bat. Matt Hammer runs the jam (thats him in the sidebar...the back of his nw CD. In total, a dozen or so musicians shake the timbers on jam night. Soooooo, if you're ever in the area (Eagle River, Alaska), stop by for some rock, jazz, blues, and country.

Listening to Rock n Roll reminds me of what PhD Morris Massey said about the ‘60s advertising promotion of the Ford Mustang: “Mustang makes it happen.” Everybody went out and bought Mustangs, then sat around and waited for something to happen. Nothing did. I’ve always liked Rock n Roll but the drive and tone leads people to think that something exciting is about to happen. People bounce around for 3 minutes, getting excited, at the end of the song, they stop and look around. But nothing’s happened. It’s musical accompaniment to inconsequential movement. That’s fine with me, but I think it’s funny.Now, jazz, although early on was based on the tempo and rhythm, later became food for the connoisseur of tones, chords and spontaneous creativity. Phil Gleason said watching a jazz musician improvise is like watching a poet compose a poem right in front of a crowd. Whatever he creates on the spot, he delivers with no chance of revising it. What you hear is what he invented the second you heard it, with no chance to correct mistakes. The entertainment of jazz is in watching the craftsman create and deliver the variations of phrasings.

In the late 60’s it became synonymous with the intellectual – mystical in it’s depth…peeing into the soul. Well over-dramatized. But many art forms, accredited with deep introspection created awe in spectators. Authors from Tennessee Williams to Jack Kaorak donned facial expressions and postures of world-weary wisdom. Well, why not? I feel nostalgic thinking back on those days. Hemingway was an icon, the act of writing was revered, peering into the soul of man now days is clinical and cynical. Miles Davis and John Coltrane were Ayatollahs of a music form that kept people spell-bound. Listeners hung on every note. Two or four bar phrasings were composed like lines of poetry. The tone, texture, volume, and attitude of the musician were like reading the lines aloud. The music itself spawned poetry and painting. Album covers like Mancini’s “Peter Gunn”, or a Getz/Bryd album sported paintings.

The works of composers that have survived for four hundred years, the classical works, have been studied and performed all these centuries are listened to with reverence. But listening to one pianist playing a Beethoven piece, is not much different than listening to another pianist playing the same piece. It has occurred to me that it is the mastery of finger dexterity rather than creativity: Mechanical repetition leading to duplication. On the other hand, the Modern Jazz Quartet, played Bach in an entirely unique way. With a classical orchestra they played it through completely. Then the orchestra backed away while the MJQ improvised spontaneously, meticulously running riffs over the chord changes until it was time for the orchestra to join in again to play it as written again. One jazz pianist was caught playing classical pieces one afternoon in the night club he’d been performing at. He said he did it to practice. I have a CD with jazz flutist Hubert Laws playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Not so rare. Now hearing a classical musician play jazz, well, that would be an oddity.


Tony “T” Soprano is the head of the New Jersey mafia family. His enforcer is Paulie Walnuts. Paulie’s been around a while and was the enforcer for the previous family boss, Tony’s dad. So now Paulie is in his sixties but tries to keep in shape by lifting weights. Paulie was the toughest member there even when shooting an old colleague and friend “Big Pussy”.
Well, some of the guys from Tony’s crew sort of adopted an orange cat that they found and the cat hangs around the office which is a back room of the strip club, Bada Bing. But in the office the orange cat sits motionless on the table staring at the wall-mounted photo of recently deceased gang member, Christopher.It gives Paulie the creeps who, at one point, was going to chase it away with a broom. The photo was moved, and the cat stood at the new location and stared at it.
Near the end of the episode, Paulie in near panic reveals to ”T” (while they sat at the sidewalk table in the sun) that when he (Paulie) went to meet a guy in the wee hours at the deserted Bada Bing, he swears he saw—for just a second—the Virgin Mary in there. Paulie had previously been humbled having barely survived prostate cancer. He reveals now his ominous feeling of doom when the cat is around. He’s certain that with his murderous past, his afterlife will be really fucked. Anyway, “T” doesn’t get it, and just blows it off. Paulie suspects the cat knows something that no one else knows. The cat follows him around whenever it isn’t staring at the photo of dead Chris.

You’ve been falling apart lately, Paulie Walnuts.
Being the same age, I understand.
But ‘dis takes the fockin’ cake.
Aw, Paulie…Christopher’s cat visits Chris’s distant dimension,
But straddles the space to yours.
And even if nobody else knows who he is,
you do.

But you can’t scat the cat with your broom.
He, in his omnipotence, is not the devil.
You see, the devil is an evil creature;
But this cat’s not that personal.
He is merely death
And patient
And certain
And did I mention patient?

Well, if that ain’t enough to unmake a made guy,
how about seeing the Virgin Mary in a deserted titty bar?
Hell, I’d fall apart, too.

But I know where you’re coming from:
When you look up and see that
there’s more behind you than in front of you, and
see you cannot dictate how the game will end.
Your prostate heralds your fortress crumbling,
You sense worms breeching the walls.
Your pumping iron makes rusty sounds
in your yellowing years.
I can see more scalp through your pompadour.
Cold fear slowly cinches your throat, you start freezing up.
You were immortal in your strength when you shot Big Pussy, you big pussy.

Now humbled and hugless, creaking under the weight of your foreboding,
distant “T” cannot grasp the depth of your dread.
Your Brando eye-flick of fear asked father “T” to
repair your falling fortress with his godfatherliness.
Then you sighed resigned to his inadequacy

Death approaches on cats paws and snuggles…
snuggles the sidewalk sun, patient in his orange eyes.
Perhaps the cat’s like me; of them all, you were my favorite.
Perhaps it’s small comfort to know, Paulie,
we’re all afraid of cats.

I was thinking, maybe the Virgin came to tell you
That God bestows his love even unto pricks.
Scamper back to ‘da Bing
And don’t forget your rosary.
It may not be too late for you
To get unfucked.


Ben Stein produced a movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" lamenting how teachers who teach creationism face termination in high schools and universities. Then he created a blog where folks could comment on the movie's content. I was told about it and read it. Holy shit. These two side really hate one another. Religious fundamentalists are nuts and Darwinists and smug and condescending (and generally not that well informed). So naturally, I had to put my 2 cents worth in. Either people have grown tired of Steins blog and no longer read it, or those that do don't want to comment on my statements, which follows...........

I don’t want to detract from Darwin’s massive achievement for a guy in his twenties. But one has to be realistic. It ain’t an all-or-nothing deal here. Darwin rushed through his Origin of Species to beat other writers to the publishers. He maintained that Origin of Species was in effect meant to be a draft and that any problems with it would be ironed out later. I’m not familiar with his Descent of Man, but I do know that evolutionists took Origin of Species and ran with it.

One of Darwin’s contemporaries, highly-regarded anthropologists Alfred Russell Wallace, wrote an article challenging Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. When Darwin read it, he just about crapped his pants. But he couldn’t answer Wallace’s biggest question. Darwin’s opinion was that natives of tropical archipelagos were less advanced on the evolutionary scale than European whites. He maintained that they were mentally inferior. Wallace, after studying these natives first hand, asserted their brains were not less developed than European whites. Now, pay attention. Natural Selection has maintained that any living creature or organism will advance, mutate, improve, or evolve only as much as necessary to be able to just survive…not one iota more. The creature or organ is prodded into that change by its surrounding environment. Adjust or die. But Wallace demonstrated that the mentality of these “jungle savages” were developed beyond the needed capacity. They had the mental capacity even though their surroundings did not require such mental capacity for them to survive in warmer, more friendly climates. And that was one of the strongest arguments against Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. Wallace asked “How then was an organ developed so far beyond the needs of its possessor?” Darwin could not explain. He just stabbed his pen into Wallace’s article and scrawled “NO”. Well, 150 years have passed and Jared Diamond wrote “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and got the ’98 Pultizer Prize for his hugely popular anthropological research book which absolute affirmed what Alfred Wallace maintained.

As an aside, and in line with what Ben Stein maintains, Darwin’s Natural Selection gave Darwin a “favorite son” status among the European governments and their wealthiest citizens. It provided “indisputable scientific evidence” that non-whites of undeveloped regions were sub-human. That justified European dominance over these other countries, It was natural to put a white jacket on a little black man, have him serve you tea and call you “Massa” or “Bwana”, while you called this man “Boy”.

Anyway, back to the topic. Not only was Wallace more astute than Darwin in this one example, and Wallace’s view affirmed a century and a half later by Jared Diamond, there were other scientific contradictions to Darwin’s Natural Selection. However, I’ve searched through my library for the story of the “Sphex Wasp”, but I can’t find it. But I’ll just say that Darwin had many friends and friendly colleagues that brought studies to his attention that were contrary to his theory. His inability to rectify these contradictions bothered him. He was not an arrogant fellow. He was less authoritarian, and less smug about his research than most of his proponents today. Now, if high school and college teachers who insist on teaching Darwinism are not familiar with these issues, then they are not qualified to be teaching this topic.

Since I’m getting tired of writing about this, I won’t go into some really fascinating stuff about--according to paleontologists--how the human head (it’s current size and larger brain capacity) seemed to appear almost over-night.

It’s too bad that our brains operate under this crippling principle of antithesis (If “A” is true, then “non-A” must be false). That’s the same principle that computers operate with and look at how infuriating they are. Actually the ancient Greek philosophers touted it like it was some kind law, where it became known as “Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction.” Too bad he wasn’t forced to drink hemlock, too. But because of these principles, the issue has become “either Darwin is right, or the creationists are….period”. The Fallen Angle vs. The Risen Ape. “Let’s get ready to rumbllllle!”

Ben Stein is right. There is a real danger that accompanies the arrogance found in the scientific community: When science becomes an authoritarian institution with curious puritanical overtones. Don’t get me wrong…if it weren’t for those people with scientific tendencies, you’d be reading this in some cave somewhere while freezing your ass off. As a species, we abhor the inexplainable. As a species, we cannot resist the compulsion to self-examine. But in doing so, we reduce man to a machine, made of lots of little component parts. The next step of course is to tinker. Tinkering is okay. Tinker away cancer the way small pox was tinkered away. Great. But if you come to believe that Man is nothing more than the sum total of the chemical components that make up his body, then you’re missing the point; a really big point about this “upright heaven-facing speaker.”