Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I'm Going Buggy!

Thank you!
Thank you ever so much Katrina!
I swear. I swear to all that read this page.
If gas prices go even one cent higher, I'm buying one of these deals here!

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation.
-- Graham Greene --
Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, August 29, 2005

It Angers Me!

Just a brief word here about something that angers me.
Actually, “angers me” is not the whole thing. “Makes me sick” is more like it. Also, saddens me. It sort of starts with anger though, so let’s stick with anger.
After work I am walking through the bookstore and I just happen to pick up the latest National Geographic off the rack and I leaf through it. (I am still in the store writing this, hence, I am not using the past tense). I am still looking at the picture that angers me and makes me sick and sad.
On my bookshelves I have a couple of miles of Geographics, all in the burgundy slipcases and everything. Since the early 1980’s. It is only a few years ago that I let my subscription lapse (I know... blasphemy!)... and I only did so because I found that even though I love the magazine, I was not actually reading it consistently enough to justify the cost of subscribing. (I am far too rational, I know). I figured if I really want to read it, I can read it occasionally in the store... like I am doing today.
If someone were to ask me what I think is the finest magazine in the world, I would probably say NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.
So I am leafing through this latest issue, which features Africa. All manner of articles about the Wild Continent. The cover says “Whatever you thought, think again.”
Amazing pictures throughout the thing.... right up until I flip to the very last page, to that “Flashback” piece they always have. Usually a picture from the Archives, and a little explanatory blurb about it. So here is this picture, and I find it sort of nauseating (add that to my list of current ailments and psychological discomforts).
It shows a dead rhinoceros, laying there as it had fallen forward on its front knees, and behind it stands a goofy-hatted, bushy mustachioed, spectacled, Teddy Roosevelt. The butt of his rifle is jabbed into the rhino’s shoulder, and the barrel is pointing to heaven. Underneath this photo, it says “Teddy Roosevelt poses with a rhino he took down during one of the biggest trophy-hunting safaris ever mounted.”

Then the blurb:
Soon after leaving the U.S. Presidency in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt left for Africa. He’d pledged a “fine collection” of wildlife trophies to the Smithsonian Institution. Though his request for funding noted, “I am not in the least a game butcher,” thousands of animals were killed on his expedition. T.R. described his conquests in the January 1911 GEOGRAPHIC, where this rhino photo ran. “While a rhinoceros’s short suit is brains,” he wrote, “his long suit is courage. He is a particularly exasperating creature to deal with.”Margaret G. Zackowitz, writing for GEOGRAPHIC –

The thing that angers me is that this majestic animal (and how many of them?) was shot and killed for sport. I mean, I am not sure what the point was, that GEOGRAPHIC (the January, 1911 issue) was making, with the publication of the story and the picture. Were they advocating sport-hunting? I don’t understand. I thought GEOGRAPHIC was against this sort of thing. In the world today, all five rhinoceros species are endangered, with three of these regarded as critically so.
Back in 1911, was rhino-murder considered to be OK?

I am going to find out. My friend has the entire GEOGRAPHIC on CD-Rom, and the next time I visit, I am going to locate this 1911 article. What did Teddy Roosevelt think he was doing?
No disrespect to the Roosevelts or whatever.... but looking at this picture makes me wish that this rhino would lurch onto its feet, stomp the gun to smithereens, and start chasing Mr. Roosevelt across the savanna in his soiled breeches!
If I had written the caption under this photo, I would have said:
Bravo, powerful human man with gun! Well done, big brave manly hunter!

Rhinoceroses are not even carnivorous! They eat leaves, twigs, grass, and stuff!
A robin eats more meat than a rhino!
Somehow this fact makes T.R. look even more ridiculous and pathetic, standing behind this murdered creature.

Can you imagine if the merely wounded rhino had chased T.R. down.... and afterward spoke of the adventure, in glowing terms, to all of his rhino buddies....
“While a de-gunned hunter’s short suit is courage, his long suit is speed. He is an exasperating creature to catch up to.”


Splash du Jour: Monday

The Preservationist is a novel that retells the Biblical story of the Flood and Noah’s Ark. The author is David Maine. I love this portion, spoken by the character of Ilya, daughter-in-law of Noah [or “Noe” as he is called by Maine]:
“Men are so amusing. Show them a pack of wolves, dominated by the males, and they will say, See? It is natural for men to rule. Fine. But produce a beehive, controlled by the queen, with males used for menial labor, and they protest, Human beings are not insects. Yes, well.”

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

My Cat is Human.

I am totally convinced that my cat thinks human-ish thoughts. His eyes are too expressive.
When I quickly say his name for no reason, he snaps his neck around and instantly meows and there is a look on his face that is clearer than the human word “What?”
Often when I sit down to eat, I notice that Jack also decides that this is the time to saunter over to one of his two dishes (one containing real organically healthy expensive food and the other containing a high end version of feline junk food) and he begins eating too. Staring at me occasionally, peering up, nine times out of ten, above the junk food dish. (See? Just like a human!)
He likes to linger around my feet as I am brushing my teeth. So, I sort of rub his back with my foot and he just loves it, rolls around, halfways to heaven. But if I put my foot actually ON him at any time, he quickly looks up at me with those crazy blue eyes and clearer than the clearest human sentence he says with them
“Hey, that’s about enough of that!”
Or sometimes he seems rather telepathic. I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but when I get out of the elevator and walk towards my apartment door, he is right there at the door meowing, welcoming me home. But when my neighbor across the hall does the same thing and walks towards her door which is just across the hall, Jack does not meow. How does he know it is her and not me?
Another example is this though. If Jack is on the couch and I am merely walking towards him, all is well. But if I am walking towards him in order to grab him by the face and kiss him and rough him up, he instantly knows this and gets up and runs away. I am never sure if he is being merely heterosexually coquettish, or if he is really scared of me.
I think I see something human-like in his cat eyes.

Hmmm... perhaps he sees something cat-like in mine?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Splash du Jour: Friday

Bradbury, on the Future:
People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better. (from "Beyond 1984: The People Machines")
Have a great Friday!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Answer the Question!

Just a few quick words here today about how people tend to not know how to answer questions.
This will sound like a rant, but it really isn’t a rant, I do not feel at all ranty about it or anything but it is really mysterious to me, and so I will say a few words about it and put it behind me, and move on with my life.
I live in this part of Canada that seems to be all in a proverbial knot about the fact that notorious killer Karla Homolka is now released from her prison term and trying to settle back into the outside world. Apparently, she chose to settle in Longueuil, Quebec, (basically a suburb of Montreal) using an alias and wearing sunglasses all over the place and generally (one would think) trying to stay away from the media, which is fairly hounding her every move, and trying to unearth her every whereabouts and whatabouts.
What I am going to be mentioning here today has very little to do with what should be done with Karla Homolka, I really do not have any staunch opinions about it, and (to be honest) I have not followed the story of it all very closely.

No, what I wanted to mention here is merely something about the response of ordinary citizens like you and I, something I saw on the news this morning.
They were interviewing people on the street.... Joe and Mary Average, you know?
And the question, asked to each and every person, was this: “Do you feel that there is too much coverage on the Karla Homolka story in the newspapers?”
Again, by way of context here, the question is being asked because in the past few days, Homolka sightings have dominated the newspaper pages. One day (I think it was Tuesday) most daily papers were featuring anywhere from 10 to 13 pages of pictures.... Homolka in the park with Maggie, her pet dog. Other shots of her conversing with a friend at a sidewalk café. Others of her speaking with her new employer. Pictures, pictures, pictures. Of course, the issue at hand is that her (now former) employer is claiming that she breached certain of her legal restrictions, and granted, this may (or may not) be the case. We have yet to find out which is which.
The point is.... the above question is that which was asked of these people on the street.
As I sipped my coffee and watched, almost on my way out the door to work, I was appalled at the fact that not even one person’s answer had anything to do with the question. They interviewed perhaps four or five people. The answers ranged anywhere from statements concerning how society was wronged by Homolka’s release from prison in the first place, to how unfair it is that she is allowed to live as a citizen on the outside nowadays, to how the entire trial was a real botched-up affair and now we (the rest of humanity) have to live with the consequences..... now, whether or not these things are true or not is not my point. What these folks were saying is relevant and provocative, and all of that.... but it is not an appropriate answer to the question, which was clearly stated to each person. “Do you feel that there is too much coverage on the Karla Homolka story in the newspapers?”
Can it be made any more point blank than that?
I kept watching and thinking.... “Answer the question!”
What were these people..... politicians? Running for office?
The fact that people are obviously hearing something different than the question asked is not even the worst part of my horror. The worst part is this..... their answers are accepted!
The interviewer does not steer them back to the question asked. They simply move on to the next person.
What I am getting at here is this:
If I were the chief editor (or whatever it is called) responsible for this particular piece of journalism, I would have hauled that interviewer into my office and sat them down and played this segment back to them over and over until they got my point. And the point would be thus:
How could the interviewer be pleased with these people’s “answers”?
THAT is what is a mystery to me!
[I guess this is sort of quickly degenerating into a bit of a rant, huh?]
Perhaps it is something that just comes down to different types of personalities.

I am of a somewhat precise personality when it comes to these sort of things. It bothers me when I ask someone something and they invent some sort of response that has little to do with my question. However, if they do this, I will at least steer them back to the original question. If I ask someone something, I have always framed the question fairly precisely and purposefully.
In a corollary sense, this is one area of my life (and there are few) where I practise what I preach. If I am asked a question, I will answer the question or else explain why I cannot answer the question. But I will not veer all over the place and forget about what was asked of me.
For what it’s worth, in today’s example, if I were one of the interviewed people on the street, I would have said the following:
“Yes, I feel that there is too much coverage of this thing in the newspapers. If she is currently doing something that is against the law, or harmful to the society in which she has been freed to roam, than yes, we should be made aware of that, with words and photos, if necessary. But I am not sure why we need to see ten pages of Karla walking her dog in a park, eating an ice cream cone, having a picnic, or trying to talk to someone at a café. The time for condemning her was back there at her trial, and we did so. If the penance inflicted at that time was not severe enough, that is the legal system’s fault, not Karla’s. Taking pictures of her every time she breathes in public and then publishing them for the world to see is just as much an invasion of privacy as if it were done of you and me.”

You may agree or disagree with my opinion. You may think I am wrongheaded about it. But the one thing you cannot do is say I have not answered the question.


Splash du Jour: Thursday

Bradbury, on the joys of Gaming:
Video games are a waste of time for men with nothing else to do. Real brains don't do that. On occasion? Sure. As relaxation? Great. But not full time -- And a lot of people are doing that. And while they're doing that, I'll go ahead and write another novel. (, August 29, 2001)

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Bradbury, on Cloning:
“Why would you clone people when you can go to bed with them and make a baby? C'mon, it's stupid.” (Salon Magazine, 2001)
Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Bradbury, on Censorship:
“...I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from Fahrenheit 451. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony.”
-- Ray Bradbury, 1979 --
Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Rilke's "Black Cat"

After work, I walked through the bookstore, coffee in hand, and ended up in poetry.
It surprised me because they had moved it. The section I mean. It used to be on the other side of the store, and now is here, by the fireplace. So I picked out a book and read a really neat poem by Rainer Maria Rilke.

It is called...

Black Cat

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke –
(translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Rilke (1875-1926), is considered one of the greatest lyric poets of modern Germany. He created the "object poem" as an attempt to describe with utmost clarity physical objects, and the "silence of their concentrated reality." In my opinion, the above poem is a prime (and successful) example of this style, in both its composition and effect. [Where is the reader that does not see and sense and know the cat in this poem, as presented?] Rilke believed in the coexistence of the material and spiritual realms, but human beings were for him only spectators of life, grasping its beauties momentarily only to lose them again. With the power of creativity an artist can try to build a bridge between two worlds, although the task is almost too great for a man. I only mention these points because I think they become relevant toward an understanding of what he is doing with this poem. Using something fairly describable (a cat) to awaken us to something mysterious, ineffable, perhaps even numinous.
The first two words (of the poem) immediately bring us to the numinous. To a place of “awe” (which is quite different than terror, or even fear.) We fear a loose tiger in a completely different way than we fear a ghost. We fear the tiger because of what is known about it. It can very much harm us. But we fear a ghost for an entirely opposite reason, specifically because of what is unknown about it. We do not know what it wants with us, nor how it can harm us, if at all. This is really “awe” moreso than fear.
Ghosts, when we see them, seem to acknowledge that we have done so. I have yet to hear of a (good) ghost story wherein the poltergeist was content with the idea of blandly staring at its trembling observer. There is an acknowledgment, a purpose (it seems) for the momentary lifting of the veil between the material and the spiritual world. And often the purpose is not just to terrify, but to impart something beneficial or otherwise revelatory, as in the case of the murdered King of Denmark who makes repeat appearances in Hamlet. What Rilke seems to be suggesting here is that even if the ghost remains invisible, there is still something tangible enough about that presence to constitute a sort of “echoing”.... then he contrasts this with what is going on within the “thick black pelt” of a cat, were the same gaze thrown upon it.

No echo here. Only absorption. Even a ghost would be more responsive.

Why black? Why must the poetic cat be black?
Interestingly enough, just today, in my reading of Simon Winchester’s book The Meaning of Everything: The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, there was a footnote on p.171 mentioning the senior editor James Murray’s final definition of the word “black” (which proved to be a daunting word indeed.) Part of the conclusion was that “black” consisted “optically in the total absence of colour, due to the absence or total absorption of light, as its opposite white arises from the reflection of all the rays of light.”
Rilke very much wanted to stress this complete absorption of light, and so his cat must be black. The cat returns nothing, just as a sealed vault underground would yield nothing to our sight, though [“your strongest gaze”] our pupils dilate beyond their irises in the attempt.

In the next stanza, notice, this absorbent feature of the cat is likened to the padding of a wall, against which a lunatic pounds his fists. The energy he expends in doing so, is rewarded with relief. He is pacified. However, I think it is wrong to assume that Rilke is merely recommending a nice way to alleviate anger. What he seems to be building towards is the idea that in both instances, that of the first stanza and that of the second, something beneficial can be experienced even if the object of one’s dependence or desperation seems to be unresponsive or even inanimate.
He is not quite yet saying it, but I feel he is building towards saying it.

Third stanza: “She seems...” and quickly I ask “Why is she a she?” but as soon as I form the question I know that she needs to be a she, and I do not know why. The word “seems” is very important.
Seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen into her...
Now she is an audience. An audience watches a performance, and most importantly, evaluates that performance. As soon as the presentation goes forth, it is taken by that audience, and the performer is never as vulnerable, as in that moment. The audience is in the seat of mercy and it is too late for anything to be otherwise. By the way, these were the arrangements and everyone knew this. Those who rehearsed, as well as those who bought tickets. It is the way things are. Not to belabor the point, but really, much could be said of this third stanza.... suffice it to say that the cat seems to be in an audience-like seat of judgement, presiding summarily over all that is tossed her way. Then the most important word of the entire poem arrives. In the second part of the fourth line of stanza three.
But all at once, as if awakened....
The reader (in my opinion) should not de-emphasize the importance of that one word. It signifies that some of the previous surface assumptions are about to be negated, or at least re-organized a bit, and that what has seemed to be taking place thus far will be explained along the lines of another possibility.
There is no other place to go after the word “but” has been deployed.
In other words.... tell us “but” what?
Well, Rilke tells us that she turns her face to yours.
Now you are the ghost, the apparition upon which the black cat’s sight "knocks", and it is your turn to acknowledge that you are being seen.
She has been, and is, more aware of you than you may know. More sentient than you have fathomed her to be. You do not know this, but you feel it, and this is why you are shocked and humbled when you look into those eyes.
I find it rather difficult to elaborate upon the specific thing that I believe this poem to be emphasizing (for me)... but I would describe it best by noting the following [forgive me for using the words “we” and “us” in this delineation, I know not how else to do it]:
Never, while we gazed upon the cat, was the cat shocked, to be so observed. In fact, the cat was as absorbent and indifferent as the color black!
However, when the cat turned and gazed upon us, we were.
We were shocked.

And why, in the reflection of those amber eyes de we see ourselves as small.... not only a fly, but a “prehistoric” fly? Is it because the cat’s wisdom is as ancient as human pre-history, and ours is more recent? Is there something to be learned from the gaze of a cat?
I think there is. Very much so, there is.
At this point here, I will repeat what was formerly noted above, about the poet: Rilke believed in the coexistence of the material and spiritual realms, but human beings were for him only spectators of life, grasping its beauties momentarily only to lose them again.
This was a moment when the beauty was temporarily grasped.
The rest is mystery, and rightfully so.

Praise the world to the angel: leave the unsayable aside.
Your exalted feelings do not move him.
In the universe, where he feels feelings, you are a beginner.
Therefore show him what is ordinary, what has been
shaped from generation to generation, shaped by hand and eye.
[from, The Ninth Elegy]

Here, Rilke shows the angel... a cat.


Splash du Jour: Monday

On this day, August 22nd of 1920, playwright, poet and prolific author extraordinaire Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois. Commenting on individualism, he maintains: “the power of any country is the sum of the total of its individuals. Each individual rich with ideas, with concepts, rich with his own revolution.”
Here (below) is a little something he said, with typical youthful optimism and humor, a week following his 82nd birthday, in 2002:

Last week I turned 82. 82! When I look in the mirror, the person staring back at me is a young boy, with a head and heart filled with dreams and excitement and unquenchable enthusiasm for life. Sure, he's got white hair -- so what! People often ask me how I stay so young, how I've kept such a "youthful" outlook. The answer is simple: Live a life in which you cram yourself with all kinds of metaphors, all kinds of activities, and all kinds of love. And take time to laugh -- find something that makes you truly happy -- every day of your life. That is what I have done, from my earliest days.

In honor of this great writer of such novels as Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles and about a million short stories, ALL WEEK LONG I will be featuring Bradbury quotations. He is a still living (as far as I can ascertain) literary legend!

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

"From the Ox's Mouth"

I am currently in the midst of reading the book pictured here, Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary.
This book is wonderfully written and wildly interesting. It is really a history not only of the monumental Oxford, (commonly known as The OED) but also of the predecessors.... Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, Noah Webster’s, and Charles Richardson’s. All of these were a phenomenal feat in themselves, and each unique.... but none were of the magnitude of the Oxford, which would exceed its own completion deadline by quite a few decades. It was projected to take ten years. It took fifty-four. It was estimated to contain 7,000 pages. It ended up being 16,000.
The cost of production was 33 times what was forecasted, at its outset. (Makes one wonder if this was perhaps a government-funded project, but no, it was not.)
Today, the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition) is a 20-Volume shelfbender, weighing in at a whopping 150 pounds! It contains 21,728 pages and defines over half a million words, meticulously tracing the usage, meaning, and history of each word from 1150 AD to the present day (well, 1989 actually)... and contains over 2.4 million illustrative quotations.
Truly, and I mean TRULY..... I want these things.
CD Rom be damned. [Even though the “search-engine” function would be pretty cool...]
I want the books.

So.... a wonderful dovetailing of events took place today as I was sitting at Chapters drinking my own body weight in coffee and reading this Winchester book, when over the PA system is announced:

“From The Ox’s Mouth”
Secrets And Lies From The World of Dictionaries.

Have you ever pondered the mysterious world of the dictionary?
Have you ever asked such questions as:
Why are there so many dictionaries?
Big vs. Small: What’s In, What’s out?
How did the Oxford Dictionary evolve?
For some lively answers please join us as Brent Starling from Oxford University Press is here at Chapters to answer your questions. There will be discussions at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Needless to say, I just attended the 3 p.m. version of the above event.
It was grand. I was salivating.
Mr. Starling was very informative, and I asked all manner of questions, including one about my own previously venerated Funk & Wagnalls 2-Volume dealie that I have used and relied upon for ages. [See my blog, entitled “Dictionary Porn” in the archives section: May 1st, 2005].
Brent makes me even more convinced that I need to switch horses.

I want the OED.
I want it I want it I want it.
And he (this is the inside scoop folks).... he informs me in a bit of a tete a tete after-discussion, that in the year 2010, a completely new edition is coming out...... it will probably be somewhere around 24 volumes..... containing all of the zillions of words created in the 90’s and the new century.... you know... the words we dare not live without understanding.... like... “bling-bling” and “blog” and “hilaryduff” and stuff!

So I am setting my sights. Starting a fund. Please, if you would like to contribute to this non-profit enterprise, let me know....
I want it I want it I want it.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Splash du Jour: Friday

When I carefully consider the curious habits of dogs,
I am compelled to admit
That man is the superior animal.

When I consider the curious habits of man,
I confess, my friend, I am puzzled.

-- Ezra Pound --

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Just a little C & E.

I got myself onto this blogpage by flaunting my strong points!

Splash du Jour: Thursday

The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the west garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.

-- Ezra Pound --
Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Swenson's Nosty Fright.

The other day I put an e.e. cummings poem in the bookpuddle, as an example of an ideogram, a poem that is meant to be seen moreso than read aloud.
Since that time I have come across a poem that utilizes very nearly the opposite idea. It is a whimsical poem that seems to be written exclusively for the sake of the amusing sounds it makes if read aloud. The poet is May Swenson, and her poem is entitled A Nosty Fright. According to critic Harold Bloom, Swenson ranks with Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop as one of the three best women poets of the twentieth century. She passed away in 1989.
The poem, its sounds are delicious. Reading it is a real hoot!
At just the right moments, Swenson has transposed letters to create amusing sounds and wild, inventive wordplays. The result is, in my omble hupinion, shothing nort of rilharious!

A Nosty Fright

The roldengod and the soneyhuckle,
the sack eyed blusan and the wistle theed
are all tangled with the oison pivy,
the fallen nine peedles and the wumbleteed.

A mipchunk caught in a wobceb tried
to hip and skide in a dandy sune
but a stobler put up a EEP KOFF sign.
Then the unfucky lellow met a phytoon

and was sept out to swea. He difted for drays
till a hassgropper flying happened to spot
the boolish feast all debraggled and wet,
covered with snears and tot.

Loonmight shone through the winey poods
where rushmooms grew among risted twoots.
Back blats flew betreen the twees
and orned howls hounded their soots.

A kumkpin stood with tooked creeth
on the sindow will of a house
where a icked wold itch lived all alone
except for her stoombrick, a mitten and a kouse.

“Here we part,” said the hassgropper.
“Pere we hart,” mipchunk, too.
They purried away on opposite haths,
both scared of some “Bat!” or “Scoo!”

October was ending on a nosty fright
with scroans and greeches and chanking clains,
with oblins and gelfs, coaths and urses,
skinning grulls and stoodblains.

Will it ever be morning, Nofember virst,
skue bly and the sanppy hun, our friend?
With light breaves of wall by the fayside?
I sope ho, so that this oem can pend.

-- May Swenson --

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was and is and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality... poetry is being, not doing. If you wish to follow, even at a distance, the poet’s calling (and here, as always, I speak from my own totally biased and entirely personal point of view) you’ve got to come out of the measurable doing universe into the immeasurable house of being... Nobody else can be alive for you, nor can you be alive for anybody else. Toms can be Dicks and Dicks can be Harrys, but none of them can be ever be you. There’s the artist’s responsibility; and the most awful responsibility on earth. If you can take it, take it – and be. If you can’t, cheer up and go about other people’s business; and do (or undo) till you drop.
-- e.e. cummings, on the artist’s responsibility, from i: Six Nonlectures --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Posh, The Bookless Babe!

In the tradition of true confessions that should never be actually spoken.... I am going to admit that I actually like (liked) The Spice Girls.
I found them to be very.... spicy.
I’m not kidding. I really like several of their songs, and I have every one of Mel C.’s solo CD’s.
[She was Sporty Spice. For the record, I am secretly pseudo in-love with her and Andrea Corr...]
So it was with a touch of chagrined Literary Horror that I read a little blurb in the paper today about Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. Posh Spice (pictured here in all of her red-hot spiciness).
She claims she has never read a book.
Did you hear me?

She has never splashed in bookpuddles?
I am so......... disillusioned.
I am not kidding, she told a Spanish journalist she prefers magazines and music even though she has her name on the cover of one autobiography.
According to the Daily Mail she said: "I haven't read a book in my life. I haven't got enough time. I prefer to listen to music, although I do love fashion magazines."
In the interview with Chic magazine she also revealed she would like to have more children - and is hoping to have a girl.
She said: "I can imagine myself painting her nails, helping her with her make-up, choosing clothes with her."
[I guess we can rule out the image of Mommy Posh reading Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince to Child-Posh while daddy does that thing where you bounce soccer balls from knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder?]

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure way against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is freedom. The surest path to wisdom is liberal education.
-- Alfred Whitney Griswold –

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, August 15, 2005

e.e. cummings's "L(a".

Measured by sheer boldness of experiment, no American poet compares to him, for he slipped Houdini-like out of the locked box of the stanza, then leaped from the platform of the poetic line into an unheard-of way of writing poetry.
-- Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, writing about e.e. cummings --

The poetry of e.e. cummings (1894-1962) is something that is extremely new to me, and I cannot emphasize that enough. Truly, I do not even begin to assume that I understand anything about his work. But it intrigues me, it really does, and I want to learn more about it. And a dear friend who does know the work of this poet shared with me the simple secret of how to read what is known in the poetry world as the ideogram format.
Here is a wonderful example of it, seen in cummings’s untitled poem, commonly referred to and anthologized as “l(a”.






This poetic structure combines simplicity and complexity, and is meant to be seen, moreso than heard. As is quite obvious, it is not something that is going to WOW a listener at a public reading!
No, the reader must observe it on the page, spatially investigate it, if you will.
To some readers, in fact, it may look like gibberish at first, until you read the letters within the parentheses, apart from the ones outside.

It’s cheating, but perhaps setting the thing horizontally would help....
l(a le af fa ll s) one l iness.
Cummings is placing the phrase “a leaf falls” within the surrounding word “loneliness.”
Loneliness / a leaf falls.

But placing it horizontally is a bit worse than cheating. It is like nailing Van Gogh’s Starry Night upside down on your wall and then thinking this wouldn't bother the painter. Both acts are just WRONG.
The poem is vertical, and every single letter is placed exactly so, very purposefully. The truth is, there is so much going on with the way cummings has presented these 22 characters that it can boggle the mind.
This poem is about individuality – oneness.
[What an understatement, but seriously, one must set some sort of parameters in order to discuss something. A true thinker could speak about this poem until the world’s trees were bare....]
Each line, in one way or another, highlights the theme of oneness, f
rom the first “L”, deliberately lower case, and looking like a numeric "one". [One should remember that in the pre-computer era in which this poem was written, typewriter keyboards did not even have a character for the numeral “1” as our keyboards nowadays do.... and so, a lower case “L” was quite literally a 1.]
And then there is the very next letter, following the first bracket in the first line. An “a” denoting singularity. Lack of plurality.
Even the next grouping of “le” is the French definite article denoting “the” which would precede a masculine subject in its singularity. [Anything in the plural would be preceded by “les”.]
The fifth line has “ll” which is really two ones, while the seventh line actually spells out the word “one”, which (I think significantly) is the only entire English word presented horizontally in the poem.
This is followed by yet another “l” or 1.
And then, “iness” which could mean “the state of being I”.... the state of my me-ness.
[Do you begin to see how such a discussion could be nearly endless? It is truly remarkable].
I mean... aside from all of this, the WHOLE POEM almost looks like a letter “I” [not “el” but “eye” as in “me”].

But it gets even more interesting when we begin looking at the motif (or metaphor) of the falling leaf.
The whole poem seems constructed (designed) to resemble the very action of a leaf in descent.

Pairs of letters flit downwards... (af & fa, for instance, reversing themselves in the 3rd and 4th) just as a leaf would flutter, twist and turn. This flip-flop is quickly followed by the “ll” which could signify a quicker drop, the leaf itself being perpendicular to the ground in that moment before flattening out again, gliding downwards, one more swoop with the next “l” and then into the wider “iness” at the base of the poem, as though not only joining other leaves that have previously fallen, but we even have a bit of the sibilance of what it might sound like were there a slight breeze. Leaves, perhaps swirling around a bit....

And this is still just sort of a bit of technical stuff.
We have not even spoken about what the poem means to the reader.
But this is the holy ground stuff. It is where we experience the poem, and ask ourselves why a leaf falling is like loneliness. It is the unspoken revelation. And untaught.
We can only know what the poem says to our self. We cannot know what it says to someone else. This poem is a wonderful illustration of this fact, as it defies the reader to even speak it, as presented.
We can each focus upon so many aspects. Upon the leaf’s brief journey, upon its coming to a place of rest. We can think about timeliness (“for everything there is a season” and all of that). We can think about why the tree lets go. We can think about how the leaf held on.
Loneliness surrounds the leaf, and notice, even does so while it is still attached to the tree.
Loneliness is proper.
Loneliness is cruel.
Loneliness is a severing.
Loneliness is a meeting of others.

It might look like gibberish at first sight.
But this poem is a work of art, and the work of a genius.
Loneliness: a leaf falling is sort of like a Hallmark card.
Loneliness is a leaf falling is sort of like a bumper sticker.
But l(a le af fa ll s) one l iness will forever be e.e. cummings.
Pure genius.


Splash du Jour: Monday

There cannot be any writing without memory. Writers are constantly nourished by what they remember–in fact, everyone is. Memory is our deepest actual language. It's our storehouse of riches, our gold mine or diamond mine, and we need to keep it open, to keep in mind the importance of childhood events that will somehow condition our life and character as adults. What would happen to someone who forgot those experiences? If we have no memory, we are nobody, and nothing is possible.
-- Jose Saramago --

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, August 14, 2005


When a stranger does something to you or for you, it is always different than if an aquaintance or friend did the very same thing.
I remember once sitting at this very spot in the coffeeshop, the same one, same spot and shop as I am in right now. As I sat here reading my book my nose began to run.
By run I mean leak. All of a sudden I began exhibiting several symptoms of an encroaching cold. Gradually, within the half of an hour, these symptoms became somewhat socially unacceptable, or so I was soon to find out.
A big burly John Goodman-like guy was sitting close by. I guess my sniffling was getting to him. [I am reminded of this incident in its entirety because the same man is sitting a few tables down from me right now as I type this. Same coffee place but years in between...]
So let us return to the scene of my mucilaginous proboscis and my feeble attempts at stemming the tide with an already saturated napkin.... there’s me swabbing away and not quite realizing the inner turmoil and distress I am imposing upon King Ralph next to me. Admittedly, with each inhalation certain portions of my entrails would have been seen retreating into the nasal cavity from which they had been previously dangling. It was probably a little unpleasant.
He gets up and walks away.
Returns in about three or four minutes with enough fresh napkins to thoroughly clean a Boy Scout troop after a KFC picnic!
Throws these down in front of me and says “I cannot stand it when someone’s nose is running. Blow!”
And smiles.
I humbly eeked out a “thank you” and peered up at him with my reddened eyes and I huffed and I puffed until the walls came down!

I would never have done what he did.
If I were him, and a stranger next to me was content to have the ol’ snotfaucet half open, I would probably just relocate, if it was really bothering me. I would have felt that actually voicing my displeasure would be perceived as being rude and/or intrusive.
Yet, I did not see what he did as being rude. I saw it as him being caring and friendly, albeit in a rather direct and straightforward way.
And so it is that I just recall the event now, and sort of marvel at how, with so few words, he unequivocally gave me the time of day, so to say.
In just ten simple words, he essentially said:
“What’s happening between us right now is really bothering me and while we’re at it, it’s probably really bothering you too and we both are fully aware that we don’t know each other from Adam, but for the love of God, we both are rational beings who understand the same language and so I am going to use ten of the words of that language to encourage you to seriously do something about the problem with gravity you are currently experiencing and I am quite sure that if you follow my instructions this present seating arrangement does not have to be altered in any way whatsoever and later we can go our separate ways as if none of this ever happened, and so much so, that years from now, if you see me here or elsewhere neither of us even has to mention what has gone on here today, I swear, you owe me nothing, nothing... the napkins were free.”

In a related incident, here’s me on the airplane the other day.

Well, two weeks ago now. I was flying to Vancouver Island. When people use that phrase “packed like sardines” that is actually misleading, because sardines are at least decapitated. They are not even aware of their cramped conditions. But here in the airplane we all have our dangy heads on, and we are fully cognizant that whoever designed these seating arrangements was some sort of sadist. It’s far worse than being a dead sardine.
So I am cramped together with this lady to the right of me, we’re like Siamese twins, joined at the elbows. Things were going OK until just after the meal-thing. I swear that what I am about to say is not even slightly exaggerant. I was calmly reading my book and all, poising it delicately above the fold-down table that still had all the scraps and plastic utensils on it.... when my twin quickly raised a napkin up to her face and sneezed MOST horrendously. Let me describe for you the only thing that the napkin accomplished, in this instance.
Whatever was within her head and lungs (or wherever else) shot out horizontally. The napkin absorbed nothing, only redirected it. And I was pelted with a flotsam of whatnot!
It was extremely startling.
I did absolutely nothing. Just stared straight ahead at the tweed fabric of the back of the seat in front of me, itself a bit flecked with whatever missed the side of my face.
Oh yes, only a bit later did I nonchalantly pick up my own napkin and wipe away what my pores had not by then absorbed into my blood stream.

There is a price to be paid for such circumstantial reticence.
On a molecular level, I am still carrying within me, if even in an atomic sort of way, some organic aspect of that woman’s meal! And airline food is bad enough when you’re only eating your own portion of it!
The pro-active approach is the better one.... like King Ralph did with me.
Gentle, forthright. Direct, but with a smile.
In the airplane incident, I could not have prevented what happened.
It was all too sudden and terrible, as airplane incidents are prone to be.
But I could have at least begun the cleanup stage of the thing a little earlier, like immediately maybe even [see, already I am hesitant to just get on with it]. I am hesitant to turn toward the lady and have her acknowledge that she just spewed breakfast all over me, I really am. Yet, I should have instantly got on with the issue of collateral damage.

The problem for me is along the lines of what I began with here, in this blog.... When a stranger does something to you or for you, it is always different than if an aquaintance or friend did the very same thing.
If my friend or my sister had sneezed all over me, I would have instantly said “What the hell is the matter with you?” and would have commenced laughing and hitting them and wiping my face.
But strangers?
I don’t really like strangers. I don’t like talking to them, and honestly, I typically don’t like them talking to me. So I really try to minimize that sort of interaction.

I wonder if the lady in the airplane ever thinks of me. Is she thinking of me right now?
She’s holding out a carafe of coffee and filling her friend’s cup, and saying, “My God Bernice, two weeks ago I was on the plane and this guy was crammed in next to me and I felt a sneeze welling up inside me. Like from my toes upward, gathering strength the whole way.”
“Go on... do tell” says Bernice, on the edge of her seat.
“Well seriously, I have seldom in my lifetime launched more spew in a single burst than upon this poor hapless bloke. It was surreal, if anything. The napkin I had quickly held up to my face did nothing but assist in redirection. It was even geometrically interesting.... went completely sideways like. Splat. Right into his face. I was inwardly mortified.”
Bernice laughs while taking a sip, and nostril-air causes wavelike ripples in her coffee. “My goodness. Did he say anything direct and forthright to you?”
“Not a word. It was like it never happened. Just stared straight ahead. Dead-like.”

I doubt very much that the above conversation has ever taken place.
People forget things. They move on. Memories become vague, clouded over and displaced with more important things.
I am profoundly convinced of this because a few minutes ago King Ralph and I happened to glance at each other. And I could tell. There was perhaps half a second of recognition, then it faded. Even though there was once a time when he saw my pancreas dangling from my left nostril, he has mostly forgotten. Like every distant memory. It’s here for half a second, then it’s not.


Saturday, August 13, 2005


I hate any form of cruelty. I hate hunting.
-- Arthur C. Clarke –

A number of years ago I read a fascinating science fiction novel called Childhood’s End.
It is written by the master of the genre, Arthur C. Clarke, and originally published in the pre-lunar-landing world of 1953.
It is still in print and some critics consider it to be the best science fiction novel of all time. Of course, stalwart devotees of Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, or Isaac Asimov will argue that such accolades are debatable.
Several of Clarke’s themes and/or motifs in Childhood’s End continue to resonate with me, and I want to focus on one of those today.
It concerns the idea of animal cruelty. Or, more correctly, human cruelty to animals.
In the novel (this will be nowhere near a detailed synopsis of the book) extraterrestrials come to earth and hover in their huge space ships over principal cities. They station themselves, suspended fifty kilometers above the world’s capital cities. Think of the movie Independence Day, only bigger, and even more determined! A nuclear missile, fired at one ship, simply disappears. These aliens mean business. They didn’t travel across the universe to learn how to play Yahtzee!
The pilots and inhabitants of these ships (called The Overlords) are heard, but not seen. In the initial decades of their hoverment (my word), they speak to the earth only once and that is to announce that they are now in charge. For the most part, the Overlords' dictates are expressed by their chosen human messenger, Stormgren, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. From their ominous position they begin to institute their ideals of earthly reform. All of mankind’s space exploration is to cease. Mankind is ordered to mend its ways, to become more cosmically hospitable. National rivalries are abolished, trade barriers dissolved. One World is made a reality under the jurisdiction of a truly powerful United Nations.
They present the world with a device to see events in the past, proving every religion wrong. They offer a cure for all diseases. All in all, the alien intentions seem quite beneficial to mankind as a whole, that is, until their desire to posess all of the children is revealed.
But I will leave that part of the story for you to discover, should you desire to read the book. It is a wild ride.
Now, in the midst of these planetary changes (and this is what I wanted to focus on) the aliens introduce one really interesting new policy.
The all too human sport of cruelty to animals is universally outlawed.
This is illustrated in the novel when Spain is asked to stop the sport of bull-fighting. Cruelty to animals is to be ipso-facto abolished.
Spain does not want to comply. And so what happens (you are not supposed to ask HOW it happens)... what happens is that when Spain ignores the ultimatum, well, it makes the next bull-fight very interesting indeed.
What happens is that whenever the bull is stabbed, the people in the stadium, as well as those watching on television, experience the same pain as is being experienced by the animal.
When the bull is stabbed, the whole stadium cries out in pain!
Hmmm.... how long do you think it takes for mankind to catch on to that little tidbit of revolutionary change huh?
Not long at all.
I remember reading this section of the story and being incredibly fascinated with its concept. Remember now, we are talking about cruelty induced upon the animal world for SPORT!
I am as voraciously carnivorous as any other non-vegan dude.

I want steak, hamburger, pepperoni, and chicken as much as the next guy! But killing chicken in a humane fashion so that we can have McNuggets is (in my opinion) quite different than kicking a chicken for fun or throwing it against the wall of the barn!
Here is my declaration: I am supremely against all manner of cruelty inflicted upon the animal world in the guise of it being “fun” or “good sport.”
In fact, I am all for the alien program to be introduced.
Whatever pain you inflict upon an animal (including another human being).... you feel it yourself!
Admittedly, I have not always been quite so adamant about this idea.
In my ridiculous youthful years, I killed many animals for the sake of fun. Especially frogs and grasshoppers. Locusts were my specialty. I will not outline for you the sadistic tortures I devised for these creatures.
And spiders.
I even immortalized my propensity towards this form of mental illness in a poem, written years ago, after my reformation....


i looked up.
they had made their webs
in the rafters,
these two silent architects.
so i knocked them into a foil pan
where they lightly clattered.
exoskeletons, spinning
and disoriented.
so i sprayed aerosol on them
in great amounts, until
swimming to the center of the pan
they found each other,
and broke their own necks.
i heard it.
two faint snaps.
i did not look up
at the empty webs, but
went my way.
and i am human.

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2005

Perhaps it is a cry for absolution.
Am I proud of this poem?
No, for it is based on a true event.
Even though I don’t know if spiders really have necks, I know that these ones killed each other in some Greco-Roman sort of way, and that I heard something when they did it.
Why did I do this thing?
Why are we like this, and especially so when we are young[er]?

The other day at work we were having our morning coffee break out at the picnic table. I guess we were sort of regaling each other with personal animal cruelty stories, you could say.
One of my co-workers described how he and some other kids used to hide out in this one churchyard and wait for the bats to fly out of this belfry sort of thing. When they did, these guys would bat them out of the air with tennis rackets. The bats would then go spinning to the ground all over the place, all bent up and wretched and dead or near-dead.
I used to dangle frogs over the red hot flywheel of a smoking hot lawnmower motor, and then drop them in there so they would spin and fry at about ten million RPM’s!
I once picked up a jagged stone and loaded it into a slingshot and promptly sent a rather innocent-ish robin into a slow, agonizing experience of death.
What the hell is wrong with someone who feels inclined to do such a thing?
And the one emphasized premise in Childhood’s End really begs a subsequent question, and it is this:
How long would we continue to do such things if we ourselves (even one time) experienced the pain that we are inflicting upon creatures of whom it is equally in our power to treat kindly?
Hmmm.... I am all for the alien policy. I really am.
Is it that we think animals do not experience pain?
Or is it that we feel (as if we are their Overlords, hovering over them) we have a right to torture them, from time to time?
Why do we possess such innate fascination with the pain experienced by a fellow creature that we will stoop to the position of being the perpetrator of this pain?

It is one of the few regrettable mysteries of being human.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Splash du Jour: Friday

“...when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can’t do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it. Things aren’t that way.”
-- Ernest Hemingway, 1925 --

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Today's Splash is very simple. It is one word:
This was Madonna's response when asked "How does it feel to be the next Enid Blyton?", apparently ignorant of the author of several hundred children's books including the 'Noddy' series and the Faraway Tree books, and the Famous Five, just to name a few. Madonna had just published her own children's book.
[Who has read it/them?]
Enid Blyton is however making a comeback. In fact her sales never stopped. Ten million books bearing the famous Enid Blyton signature are sold globally every year in more than 40 languages.
When I was a kid, I was hopelessly addicted to Enid Blyton's books. I do not think I read all 700-plus of them, but.... I tried!
Today is Enid Blyton's birthday!
Happy Birthday!

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

He is the world’s best-selling science fiction writer.
In Nostradamian fashion, he has predicted satellite communications, man's landing on the moon and giant space stations circling the Earth.

He is Arthur C. Clarke.

He said:
I'm sure we would not have had men on the Moon if it had not been for Wells and Verne and the people who write about this and made people think about it. I'm rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books.

Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he says it is impossible, he is very probably wrong. Clarke's Second Law: The only way to find the limits of the possible is by going beyond them to the impossible. Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Three Cheers!

Well, I have had such a busy day at work that I have missed all of the news, until now.
I am so thankful that Discovery has landed safely.
I am only now logging on to the Internet and catching up on the news of how today’s landing played out. I liked the following comment:
"The shuttle's historic return to flight is one of the triumphant American moments of 2005, and the culmination of millions of man-hours put in by engineers, scientists, astronauts and everyone else associated with NASA."
Those were the words of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, [R-Sugar Land], whose district includes the Johnson Space Center, as he congratulated the Discovery crew and NASA on the shuttle's safe landing.

Coincidentally, after work I went to Chapters for coffee [no... really?] and I happened to pick a book off the shelf as I browsed around the store with my Starbucks coffee....
It was Kurt Vonegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
Early on in the book, the drunken hero (I think his name is Eliot) accidentally blunders into a convention of science fiction writers and makes the following little speech:
I love you sons of bitches. You’re all I read any more. You’re the only ones who’ll talk about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what tremendous misunderstandings, mistakes, accidents, and catastrophes do to us. You’re the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distances without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.

Today’s successful Discovery landing is science fiction become reality!
It is an engineering, mathematical, technical, and profoundly human FEAT that I hope we never take for granted, or consider commonplace.
Three cheers!

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Ahh... I wish I did not have to go to work so early.
I will miss the landing of the Shuttle, which is already in its descent mode, coming in to Edwards Air Force Base in California....

And with this realization I had returned, and was subject once again to the laws which govern everyday life; for even if those metallic sounds had awakened me to a holiday, rather than an average day, the special, beautiful and sacred aspects of this morning's magic had already passed, engulfed by the waves of time, world and routine once more.
-- Hermann Hesse --
Hermann Hesse died on this day in 1962 in the Swiss village of Montagnola, where he had lived from 1919 until his death in 1962 – so reclusively that he did not leave it even to accept the 1946 Nobel.

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Splash du Jour: Monday

"Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones."
-- Ernest Hemingway --
Well, I guess I have one more day to yet worry about the NASA astronauts!
Have a great Monday!

Saturday, August 06, 2005


I find myself, even on vacation, to be somewhat pre-occupied with thoughts of the Space Shuttle and its crew. Discovery has already undocked from the space station and is beginning its untethered journey home.
I want it all to go safely. Perfectly.

I say "Godspeed!"
-- defn. n. "a parting wish of success to a person starting on a journey or undertaking." --
When you consider the precision of the procedures involved.... well, what can I say... landlubber that I am, I get nervous. I want everything to go as flawless as is seen here, in this picture of a previous Discovery landing!
The following is a news item I lifted from yahoo! news.
I find it truly astounding....

At hypersonic speeds, Discovery shuttle landing is innately risky.

CAPE CANAVERAL, United States (AFP) - Slashing speed from nearly 29,000 kilometers per hour (18,000 mph) at up to 1,650 degrees Celsius, landing the US space shuttle permits little error in the best case, officials say.
The landing Monday of the Discovery shuttle will carry an even greater sense of risk, though, coming thirty months after the Columbia shuttle disintegrated upon reentry.
Seven astronauts died in February 2003 when the Columbia broke up while descending to Earth after superheated gases entered the spacecraft through holes in its heat shield.
The tragedy stalled the US space agency's shuttle program so that NASA engineers could reduce the spacecraft's vulnerabilities.
But the risks are still innate and uncommonly high, officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration say.
"Flying a re-entry is not what normal sane people would normally call safe," said Wayne Hale, shuttle deputy program manager.
"It is not 100 percent safe," he stressed.
With little room for error, the shuttle must turn around in space an hour before the scheduled landing and fire its engines to decelerate from 29,000 kmh.
The shuttle pushes through the outer layers of the atmosphere about 25 minutes later, at an altitude of 129 kilometers (80 miles).
It is still some 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) away from the landing site at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
As it drops through the atmosphere at a rate of 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) a minute, the shuttle effectively changes from being a space orbiter into an unpowered sailplane.
"You only get one shot at it, since we are only a big glider," said Paul Hill, the lead shuttle flight director.
The shuttle continues its descent with its heavily insulated belly facing the earth's surface, angled at 40 degrees.
The angle of entry is crucial in breaking through the densest layers of the atmosphere.
A more shallow angle would see the shuttle ricochet back into space, like a rock skimming over the water's surface. A steeper angle would make it overheat. The least error could be fatal.
As the air pressure builds in the atmosphere half an hour before landing, 85 kilometers (53 miles) above earth, the shuttle's wing flaps and rudder become useable.
The shuttle makes a series of four steep, 'S'-shaped turns, rolling to the side as much as 80 degrees, in order to slow down.
Nevertheless, the Discovery will still be moving at supersonic speeds, and the friction of the air will push the temperature of its exterior ceramic tiles to 1,650 degrees Celsius (3,002 Fahrenheit).
It was during this phase of the landing descent, about 16 minutes before landing, that the Columbia broke up in mid-air over the southern United States in 2003.
Its heat shield had been damaged by pieces of foam which broke off the shuttle's fuel tank when it was launched.
Just ten minutes before touchdown, 43 kilometers (27 miles) above the Earth, the shuttle is still moving at nearly 10,000 kilometers per hour (6,213 mph).
Two minutes later, the shuttle finally becomes controllable by the astronauts inside.
Flying through the inner atmosphere over Florida four minutes before landing, the shuttle emits two massive sonic booms as it drops beneath the speed of sound.
The astronauts begin manually steering the aircraft into its final approach trajectory, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the runway.
Ninety seconds from landing, as the astronauts line up with the runway ahead of them, the Discovery will still be at an altitude of 4,500 meters (14,763 feet).
Still moving at 518 kilometers per hour (321 mph), the shuttle has to descend at a much more acute angle than a commerical airline, losing altitude about twenty times faster.
Finally, at 610 meters (2,000 feet) above the ground, 33 seconds before touchdown, the pilot will pull up Discovery's nose to slow it aerodynamically, and then lowers the landing gear.
The rear wheels hit the tarmac first at 354 kilometers per hour (220 mph), speed breaks are deployed to the maximum, and a parachute is released from the shuttle's rear to help slow it down.
The pilot gently brings the nose down, applies the breaks, and lets the now-useless parachute fall away from the aircraft. If all has gone perfectly, the shuttle will roll calmly to a stop.

The shuttle will roll calmly to a stop.
End of story!
The shuttle will roll calmly to a stop.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Splash du Jour: Friday

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"
-- Henry Ward Beecher --
This is how I am spending the day, in a succession of used bookstores in downtown Nanaimo!
Have a great Friday!

The Ocean! The Ocean!

The past few days, I have been out on the water.
Out on the water in a black boat. On holidays.
Breathing in more fresh air than I’ve had all year.
Loving it.
Been on black lakes, in a black boat.

And today, the ocean.
The ocean! The ocean!
Seals all around us, surfacing.

We boated out to Hornby Island today. Tribune Bay, to be exact.

Lazed in the sun.
For some reason, in the midst of it, I thought of Sylvia Plath.
I know that Plath is not exactly..... jolly, as a rule.
But nonetheless, a genius poet, was she.
I’ve spent the day, crossing the water, astounded, and thinking....

Crossing the Water

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.

A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
They are round and flat and full of dark advice.

Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand;

Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls.

-- Sylvia Plath --

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Literature was not born the day when a boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day when a boy came crying "wolf, wolf" and there was no wolf behind him.
-- Vladimir Nabokov --
Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Splash du Jour: Wednesday

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.
-- Rejection slip from a Chinese economic journal, quoted in the Financial Times --
Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Nerudaism for the day....

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

When I was a ten-year-old book worm and used to kiss the dust jacket pictures of authors as if they were icons, it used to amaze me that these remote people could provoke me to love.
-- Erica Jong --
Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Splash du Jour: Monday

…I hate my epidermal dress,
The savage blood's obscenity,
The rags of my anatomy,
And willingly would I dispense
With false accouterments of sense,
To sleep immodestly, a most
Incarnadine and carnal ghost.

— the last lines of "Epidermal Macabre," Theodore Roethke's lament for having "“fleshy clothes"; Roethke died on this day in 1963 --

I am having a great time, on hiatus.
Hope that you too, are having a great Monday!