Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Time Out

We are temporarily withdrawing the writings from the public domain. We may or may not return, depending upon various and sundry things.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Laws of Disincorporation

Papers blow out of the windows above me like confetti, but I look around and there is no parade.
I crane my neck. Somewhere way up there is an executive sitting in a high-back chair behind a mahogany desk looking out the tinted windows who believes that he is a Peregrine Falcon with no enemies above him and only prey below. He stretches his arms out horizontally, stoops low, and slides around the office, whistling. Everything he sees is beneath him. He puts on his thick glasses and scans the short, squat office buildings and the sidewalks and streets swarming with toy cars and pot metal pedestrians dressed in colorful lead paint and thinks the cars would fit in the cigar box on his desk and a family of tiny people would fit in the palm of his hand. "I could hold them in there like flies, frogs, grasshoppers, mice." He leans back in his chair. "Falcon food, they look small enough for a falcon."
"Falcons don't eat people."
"Huh? What did you say?" I shook my head and rubbed my eyes. "I must have been daydreaming." 
The secretary looked up and said, "I didn't say anything." 
I am in the waiting room outside of that office at this very moment. I don't really remember how I got here. I can hear music coming from the white metal grillwork in the ceiling tiles, a plush, pillowy assortment of strings subtending a whining tenor who repeats the same verse every 23 seconds. I have been waiting to meet the president of the company to settle a dispute over payments. There is a man sitting next to me with black ink on his hands. He is eating his lunch. I look at him and nod and smile. "Great music occurs in 23-second cycles."
He frowned. "That is not funny. I have been counting that same 23 seconds for seventeen days. That's when I arrived in this office to shred important documents."
"Documents?"
"Yeah, something about accounting. There is a mound of paper in front of me, it must be eight feet high."
"That's as big as my exaggerations."
"Funny, if I step back, it seems smaller and I feel disappointed."
"Why's that?"
"I hope the boss doesn't see it and threaten me with something cruel and unusual. I don't know why that is; you would think that if something has a certain mass, it would always display that mass regardless of circumstances and perspective, it would be understood to be that quantity of matter, and life would have a replicability, standardization, the orderliness of stiffly coreographed military parade. But just back away, and appearances take over and what once seemed comfortably large is terrifyingly small. 'Look how much my arms have shrunk, that is not my head anymore!'" He buzzed his hands like a housefly. 
"But that's - "
"They say that those pinholes of light in the night sky are actually monstrous balls of gas and flame larger than anything we could ever know but the problem of distance renders them harmless, mute, and unremarkable. And I am told that when a person shrinks to an atomic level, the mere atom is about the size and shape of the garden-variety, information-age, human being and thus, the child's balloon has enough atoms of helium to populate the entire African continent seven times over with magnetically charged people who speak in high-pitched voices. That is exactly what I am saying."
I nodded. "Sure." 
"But to try to shake hands with someone's electrons, and, woah, good luck. Neither of you would be very adept at that and it could easily be taken to be an insult and lead to, why, nuclear war. Of course, that depends upon what the cultural norms are in the particular country where these atoms reside. I suspect that this has been going on since the advent of the atomic-age, but now with chemistry on the loose, it's hard to tell where any given atom has originated. Oklahoma! Botswana! Perestroika! Maybe we all came from a common ancestor. We will call her Atomic Eve. 
"So, despite the fact that I have shredded to date, about 10,000 pages filled with names and dates and places and redactions, distance has a way of minimizing my accomplishments. The sad fact is, the law is, distance is inversely proportional to size. Don't show the boss until he stands so close he can feel the gravity of the mass and he finds his abdomen has tides. That leads to law number two: Distance is inversely proportional to importance."
Meanwhile, the secretary in the office is calling the boss on the intercom and asking him if he called. "Sir, did you need something?"
Just a whistling sound on the other end. I gave the fellow next to me a puzzled look. He had been licking the cookie in his hand, but instantly he stuffed it into his mouth. "I have to get back to work." Bits of cookie fell from his mouth.
The secretary shrugged. "That's been going on all day."
I thought, that's what the secretary said, but all day? My watch was in the pocket in my suit that is still at the dry cleaners. It's not really my suit, but I like to think so. I said to the fellow next to me, "What's the rush?"
"Documents, that's what. Mission plans. Strategic initiatives. Cooperative agreements. Personnel decisions. Letters from lawyers. Letters from politicians. Letters from stockholders. Sensitive. Confidential. Trade secrets. Do not copy. Destroy after reading. Cancelled checks. More cancelled checks. Plane tickets. Prescriptions. Subpeonas. Redactions. All of it disappearing, cycling back into insignificant, meaningless, wordless, raw cellulose, mere packing material, insulation, worm food. Everything here was written in disappearing ink. Like a contrail in the sky, the morning fog, that shadow that you cast at breakfast that becomes a sunny, white spot at lunch, hot to the touch. This is the business cycle, a corporate death pact followed by millions of paper offpsring, then an abrupt act of disincorporation, a commercial suicide, convincing proof that there is no life after Chapter 11. So as I watch as this business gets smaller by the minute, down to paper-thin slices, a third law comes into view: time is inversely proportional to size. Time shrinks objects too. Who knows the names of the cobbler, blacksmith, undertaker, and mercantiler from three centuries ago? They might be your great grandparents but how would you know anymore? How many flowers are on their tombstones?"
I leaned back in my chair and thought about what he said. The fact is, I have a science fiction novel, Don't Read This, that I have yet to open collecting dust on the bedstand in my asthetically disordered apartment. It's been there for weeks. It had great reviews, made a best-seller list, and I saw an extended interview with the author, D. R. Rellomhacs whose gracious elloquence captured my interest. However, as the days proceed, it looks less interesting. This is a trend. In time, it will cease to be interesting. In more time, it will become disinteresting. Even more time and it will become distasteful, gradually repellant, ultimately abhorrent, and should time exceed my life expectancy, the book would no longer exist. I might as well get used to it now and stop reading. OK, I won't read this.
I get up from the chair, the fellow has gone back to shredding by the copy machine. I stroll over to the window and survey the stout buildings that surround this skyscraper, named after some finanicer long deceased, remembered, I suppose, by historians, some students and instructors in architecture schools, and aging family members, but nobody else, certainly not by me, and what, I hear a whistling sound and look to my left and see a form pass by, a man in suit and tie, falling from this 83rd floor. 
"Mr. Swillage!" shrieks the secretary.
I watch the boss descending toward the streets below, flapping his arms, shrinking, shrinking, becoming a grey dot, a silent grey dot. I think, he doesn't look as big as he sounded and he certainly doesn't sound as big as I thought. And wait, where is he, I can't see him anymore. Just a big mushroom-shaped cloud of dust rising from the street below. Toy cars pull up, pot tin people gather around.
Law number four: Words shrink in the distance. Law number five: Words shrink over time.
The secretary turns toward me with red eyes. "Did you say something?"

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What makes a plant rare?

Questions from our readers:
Sully, from Arcadia, asks, "What makes a plant rare?"
I am glad you asked that question, Sully. This reminds me of the words of Pierre Loupgarou, the acclaimed botanist from Mendication University in Skandia. In his classic work, The Growth and Management of Dreams, he wrote: "Rarity is not a condition but a perception that progresses until one is unable to identify anything at all." I would have to agree, although lately, I am not so sure. Have you noticed how the plants in the guidebooks don't always look like the one you have in your hand? Have you noticed that the phenomenon increases as the years go by? There is a simple, elegant explanation. It is your evolutionary process hard at work in the academic community! Yes, although once shielded from the forces of natural selection and genetic drift by a system of entitlements, professional societies, tenure, grants, and mutualism, academia is now rife with adaptations. Like a flood of Norway rats spilling over the gunwale of the Mayflower and swimming toward shore, evolution has invaded the community, resulting in a massive speciation and extinction. Eusocialty, theory diversity, and critical resistance is on the rise. Trophic cascade has impacted pensions, internships, research, funding, staffing, office furniture, even publications. So, it is no surprise to find studies showing that, while plants in the field will stay morphologically and functionally equivalent over time, plants in the professional journals will exhibit gradual changes in morphology over the same period, particularly in reproductive structures. Current theory holds that the rapidly changing conditions now found on campus are a prime factor. Many new species are appearing in the journals; some report as many as one an hour. As a result, it is inevitable that a species will become completely unrecognizable. So take heart, you are not seeing things, in fact, you are not seeing anything at all.

Friday, December 8, 2006

The Healing Properties of Plants

Another reader asks, “Dave, have you ever come across Schmoller’s locoweed, a.k.a. Oxytropis schmolleriaea? Some say it is named after the fabled naturalist, Ogelia Schmoller, but I wonder if you are involved somehow.”

Nary a day passes by without someone asking me if I know Ogelia Schmoller, the fabled naturalist, and if I hear that question one more time I will file charges against her estate for professional harassment. Ah, Ogelia. She was born in Miles City, Montana in 1883 to immigrant parents, raised on a homestead, and educated at a one-room schoolhouse. When her parents froze to death in the blizzard of 1888, her aunt took over her rearing until she dropped out of secondary school, hopped onto a boxcar, and followed her dreams to Butte, Montana. There she settled down in an upstairs flat on Caledonia Street, found a job at the opera house, and established a life rooted in her hometown values of indulgence, insolence, indolence, and, in the end, indigence. She was found by street sweepers, face down in a gutter, hand on a bottle, having lived her dream to the full. Sure, Ogelia was fabled as a naturalist. I can heartily agree with that - she was a natural liar and everything said about her was pure fable. She was gifted. Well, OK, I take that back, it is true - she was a naturalist. She knew all she needed to know about hops and barley and malt and the interaction of microbes with each, and I suppose that makes her a naturalist in some corner of the world and I guess that means my village is full of naturalists, since there is a stream of them pouring out of that bar right now and heading to their cars because it is two in the morning and the joints are closing up for the night so the barmaids can clean up their hypothesis and postulation. Judging by the size of the crowd, there must have been a lot of scientific method going on behind those swinging doors tonight.

Theory: If my wife does not see me drink, does that mean I am sober?
Test: Call the wife and see what she says.
Results: Blame the wife for my problems and go to another bar so she can’t find me.

This is rigorous scientific inquiry by active minds, some of the finest in the land. The potential makes my head swim! Think of it: If this community could be enlisted to tackle the big problems facing mankind, who knows what we could accomplish? Problems like destruction of the rain forest, the melting of polar ice caps, the overharvesting of the oceans could be eliminated. We could find solutions to them all. I get numb all over thinking about it.

Rain forest: Borrow trees from some other country. When they ask for you to pay up, just make empty promises, and be sure to not pay the tab. When they run out of trees, borrow from another country. Repeat the process. There are plenty of countries to go around.
Polar Ice Caps: When someone expresses alarm, tell them that there is a simple explanation, that the earth simply has the flu and is running a little temperature. It will be feeling better in a day or two. No need to worry. Everything will be OK. If they mention the problem again, tell them the same thing. If it is repeated enough times, it becomes common. If it becomes common, it is normal. If it is normal, what is everybody worried about? Somebody is overreacting here and it is not me.
Oceans: This is not our problem. Someone else caused us to do it, and they better get their act together because they have a real problem with overconsumption and I can tell by the way you are talking that you are in denial. You need help.

Come back, Ogelia, come back.