March 31, 2005

the logic of trees

you can buy planters that allow you to grow flowers, tomatoes, herbs, or peppers upside down like so:

which reminded me of an exhibit i saw at mass moca in the berkshires a few years ago called tree logic.

as you can see, it utilizes the same principle: upside-down plants. finally, art that i can get behind. someone named natalie jeremijenko* made it. i don't have any profundity cued up to say about either of these things, just that looking at the growth responses of plants is interesting. it would also be interesting to grow an infant upside-down to the age of 15. you could rig up some sort of moving coat-rack with ankle shackles and let him push himself around with his hands. or maybe design some pedals that move the wheels on the bottom and a rudder-like handle for steering near the base. sure! i'll bet he'd have a swell childhood, playing sports with the other kids and being on shows like dateline and 20/20. i know i would love to be on shows like that! and if you eventually let him down from his contraption he would probably always be cocking his head to the side to look at things and falling down because his leg muscles were underdeveloped. very avant-garde. yes, i will seek taxpayer money from the national endowment for the arts to fund this outrage. i will call him person logic and he will make me famous.

*apparently she also once hooked up a motion detector to the san francisco bay bridge to record the jumpers and then graphed them against the stock market. unless she did this over a few years i doubt that she got anything, the trees are much better.

March 29, 2005

public service announcement

it has recently come to my attention that two handbooks of particle physics are available free of charge to anyone who requests them. a nifty pocket-size reference of everything currently known about the elementary particles, and an enormous tome that nobody in their right mind would want. i don't know why they do this or who pays for them but this is exactly the way the world should work. even if i didn't like physics i think i would get one, just because i could.

hold your applause.

March 28, 2005


so the whole puking-under-duress thing is a fiction. at least, it is vastly overrepresented in film and television. tonight i was watching “grey’s anatomy” (some cloned doctor show…this is what having no cable does to you) and the inexperienced interning physician is overwhelmed by a situation. after demonstrating her youthful inadequacy and dramatically tromping away from the scene does she weep uncontrollably? of course not, she vomits. by now it hardly seems unusual…but it should. sudden uncontrollable nausea is quite abnormal, how did it become the standard cinematic reaction to bad news or emotional strife?

apparently, the puke is a by-product of the woman’s lib movement and can be traced back to a single moment in film history. as the story goes, some 1970’s movie (maybe woody allen) called for a particularly traumatic breakup, for the woman at least. the question was how she ought to react. fearing that a crying girlfriend would be deemed inappropriate in a feminist era where female leads were charged with projecting strength, they chose instead to have her character vomit into a streetcorner trashcan. although i’m sketchy on specifics here, i am reasonably sure that this choice went on to achieve a fair degree of notice, due to the fact that it was pretty original back then. sure, i’ve thrown up after hours of worrying about something, but never suddenly and without warning. i think though that people started believing that it was normal because they see it in movies and on tv, thus perpetuating the myth, despite none of these people ever having seen or experienced it. now emotional vomit is everywhere and no one gives it a second thought. astonishingly, it’s like this behavior which has never been commonplace has somehow gained widespread acceptance and the perception of normality due to its highly desirable film qualities. compared with crying it’s quick, dramatic and it doesn’t make anyone look ugly. and of course it doesn’t mess with any politically incorrect assumptions about women as criers.

March 27, 2005

who are these people?

so what is the deal with those parts of seinfeld routines that have obvious flaws? i love his comedy and show as much as anyone else and have probably taken the whole glibness-as-a-lifestyle thing (perfected therein) a little too far myself; and yet, there are a few things in his old stand-up act that really get to me.

what makes me wonder is that he has done these same jokes so much that someone had surely already answered his (purportedly) rhetorical questions by now. for instance, his bit about the mug shots on wanted posters. “why don’t they just keep him there when they’re taking his picture?” simple, because those are from previous arrests. could he really think the police are this stupid, or is he implying that they should have expected those people to commit more crimes? the important thing is that sooner or later someone must have explained the problems with this and he kept doing the joke anyway. another one: “the black-boxes are the only things surviving these crashes, so why don’t they just make the entire plane out of the same thing?” because data recorders are made of steel and planes are aluminum. a black-box plane would be much too heavy to fly. and “how do they know the exact day when milk is going to turn?” no time to look this up? it doesn’t sound that sophisticated, they probably just do bacteria cultures every day until the milk goes bad.

what percentage of his audiences knew the answers to these questions? i would wager a fair amount, and yet he stuck to them, even after he learned too. i don't appriciate that feigned ignorance. there is something wrong with a bunch of people having a laugh about how they don't understand something simple. i mean, c’mon, what is the deal with that?

March 26, 2005


and now, for no particular reason, some obscure words begining with the letter 's':

sapid -a. flavorsome, lively, interesting (opposite of vapid, insipid)

scholarch -n. the head of a school

sempiternal -a. eternal

stridor -n. a harsh grating or creaking sound (so that's where that comes from...)

spermatoid -a. resembling sperm

sphragistics -n. the study of engraved seals

spinaceous -a. of or pertaining to spinach

lack of curiosity

overheard the other day between two old ladies in a restaurant:

"so does advertising really work?"

"yes, of course it does. why do you think we have tv?"

"what do you mean?"

"television is free because advertisers pay for the commercials on it."


somehow this woman had managed to view thousands of hours of free entertainment without ever wondering where it came from. to be so oblivious is surely a gift.

March 25, 2005


my father is a reserved, organized kind of guy. he arrives early for everything, researches all purchases over $100 extensively, and sends all manner of forms in on time. fortunately, some of it has even rubbed off on me, but i’m not even in the same league as my father when it comes to handling the little technicalities of life. nobody is. he is working on a whole other level compared to us mortals. he should have his own line of desktop calendars and sticky notes.

he’s a hospital chemist, one of the guys in pathology who runs blood tests, fixes the testing machines when they break down and so on. in college, he got an a in organic chemistry. you know, the class that everyone fails because it’s about memorizing molecule types and figuring out countless reactions that are completely abstract and unfamiliar. hobby?: cooking. chemistry with food. always having the correctly sized bowls, remembering to wipe down a cutting board after raw meat was on it, rigging up sauces with different ingredients because he can predict what the combinations will taste like.

even though my father seems very well suited for his job, i sometimes think that the world could be better using his talents in other ways. air traffic controller, city planner, etc. he could easily be a senator, but he would be an old-school one with no aides who does everything himself and sleeps like 3 hours a day.

if bill-paying, direction-finding, calendar-making, phone number-remembering, and punctuality were olympic sports he would have a neatly marked bin of medals that he always kept in the same drawer.

and the best thing is that talking to him you would have no clue that he was this super-organized robot of a person. he wears cheap shirts, takes awkward pauses, sometimes talks too loudly, and doesn’t project that breezy confidence that most of those 7-habits-of-highly-effective-people people use to stick it to the rest of us. my dad isn’t sticking it to anyone, unless the it is a post-it note, and the anyone is his microwave.

which is why it was so funny when he accidentally treated a few of us like post-its one night. when asked how he managed to eat only several chocolates a day from a recent gift-box he replied simply, without any hint of conceit or smugness, “i have self-control.” awkward pause. and he does.

March 22, 2005

all the news that's fit to ignore

so i’m pretty much fed up with people getting extraordinary news coverage for stuff which is not particularly unusual. robert blake, scott peterson, joan binet-ramsey, the brain-dead feeding-tube lady. i hate these people. they are not special. they’re just rich or white or good-looking. i don’t care who they are or what they did. just like i don’t care specifically about the thousands of equally “interesting” human interest/tragedy stories happening everyday in the world. just like i don’t care how many americans were on a plane that crashed in indonesia. i didn’t know them, why is it more of a tragedy that they were from this country? isn’t it still tragic if the were from indonesia?

so-and-so was marginally famous? incredible, i must know every detail of their impending trial. he was rich but threw it all away in a moment of dread horror? wonderful, i will read about this every day in the newspaper and imagine what it would be like if i was rich and a criminal.

it bothers me when the thing going on is supposed to be “thought-provoking,” like this schivo woman is supposed to be. sure it’s thought provoking...if you are actually involved. otherwise you shouldn’t care. it’s none of your business. who doesn’t have an opinion on euthanasia already? or worse yet: so-called “important” people who commit regular crimes, especially when “important” means “i’ve never heard of them.” like the whole "they had a perfect life, it’s so awful that this kind of thing happened to them.” murders are supposed to happen to ghetto people? what’s the fucking difference who it is or how great their life was beforehand? and this isn’t even the whole racism/classism complaint that people always have, it’s more of a “why would i want to know about them?” which is really just my regular problem with news anyway: if it’s not happening to people i know and it isn’t intrinsically interesting somehow why would i want to know about it? they might just be making the whole broadcast up, i would never know.

that said, i still felt a whole lot safer when martha stewart was in jail.

March 18, 2005

after dinner last night my absent-minded mother was loading the dishwasher and i spotted about 15 identical black bowls.

“what are those?”

“they’re the food bowls for the cats”

“that’s like me with underwear”

“i don’t want to know…”

“um, no, it’s nothing bad. i’m just saying that i have a lot of underwear since i don’t like doing laundry. it looks like you’re the same way with the cat bowls.”

“ok. for a second i thought that you were implying something gross.”

“no. what would be gross is if i saw you washing a single bowl, then came over and said ‘that’s like me with underwear.’”

March 17, 2005

sox and violence, part II

warning: this contains a reference to game 6 of the 1986 world series. i promise that it isn’t one of those maudlin “we popped the champagne, woke up the kids, and then wept like little girls.” stories that you’ve all heard a hundred times.

my cousin chuck is a great guy. he’s my mother’s age and in addition to some kind of day job he’s also a pianist and writer with several novels under his belt. whenever he comes to visit he’s always the most interesting person in the room, regaling my easily-impressed relatives with stories that actually go somewhere and jokes that actually have punch lines (not a talent in my family).

a rhode islander by birth, at some point in the eighties he moved out to california. when the 1986 world series rolled around he got together with some of his fellow ri expatriates, newly settled on the west coast with california wives, to watch the games. of course, as far as the baseball goes, we all know the story. after they had finished losing game 6 my cousin and his friends were sitting in the living room, silent and unhappy. the wives, who are west coast people of course, not baseball fans, and obviously not sensing what a crushing loss these fellows had just endured, are neither interested in or effected by what had just happened. then, in a ill-fated attempt to buoy the mood, one of these stepford robots chirped the inauspicious phrase that has never, ever, made anyone feel better in all of recorded history:

“lighten up guys, it’s just a game!

crack! thud.

she was knocked unconscious by her husband.

and that was the end of that marriage.

addendum: obviously, the point is that it's shocking that my cousin's friend was so unstable and violent. in another shocking example of red sox fanaticism-- some people, older, more “devoted” individuals from a certain upper-right-hand area of the map think that the punchline of this sorted tale is supposed to be the wife's remark, and the inopportune moment at which it was uttered. they pass a muted “oh, but he shouldn’t have hit her, i suppose…” through their lips as an afterthought.

March 15, 2005


...the ides of march. whenever the hell that is.

in the spirit of repeating stuff that was probably only funny at the time. and i mean really funny (at the time) i'm going with a few recent gems from my no-nonsense recent gem machine, the girlfriend.

[if i had readers i would apologize for not updating more recently, it has been exam time here. but the only people reading this are those perverts who skim from blog-to-blog at random and vast legions of anonymous people of the future who will have this as required reading in high school. someday blogs will be recognized as an important form of literature and i as its pioneering voice who died well before his time. of course, to them i apologize for the apology, since, as they are no doubt learning in their classes, that kind of thing is poor form.]

on the 9th i mentioned to the girlfriend that it was the "nones of march," explaining the roman calendar and feeling proud of myself for remembering that it was the nones. "beware the nones of march," i joked. no reaction. "you know, like 'beware the ides of march' but with the weirdo day that no one remembers?"

"what are the ides of march?"

"you know, like, caeser?"


"caesar? the guy said to him 'beware the ides of march' and then he got killed? and 'ides of march' because like a metaphor for ambition? did you go to school?"

"public school"

"oh...well it's common knowledge."

"no it isn't"

"go up to anyone and ask them. any one of these tables here." (we were in a food court).

"ok, i'm sure that no one will. it's so obscure."

at this point she gets up, looks around the room for the scraggliest, most ill-kept hippy-type individual she can find and asks him when the ides of march is. oh, he knew it. and he didn't even have to give it any thought. bam! like some big hippy almanac of classics knowledge. or, come to think of it: regular knowledge.

the other beautiful moment came when we somehow got onto the topic of those huge carnival celebrations that they have down in south america. i said something about how i would love to go to one but hadn't tried on my humongous imaginary frog suit recently and didn't know if it would still fit. then something about how badly out of place i would look at one of those carnivals.

"oh, i'm sure if you worked out for a year..."

i cut her off. "a year?! one full year?

"oh yeah, well people down there take it really seriously."

"where did you come up with that? just how out of shape do you think i am?"

so apparently my girlfriend thinks i need a year of exercise before i can be seen in public. incredible really. why she's going out with me with such high physical standards i have no idea. i mean, i'm no fitness champ, but i'm also not the 500-pound man. i think that the body-type most suiting me is "baseball pitcher." i've got the height, the sort of unwieldy arms and legs, and the abdomen with absolutely no chance of seeing a sit-up in the near future. its the classic baseball physique. it would be nice to be actually good at the sport but i'll take what i can get. the important thing is that i am well suited to play the young curt schilling body-double in the upcoming movies.

March 11, 2005

just wondering

somehow i have managed to hear at least 3 references to kennedy's alleged cheating in the 1960 election in the past week. all in the form of "well jfk wouldn't have won if his dad hadn't paid off daly..." or "illinois fraud which may have titled the election..." what no one mentions though is that even if kennedy had lost illinois he would have won the presidency. what's up with that? sure it would be interesting to know if he really did cheat (if you're into that kind of thing...which, actually, i'm not) but it's irrelevant. the vote was 303-219, ill. was only 27. i don't even think a lot of the people who casually bring this up realize that. and i am talking about documentaries and tv programs here. they always throw in that line about a suspicious illinois while talking about how close 1960 was, and it sounds as though it was decisive...but you know, it wasn't. not that i care or anything.

i bet it was a nice one

caught up in the whirlwind of late-night pain and lowered expectations that is exam season i have only this small tidbit to offer:

as children are wont to do, i would often become fascinated with some found object while playing in the park or walking around with my dad. a discarded ball or something. but of course children cannot be allowed to simply touch or keep everything they find lying around since they have no sense of cleanliness. my father's discouragement, however, was quite unique, and upon later reflection, probably improperly phrased. it was, on more than one occasion, as follows:

"you don't know what dog pooped on that."

not "you don't know if a dog pooped on that" or the classic "you don't know where that's been." (what it lacks in imagination it makes up for in broadness). no, there was always the rhetorical implication that the issue of whether dog poop was somehow involved had been settled already and we were moving straight ahead to the identity of the canine. what is perhaps more intersting is that this was not merely a single instance of confused thought-expression. my father uttered this phrase many times, even in other situations. maybe he said it by mistake once and thought it was clever enough to keep using, i don't know. i also don't know why i never thought to tell him that i was, in fact, aware of the dog involved and had his approval to keep my prized object.

March 6, 2005

sox and violence, part I

last december, after i had completed my work for the term, i was unwinding at one of the frats here on campus with a friend of mine who had also finished his exams. we were doing the usual post-exam-celebratory frat thing, playing beer pong. one of the guys we were playing against was harassing me the whole time for wearing a red sox hat. for the purposes of anonymity and mocking stupid frat nick-names i will refer to him throughout as "g-nads." clearly, g-nads was upset about new york’s recent choke job, and a tad inebriated. at first, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

1st 15 minutes: playful ribbing, apparent self-depreciation. joking spirit appreciated by all.
2nd 15 minutes: bizarre need to keep the topic alive, light cursing. what seem to be mock insults. behavior still barely within acceptable range.
3rd 15 minutes: profanity-laden speech. furtive glances of concern by friends having no effect. suspect puts down proper wooden paddle and begins using flat rock instead. attempt to conceal hostility through mask of sarcasm unsuccessful and disturbing.

thankfully, at this point, the game ends and we head upstairs for a while. my friend, who is a member of this fraternal organization, tries to reassure me that his frat-mate is a decent person who is well known for his playful aggressiveness. i’m unconvinced. in what way can you be a nice guy whose actions reflect the total opposite? you don’t just earn “nice guy” status for life and then get permission to go around insulting strangers. that is when you cease to be a nice guy. (on a side note, this is why i loathe the greek system. you are required to stand up for the people in your little club no matter how awful they are. it’s so phony. from a random sampling of 30 individuals there have got to be at least 5 that you hate. why would you want to be permanently attached to a group of people that might end up sucking later?) i wasn’t particularly bothered that g-nads was bashing the sox; after all, they did win, and this was just sort of reminding me. and it’s not as though i personally drove a stake through his heart, i’m just from new england. that he was so upset seemed more pathetic than offensive. i don’t even care if someone likes the yankees, as long as they’re originally from new york (fair-weather fans from other places, on the other hand, should be put out to sea on a boat full of zombies). nonetheless, these people seem to attach an inordinate amount of self-esteem to the success of their team.

anyway, i didn’t even mention any of this stuff to our vituperative friend. i just figured it would make him madder if i didn’t seem to care. i was right. besides, limiting myself to more concise responses was just easier.

“see you in another 86 years”
“when scientists have designed super-steroids that keep jason giambi alive forever?”

“we still have 25 more trophies than you.”
“umm, what did you think that 1918 chant was about?”

“fuck you fucking sox fan.”
“karate chop!

those are a cleaner than average sampling of what he sounded like. anyway, to my great amusement, all my absentminded taciturnity did was inflame his anger, and by the time we left g-nads was steaming.

then we made the mistake of going back downstairs. well, it wasn't a huge mistake, since nothing bad really ended up happening, but still. as we walked into the room we could hear him say into his cell phone “…so do you think i should punch this kid in the face? yeah, he’s some kind of fuckin’ rhode islander or something…” i'm one kind alright. seems like a little regional hostility here. am i going to get in a fight? i don’t want to be in a fight. if i was going to be in a fight i would want it to be the kind where i am mad at them. i am not interested in altercating with this drunken kid about a bunch of games that my side won. the only possible outcomes are: (a) i beat up g-nads, continue to feel good about alcs, (b) he wins, gets satisfaction of hurting sox fan, or (c) we tie, bringing me down to his level. my disinterest in fighting had really aggravated g-nads, and i was quite glad that new yorkers were feeling at least a small fraction of the pain that we’ve had to put up with over the years. it’s definitely what they deserve. and this lunatic trying to pummel me 2 months after the alcs put a late exclamation point on october. we had finally had those vainglorious yankees to hating us back! if he were actually mad enough to hit me, i would be thrilled. i got the feeling that my hardcore-sox-fan pre-2004-deceased grandfather would have savored a moment like this, and would have eagerly wished such a punching on his progeny.

at this point g-nads decides his provocation-at-a-distance thing isn’t working and opts to go into what can only be described as full “getting all up in my face” mode. Of course, the only appropriate response is full "crazy accent" mode.

“listen pal, the spankees blew it this ye-ah. go beat up jetah, not me. i don’t care that you’re mad, get ovah it...also, a-rod slaps balls.”

“hey geech [or insert second stupid frat nick-name here], do you think i should punch this guy?”

geech’s reply: “i don’t think so g-nads, he didn’t do anything and you are too wasted to judge your actions appropriately.”

g-nads: “he wore a boston hat in my basement, that’s what he did!”

[tears off my hat, throws it across room]

[tackles me to the ground]

me: “wicked awesome!”

oh what a sweet day it was when all i had to do to infuriate a new yorker was wear a cap with a "b" on it. that was when it hit me (quite literally) that life was finally different in new england.

March 4, 2005

look out america!

i have often wondered: what would hitler have looked like had he been made of office supplies? this wwii poster finally answers that question. it also reminds us how lucky we are that americans were able to save their paper clips and erasers. had they not, the world doubtlessly would have been overpowered by these scrap paper fuhrers and their army of three-reich binders.

March 3, 2005

fervent uncertainty

i have a lot of opinions that are vehement but undecided. for example: pennies. are they such a small unit of currency that i find them too annoying to deal with? do i think the penny ought to be abolished, or do i think they are legal tender goddamn it, and they have a non-zero value? not to mention how silly it would be to have a system of dollars and cents where a single cent is an abstract concept (like the lira became). this indecision may lead you to believe that i don’t care. nothing could be further from the truth. i care vehemently; i just don’t know which way. i vacillate between passionately hating pennies and passionately wanting to stand up for them.

but this goes well beyond pennies. i am in the position of undecided vehemence on the issue of those livestrong bracelets. on the one hand they are a stupid trend that people use to demonstrate their commitment to one dollar charitable donations. on the other hand, the bracelet people are exploiting this trendiness for a good cause. coercing pretentious jerks to give to cancer research, i can appreciate that. and then again ‘livestrong’? annoying name. wearing a bracelet that says “i’m against cancer and not living life to the fullest!”? annoying sentiment. then again, medical research is the probably the best kind of charity, and you can never really go wrong there. then again again, lance armstrong is wicked irritating.

(i almost found myself in a pickle with the wwjd bracelets too. even being a hardcore atheist i have to admit that people acting the way they think jesus acted would be nice. of course, nobody really started doing that, and it just turned into a superficial fad among a more religious core audience. when you see someone wearing a wwjd shirt and furiously waving a sign that says “god hates fags!” you know that the message isn’t exactly getting through.)

i have this problem with oil drilling in alaska as well but for a different reason. i had a friend in high school that was from alaska, and the two of us agreed about everything. we would spend like 3 hours every night chatting and never failed to see the other’s point of view. it was wonderful, and always edifying (in fact, this is where my views on pennies first originated--probably copped from him). we had this whole conversational zen thing going on, where we knew how to tell when the other knew more than we did and it was time to back down. there wasn’t any kind of pride involved in debates. and he had a very strong opinion on oil drilling. the problem is that i have no idea whether he was for or against it. i have completely forgotten. all i know is that he was well-informed, and had insider info about one of the sides misrepresenting something really important. not to mention that he was, in fact, from alaska. and he was not at all ideological, so i can’t get any clues from that. he was pretty big on the environment, but he knew more science than most environmentalists, (he was aware, for instance, that only the recycling programs that conserve energy are worthwhile. not enough people respect the laws of thermodynamics.) he loved the unmolested wilderness in the west, but i’m sure he wouldn’t object to drilling if the reasons against it were baloney.

in any case, i don’t even care about this kind of thing, but from time to time i’ll hear someone talking about it, or see an article in one of the student newspapers and feel all aloof, like “i know for absolute certain that the person writing this is wrong…if they disagree with dan.” as in the other cases, i have absolute confidence on this issue, i just don’t know what i think.

once i built my own thermometer. it was a tic-tac box with water in it, but don't let that fool you. it told the temperature exactly. when it was liquid the temperature was exactly above 32ยบ fahrenheit, when ice, the temperature was exactly below it.

March 2, 2005

my mother never believes anything is really her fault. that’s why last summer, when she returned movies from “the video zone” to the night drop box at “blockbuster” she was baffled as to why blockbuster couldn’t just take them back to the other video rental place. “after all,” she opined, “they are both video stores.” she discovered her error when she tried to rent movies from video zone and learned there was a $50 late fee, “outrageous!” to her. she had returned them to somewhere. it should still count! “why don’t they just take them back for me?” as though it was their fault for confusing her by being the second video store in our town. then, even after she knew what was going on, and that her movies were in the wrong location, she insisted that blockbuster take care of it, even if that meant paying for them to do so. too much dignity to take a 2 minute drive to ferry them back to their home apparently; believing that doing this for her was written about somewhere in the video rental store handbook. she has never gone back to the place with the late fee as a way of avoiding paying for it. and she has never quite recovered from the incident. neither, it seems, has “video zone.” last time i went i saw a sign above the night drop: “make sure that you are returning to the correct store, we cannot be held responsible for patrons who pay more at blockbuster…” and i knew who they were talking about: my mother (who never makes mistakes).

March 1, 2005

neutrinos, they are very small

every subdivision of physics and astronomy has a little poem or literary verse with which it is always accompanied. in cosmology, the chapter about the eventual fate of the universe always starts off with "fire and ice" by robert frost:

some say the world will end in fire,
some say in ice.
from what i’ve tasted of desire
i hold with those who favor fire.
but if it had to perish twice,
i think i know enough of hate
to know that for destruction ice
is also great
and would suffice.

you see, the friedmann equation predicts that either the universe will expand forever and get really cold, or it will recollapse on itself, heating up as it does so. well gee golly, using this poem is so clever! because it happens to be just like what might happen in the real world, so let’s put it in every single astronomy textbook from now on!

and how could we learn relativity without this quasi-accurate gem from h. g. wells' the time machine?:
"there are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of space, and a fourth, time. there is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives."

"that," said a very young man, making spasmodic efforts to relight his cigar over the lamp; "that..very clear indeed."

then there is neutrino physics, and, of course, "cosmic gall" by john updike:

neutrinos, they are very small.
they have no charge and have no mass
and do not interact at all.
the earth is just a silly ball
to them, through which they simply pass,
like dustmaids down a drafty hall
or photons through a sheet of glass.
they snub the most exquisite gas,
ignore the most substantial wall,
cold shoulder steel and sounding brass,
insult the stallion in his stall,
and, scorning barriers of class,
infiltrate you and me. like tall
and painless guillotines they fall
down through our heads into the grass.
at night, they enter at nepal
and pierce the lover and his lass
from underneath the bed—you call
it wonderful; i call it crass.

this one is actually my favorite because updike wrote it about the neutrino, not about something that just happened to vaguely apply to the neutrino. plus, neutrinos are not the most famous, showiest particle. they don't get the big sneaker-endorsement deals, and that's ok with them. they're the "just happy to be here" particle. not showing off, not falling behind. not interacting with anything. it makes me happy that he noticed.

which brings me to my point, aspiring writers take notice: compose a verse about an obscure area of physics and the world shall be yours. your name will live on as a footnote under the chapter titles in countless textbooks; and your work repeated in lectures by an even larger number of goofy professors who think they are being clever. it doesn't even have to be a poem, it might just be a snappy saying, like "you can never step in the same river twice" (time direction) or "abandon all hope ye who enter here" (black holes). why shouldn't there be poems about neutrinos anyway? there are billions of them flying through your body at this very instant, and only if you live to be 80 is it likely that a single neutrino will interact with one of your atoms! there are doubtless hundreds of similes and metaphors and stuff that you can make about this. i don't know what they are, because i'm not arty or creative, but i know that they must exist.

yes, apparently that's how it works

a few weeks ago at a party i spotted a friend of mine (who happens to prefer the company of men) wearing a shirt that said "recruiter" across the front in rainbow-striped capitals. the following conversation ensued:

"outstanding shirt. very ironic."

"thanks. a friend of mine has another one. we've abducted kids taking tours of the college."

"do you ever have the impulse to put it on and hang around middle schools while the parents are picking up their kids? that would be, like, twice as ironic."

"yeah, i guess, but i don't think it would have would the desired effect"

beware the kalends of march

i like all the old fashioned roman terms for the different parts of the month. (1st is the kalends, 9th and 15th are the nones and the ides usually). in fact, i would like to start writing them on my checks. i would like to start writing checks too. i wonder if they would have to accept them...

for at least the past three years i remember where i was when febuary turned to march. the two winteryest of the winter months are definitely my least favorite, not so much for the cold, but rather the general bleakness. its the knowledge that anything decent is way way off on the horizon. you have all these fun holidays in the fall, capped off by new years and then its two months of let-downs. mlk was the man, but his holiday seriously needs some kind of traditional event. (shake hands with your black friends? too awkward. contemplate america's sad history of racism and slavery? did it already, i get it, its depressing. punch a southerner in the stomach? getting warmer...) valentine's day is terrible as well, a phony goddamn card holiday. sucky for obvious reasons when you're alone, irritating to me when you're with someone as well, since you have to make a big show out of being in love because you're told to do so by the calendar. seems so disingenuous to me but no girls ever think this way. then there's president's day. i don't expect any from this one except maybe a day off (which i surely won't get) but it does bother me that they combined washington and lincoln, each probably deserves their own day. plus, doesn't altering the name lump them together with a bunch of mediocre presidents? there isn't anything worth celebrating about the office of president, there have been as many good ones as bad. they should designate a "loser day" for all the stooges that have run the country, and make it like a big cautionary holiday. recognizing flaws is just as important as honoring greatness. they could talk about nixon, harding and jackson, plus you know that the not-in-power political party would get all sassy and funny about including the current president in the festivities. and he, meanwhile would look really uncomfortable no matter what he was doing on that day. it would be great!

march however brings at least the promise of some improvement. it might still be cold and snowy, but usually the first decent weather comes in march. there is a spring break, an equinox and st. patrick's day (finally a winner!) and someone always brings up the ides. i won't go overboard here, because surely if i do something terrible will happen to me, but after febuary and january its a huge improvement. bring on the nones!