Thursday, March 29, 2007

Meditation upon the mosquito

Consider the lowly mosquito.

What empires this wretched insect has helped to topple, what military campaigns has it sapped!

Who wouldn’t wish for its extinction, this vector of annoyance, debilitation and disease?

It joins the list of loathsomes one might hold up to argue against the existence of an All-wise, loving Creator.

But it also seems to me to present a challenge to the doctrines of evolution.

You see, some opponents of evolution will say that a trait, such a wing, could not gradually evolve, because it would serve no purpose until it reached its final stage of development. What good is a wing that doesn’t work for flight?

The counter: a wing-in-progress might not be developed enough to enable flight in the purest sense, but a survival advantage could still be conferred by its use in simple gliding or slowing a fall.

I can agree with that.

But what of the mosquito’s blood-seeking snout?

It appears to be evolved from some ancestral tool used for drinking plant juices, the way the male’s still is.

But how could there be an intermediate stage between sipping plants and sipping animal blood? And if there wasn’t, we are forced to conclude that one day, millions of years ago, a mutant mosquito was born with a sharper, fully-functional probiscus, as well as the instict to jab it into some critter’s flesh to ante up her protein supply.

From whence came that instinct, which has no apparent connection to any genes responsible for sharp-snout manufacture? Without that instinct, she’d just keeping on drinking sap despite her new, sharper needle.
Did the sharper needle come first and provide an advantage in tapping plants? Did some later mosquito with brain damage and a pointier probiscus get a little confused at some later point and jab a dinosaur when she meant to jab a fern frond? Could a genetic predisposition for animal-plant confusion have thus been passed on to her progeny, who out-competed their cousins whose eggs were nurtured only on sap, and who then passed the instinct along?

Nasty Nanook

I added another useless bit of trivia to my collection this week: Polar bears will happily eat their own kind.

It's the male bears who indulge in such gruesome grotesquery and they pick off baby polar bears, since grown polar bears aren't so easy to dispatch.

This is supposedly a higher species, a creature of great intelligence, not some google-eyed fish with a brain the size of a booger, that could be expected to do such a thing.

In fact, the big boys will stalk a cub for hours through snow and storm, until the exhausted little thing drops to the ground, unable to go on.

Doesn't seem a wise idea for the survival of one's species.

Then again, lions kill lion cubs, too. Not for food but to ensure that only their specific genes get passed on.

Sometimes, life is beautiful, breaktaking. Sometimes it's disgusting.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

College nostalgia

I had occasion last night to visit a university in my city. I've long known it was there and wanted to explore it, but just never got around to doing so until now.

If some advanced alien race is ever on the verge of annihilating humanity as a dangerous, useless cosmic parasite, perhaps we can offer our invention of the university in our defense.

I loved my years there, except for finals weeks. I had to work hard to get there and stay there -- three jobs just to pay the bills. So I had no time or energy for keg parties and all that crap. I took the absolute max number of credits that the university would allow me, even though everyone thought I was nuts, and it did about kill me. They stretched my not-so-brilliant mind until it literally did ache.

And I made sure to also take some out-of-the-ordinary courses just for fun, like Bulgarian and botany.

Is there any other place on earth where youthful naivette and intense wisdom so freely mingle? Where arrogance and humility, incredible tolerance and ridiculous intolerance are so freely evident? Where a poor kid from some distant village can sit in the same classroom with a sun-tanned daddy's girl/mama's boy from an exclusive gated community and compete for the same grade?

I prowled every corner of my university -- its art displays and mysterious corners, its every field and building, its every possibility, from the law library to the farm where new strains of plants were being grown.

I miss that energy, that vitality, that wonderful place so much.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Summer dreamin'

It's Monday. The developed world drives to work. Most of said developed world appears to be on the same freeway as me, driving poorly.

It's March. It's cold. We long for sunshine, blue skies and an escape from this daily grind.

Sunshine is in the car now beside me, with its vanity plate reading chx2obx.

In license-plate speak, that either means, Checks to Outer Banks, meaning that the lovely blonde is still paying the bills for her last vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, USA; or, more likely, Chicks to Outer Banks.

Which would be a wistful/hopeful/delightful statement, along the lines of telling the world that she and her girlfriends know where to go to have summertime fun.

A glamorous, long, all-white cigarette burns in her fingers, a pretty sight indeed, and a little consolation awarded to herself for having faced the Monday blues. For a moment I imagine her taking the exit to Carolina instead of Town X, heading to the beach instead of to work, shedding her office wear for something a lot more comfortable and sandproof, parking her suntan lotion, a cold drink and a pack of her favorite cigarettes in the warm sand, stretching out beneath the sun and wiggling her toes, reading a beach book and looking radiant and lovely.

But she is a Responsible Citizen and takes the Town X exit and I continue down the dreary freeway to my own Responsible Citizen destination.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Expectorator

Weird Internet discovery of the day.
I like it. It's slightly disturbing, as is most of the artist's (Kim Simonsson) work. It's definitely not kitchsy like a Precious Moment or incomprehensible and annoying like a so-called modern art paint splatter.
It juxtaposes conflicting concepts in a bizzare fashion (cute little girl; unsettling, ghostly complexion; and decidedly uncute creation by said little girl of a long strand of saliva.)
Like Munch's Scream, it's devastatingly original and clearly not the product of a pretentious non-talent hiding behind the modern art label.

Monday, March 19, 2007

When does it end?

As I was walking out of the grocery the other day, I saw a mother and daughter heading for their car.

The mother walked slowly, ponderously, straight forward, a small grocery bag in each hand. The daughter, who was maybe seven, skipped, scampered and ran in joyous circles.

When does it end?

When does the un-self-conscious spontaneity of childhood end? When do we stop skipping and start plodding? What would the world be like if we could delay its departure indefinitely?

Perhaps you say: Someone has to carry the groceries.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Something all thinking people should read

I adored this show growing up. And to think it may have been a socialist conspiracy. Gasp.

I actually arose before dawn on Saturday mornings just to watch it. Back in the day, that's what you had to do to catch a good cartoon -- there was no cable cartoon channel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Last gripe of the day -- outdated stereotypes passing unchallenged

Today, I was hoping to find some web clip art to illustrate a page for my job that had to do with bilingual tutors.

Imagine my irritation and frustration when every site onto to which I typed Hispanic, if they had anything at all, featured the same things: some exaggerated, bandito-looking guy with a big, black handlebar moustache; a flamenco dancer; a cactus; or various items of quasi-Hispanic food.

Nowhere was there any clip art showing Hispanic characters going about normal, daily, 21st-century life, although a few photo sites had such material. No children reading or parents parenting; no Hispanic characters typing on a computer or carrying a briefcase or leading a business discussion.

When it comes to Internet art, apparently we still live in Speedy Gonzales' world. Que malo!

Somebody killed the Easter Bunny

Upon exiting my neighborhood this morning, making the very sharp turn where the posted speed limit is 20 mph, what to my wandering eyes should appear, but a rabbit, flattened in the left lane.

I pondered how anyone could accidently,while driving anywhere close to 20 mph (on a road with little traffic and few distractions) run over a rabbit, one of the fastest creatures around. And I'm not superstitious, but to kill a bunny so close to Easter just seems like a bad omen.

I'm an admitted speed demon on the freeway, but even I am quite aware that children, not just small critters such as that unfortunate rabbit, inhabit neighborhoods and people too stupid or distracted to slow down and pay attention in such areas, should have their drivers licenses burnt to ash, their nose hairs plucked and their behinds permanently exiled to the city bus system.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cars -- our modern slaves

I hate cars. I love my car. I am conflicted.

I am an automobile addict. I'm just like those nineteenth century folk who recognized the evils of slavery but couldn't imagine how to maintain their lifestyle without it.

I hate making my way to work through a dead zoo of squirrels, cats, dogs and deer, left to rot on the asphalt after being crushed by some driver -- maybe a pyscho dirtbag who got a thrill from it, or maybe by some quiet librarian on her way home from work who couldn't swerve in time.

Although I've come close, I can say, knock on wood, that I have yet to kill an animal with my car. I dread the day when it finally does happen.

Our eight-lane death-rivers make life unimaginably harder for everything but vultures, cutting off ancient migration routes and water access, introducing terror and confusion and merciless, endless traffic where not so long ago, cool breezes blew through shady forests.

I hate how the modern American community is absolutely dependent on the automobile and how one takes his or her life into his or her hands attempting to be a pedestrian. And when the darn thing breaks down, unless one is blessed with wealth, all other concerns go on hold and your existence is at the mercy of the guys at the repair shop.

I think of the Beatles, famously cursing Sir Walter Raleigh as "such a stupid get" for introducing the world to the pleasures and perils of tobacco -- and I in turn curse Henry Ford, who introduced the common man to the automobile.

But I love being able to cruise down a country road on a sunny day, go where I want, stop where and when I want, something that is almost impossible on public transportation.

Beauty and Biology

Most people know by now, of the studies that have found biological backing for the traditional categories of human "beauty." Wide hips and firm breasts on a woman signify fertility and health, hence a greater chance that a male who chooses her for a mate will have healthier, more viable offspring. Facial symetry indicates absence of disease or defects that could impact health or lifespan, or be passed on to offspring. Youth is desirable over age.

And women select a man who will be strong, resourceful and able to defend her and her offspring from dangers.

It actually gets more complicated -- at various times in her cycle, a woman leans more towards a man who is nurturing as opposed to rugged. And when a man falls in love with a woman, his testosterone level actually goes down.

Yet, in today's society, a man or a woman who chooses a potential mate only on the biological characteristics noted above -- in other words, is doing exactly what nature programs him or her to do, for the survival of the species -- earns disgust and scorn for being "shallow."

And on the opposite spectrum, modern high fashion favors models, female at least, who are so stick thin and unhealthy that they probably couldn't deliver a Barbie doll baby without a C-section and it would then starve attempting to suckle its mother's atrophied mammary glands.

Just some thoughts a-spinning.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The pitch of spring

Walking past a small grove in the city today, I caught the fragrance of spring. Not tulips or lilac or some such prosaic thing. No, for me the smell of spring is pine resin.

The trees bathe in the newly potent sunshine and the unmistakable aroma carries me off to mountain trails and moments of leisure.

Ancient pine resin, I am told, is responsible for today's petrochemical industry -- everything from the juice in your ride to the plastic wrap for your lunch.

It's powerful stuff. Apparently, one species of pine, the Jeffrey Pine of California, has a slightly different -- and explosive -- chemical composition to its resin than its sisters in the needle-branch tribe. Turpentine makers out there kept having their factories blow up until they figured that out.

I'm thankful for Darlene in Chinese

Okay, that headline will make sense if you perservere to the end of the post.

I bought Chinese food for lunch today. And in doing so, wondered again how I might say thank you in Chinese. Finally remembered my inquiry long enough to look it up on the computer. Xie xie. Pronounced like she-she, but with the tongue lower down in the mouth than if a typical American were to speak.

Turns out to also be a venerable Chinese family name, with variations depending on location. Tse in Taiwan, for example.

Which got me thinking about a beautiful angel from long ago in my life, Darlene. Darlene Tsu. I wonder if maybe her last name might have been some form of that same word.

She was a Polynesian-Asian blend of utter loveliness, with a personality to match. And if I hadn't been a scatterbrained, 15 year old, confused idiot boy at the time, I would have dated, married and deified her.

She was the first girl who really paid any attention to me, but I was too immature to respond properly. To this day, I remember seeing her for the first time, leisurely strolling down to my darkened, early-morning bus stop, with the tiny red torchlight of her cigarette glowing in her hand.

Oh yes, sweet, otherwise innocent Darlene smoked. My fascination for lady smokers had begun long before, but it burst into flame in her glorious presence.

She gave me a ride home, just once, when she became old enough to drive. She offered another but I told you, the 15 year old boy brain has many missing circuits and doesn't always make sense. I worshipped her and would have ridden with her all the way to Alaska in a beat-up Yugo, so I never rode with her again. Go figure.

But on that one ride, ah -- Debbie Gibson on the stereo, warm spring sunshine upon us, life limitless in front of us. And she lit up a cigarette and I rode beside her for twenty blissful minutes or so, bathed in her sweet smoke, breathing it in like the finest perfume, along with the sun-warmed scent of her hair, and making dumb conversation to the best of my pathetic abilities.

It would make perfect sense for her name to mean "thank you." Her presence that year made it worth getting up for high school every morning, even though I was too stupid to capitalize upon it. And by the time I did have a clue, we moved.

Wherever in this world she is today, I hope she got everything she wanted and floats on clouds of bliss.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

This is the year in which the U.S. celebrates the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, from whence this nation was born.

I realize that to anybody living practically anywhere else in the world, 400 years isn't worth a pfft. Some Europeans probably have cat litter boxes older than that.

The more you study the Jamestown history, the more you realize how messy it all was. Not referring to the battles with the natives -- any idiot by now knows that they had their own human motives for variously supporting or attacking the newcomers, they weren't just naive nature children.

But rather, the notion of saying, this was first, that was first. There was a colony (Roanoke) established further south, which mysteriously vanished, although a local native tribe claims that its survivors joined up with them. And there were several other attempts before Jamestown by the English to found forts along the Atlantic coast, from Newfoundland on down.

Anyway, on some side street in Richmond, Virginia, a metal cross was put up 100 years ago, in commemoration of Jamestown VIP Christopher Newport's visit in 1607 to the future site of that city. It replaces the long-lost, wooden, original cross of Newport's, which he put up somewhere in that general area -- nobody knows exactly where.

Am I stupid for wanting to travel to see this cross, even though it's not the real one and not even in the right place? I'm just trying to do my part to commemorate. It's not like I have to drive for days to get there -- and that's as specific as I dare to be on this blog.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The earth is green beneath your feet

The earth is green beneath your feet.

And not just if you are standing in the grass, or in a puddle of algae.

It is deep, dark green, deep beneath you, in the mantle of the planet.

Peridotite is what they call the stuff. Here, too, there be diamonds. And sometimes, a pretty green gem called Olivine.


Researchers are now drilling off the coast of Africa, where the peridotite, usually deeply buried beneath other layers of stuff, is mysteriously exposed.

If you find a piece of peridotite for sale in your local rock shop, a chip of the deep earth could be yours to take home.

Or you might find the mineral protruding from the shoulder of some ancient mountain range, such as the American Appalachians, where it was thrust up long ago.

Our planet still holds so many mysteries -- around us, above us and even beneath us.

Being like Ben

It was said of the late American statesman Benjamin Franklin that "people longed for his company."

That's a dream I have for myself, too. It's not about vanity, my looks -- can't do much about genetics. Rather, it's about the pleasure of being comfortable around other people, the communion of spirit and mind, learning to enjoy each unique individual who enters one's life in the same manner as one would enjoy a poem, a waterfall or a mathematical equation --- to be appreciated in all his or her facets.

And when thusly enamored of others, one might expect them to reciprocate, making for joy all around.

There are times when people just seem so interesting and praiseworthy to me -- and other times when I feel to dismiss us all as apes with delusions of grandeur.

There are times when I feel warm and comfortable in the presence of some fellow human; and other times when my words are fumbly, my motions are awkward and I hold back most of my thoughts.

I'm not a brilliant soul but when I have learned something, I desire to share it. Most of the time, that either earns me puzzled looks, dismissals, or occassionally the sincere compliment, "You're so smart," and there it ends. I wasn't seeking a compliment. I was seeking a conversation: what do YOU think about the matter?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Spring Beauty

At this time of year, in my part of the world, a tiny wildflower pops up in places where the bulldozers of "progress" have not obliterated it.

It's called, most appropriately, Spring Beauty. Claytonia virginica.

Little blossom pops up at the end of a stem not more than a few inches high, fed by a tuber no bigger than a baby's thumb. Incidentally, you could eat the tuber -- boil it like a tiny potato. I've done it, just once. But to do so utterly destroys the plant and robs the world of that flower. Not to mention there are probably more calories in half an M&M.

By the time the warm weather arrives to stay, the flower has vanished for another year.

Nothing much for today. Made home-made hashbrowns for breakfast -- so good with ketchup and garlic pepper. That made me late leaving for work and put me once again to fuming about the stupidity of freeway speed limits.

Yes, I absolutely support the harshest of speed limits through populated areas like neighborhoods and such. But I have never understood the point of putting up a ridiculous limit on the Interstate -- typically free of bicyclists and children playing ball -- to which nobody under age 90 pays any heed, and assigning police officers to snag violators of said limit at random.

Tailgaters? Slam em. Drunks? Nail em. Drivers who talk on cell phones while changing their pants and trimming their toenails? Bust em good. People who max out their engine governor and attempt to become airborne at 100 or so? Fine em, sure.

But if I am in the far left lane of the freeway on a straight stretch on a sunshiney day and there is no congestion around me, and I want to go 75 or 80, LEAVE ME ALONE! In the words of the late Pres. Nixon, I am not a crook.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Weird clip art for the day

Has this girl suddenly become aware that her shoe is untied?

Or has she discovered a lost piece of string?

Is that actually an unfortunate earthworm beneath her sole?

If so, is she deliberately squishing it?

Another admission

As I was driving to work this morning, I thought about Kim.

It seemed possible that I had only imagined her, so long ago did I meet her.

But upon reaching a computer and the Internet, I found her to have been no mere figment of my fantasy.

There really was a Kim, a slender, sexy beauty, though she seems to have faded away over the years.

Kim was a cigarette. A stylish, feminine brand of cigarette. Like Misty, Capri, Satin, Virginia Slims and More. And for me, those names might as well be porn starlets.

You see, nearly a century ago, brilliant PR people for the cigarette companies realized they weren't reachng 50 percent of their possible customer base, i.e., women. And so began the campaign to put a cigarette in every woman's lips, a pack in every purse.

Simultaneously was created the capnolagiac -- the man who found a woman's smoking to be incredibly, intensely erotic.

I can tell you the exact brand -- Tarreytons -- that a neighbor was carrying around one night nearly thirty years ago, when I was just a bitty kid, as she was saying farewell to friends before a move -- and that I followed her around like a puppy hoping she would light up.

I can tell you the exact brand -- Winstons -- that a woman was smoking in front of us on the grass at some horse race thing I went to with my family, when I was almost that same age.

I was seven when I watched Olivia Newton John (in Grease) grind out her cigarette under red heels and then shove those heels into a woozy John Travolta -- and the sight electrified me.

Later, when my family would go shopping at the mall, I would beg to be let go on my own -- and then dart for the smoking bench in hopes of being doused with secondhand smoke from some lovely and thoughtless lady.

As I have grown, the passion has certainly not subsided. A pretty hand extended from a car window in front of me, tapping out cigarette ashes? She might as well be doing a naked lap dance.

The fragrance of smoke on the air as I round a corner somewhere? Everything in me begs for a woman to be holding that cigarette when I espy it.

Just the way I am.

Hiding in plain sight

Let's just say that someone I know is now dating a so-called "free-gan."

That is a person who, for philosophical, not necessarily financial reasons, collects their daily food from a Dumpster.

Since such a person is first and foremost a vegetarian, it's not as if they are carrying home maggot-riddled meat. Just vegetables that are perhaps too wilty for your local Buyalot store to offer their precious customers.

I wouldn't have the guts to go so far.

But this post isn't really about free-gans. It's about identifying the dater of one and what that would mean.

I.e., I created this blog as a means of expressing myself in absolutely anonymity -- of letting out some thoughts and feelings of which no one who knows my real world self has any idea.

How long can I keep it up? Is the internet big enough that the chances are infinitesimal of me letting out some identifying detail of my life and someone close to me coming across it, to their shock and horror?

What would they think of my doubts about my faith; and my peculiar -- but absolutely legal, please note -- fetishes?

Really, I'm harmless, though. No kiddie porn on my hard drive. No mouldering murder victim under my floorboards.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

In the year 3000...

If I stepped into a freezer and some thoughtful soul thawed me out a thousand years from now, what would I see?

Would Christianity, most of whose thousands of sects revolve around the anticipated return of the Messiah, have quietly faded away? Or would I be smack dab in the middle of his millennial rule?

What about Judaism, which also anticipates a Messiah?Would it have shed this doctrine, which does not seem as central to Jewish worship as it is in Christianity, anyway? Or would I find the Jewish Messiah in charge?

Or would the Seventh Imam greet my blinking, incredulous eyes?

Would I be in a horrible world where all religion had faded away but nothing as effective for guiding the ethics of mankind had been developed in its place, leaving an extreme social Darwinism as the rule of life?

Or would this religion-free world actually be a paradise, with some irresistable ethical innovation having been invented to guide human conduct for loving thy neighbor, etc.?

Of all the features of mankind, religion is the most durable. In England, one still finds Druids and wannabee Druids, circling Stonehenge. In Greece, resurgent worshippers of the Olympic pantheon are demanding religious use of the Parthenon. In Iran, one still finds believers in Zoroastrianism, the religion practiced by the Persians of 600 B.C.

Around the world, numbering in the dozens or the millions, one finds devotees to some concept, some man or woman living or dead, or some book. The Yazudi eat no lettuce. The Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusions. The Mormons drink no tea. The Jainists fear to tread on sidewalks or kill a germ. Some Christians play with poisonous snakes. Jihadi terrorists who condemn Westerners for moral laxity and resent having any women around who aren't burquaed head to tie, blow themselves up to go to a heaven where they consort with nubile and apparently unburquaed young women for all eternity.

How bizzare, how bizzare.

Someone once said that only religion is capable of motivating good people to do bad things. That's a little simplistic. Who defines what is good or bad, anyway, and by what authority? If I stab an enemy soldier to death in some trench somewhere, is it a good or bad thing and am I therefore bad? You need context. Religion need not be the motivating factor in that scenario.