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Rants

Dancing with Diction

Today is the birthday of Dr. Seuss, without whom I would care nothing for poetry. One of the great bonding behaviors I shared with my baby sister was running around the house reciting snatches (sneeches?) of kid-book poetry at the tops of our lungs. “This one has a little star! This one has a little car! Say, what a lot of fish there are!” The king of that castle is and will always be Theodor Geisel 1904-1991. Circa 1960 our parents had signed us up for what amounted to the Dr. Seuss book club, and every month we got one of his books or another book that was clearly written in his style. There were some outliers not written in verse, like Look Out for Pirates! but who remembers those anymore? (Go, Dog, Go! may be one exception.)

On the other hand, I only have to recall the title of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and my poetry-reciter is off at a trot. Gretchen’s even better at it than I. Don’t get us started if you’re one of those lit’ry types who feels that any poetry with rhyme and meter is worthy only of folding into the center of a Hallmark card.

Modern universities crank such out by the pallet load. Years ‘n years ago, at one damned cocktail party conversation or another (I think associated with the Book Expo America trade show) I made an energetic case that good poetry can have both rhyme and meter. A well-credentialed tribalist immediately jumped on me, steam jetting from every orifice. “So,” he jetted, “all poetry should be doggerel?”

Whoo-boy! Note the well-worn tribal tactic: I suggested that something the tribalist hated should be allowed. The tribalist immediately misrepresented me as saying that everything except what he hated should be forbidden. I called him on it. I basically humiliated him in front of several of his peers. How did I humiliate him? I dared him to begin reciting blank verse from some author who would be taught in college literature courses. He couldn’t do it. I turned the knife by immediately beginning to recite “The Hollow Men.” I stopped after eight or ten lines. I then asked him which poet had written the following:

mighty guest of merely me
–traveler from eternity;
in a single wish, receive
all I am and dream and have.

He shook his head. “You did.” Heh. Don’t I wish. It was e. e. cummings. I offered to recite the rest of the poem. The dork said “No thanks,” and slunk away.

Now, I may be a better memorizer than he was. But I had a secret advantage: Structured poetry is easier to remember. And a secret vulnerability: I had recited all of Eliot that I could recall, and I remember Eliot today largely because I used to make fun of him so much. (I wasn’t singling Eliot out–Dr. Seuss himself did not escape.) Give me Macavity any day, even if the sophisticates dismiss it as children’s poetry. (It’s a cat poem. Dare ‘ya to call it doggerel!) I can recite a great deal of that. It contains irony, subtlety, and much merriment.You can dance to it. I give it a 10.

Note that I don’t “hate” blank verse and freeform poetry, nor do I dismiss it simply because it lacks rhyme and meter. I studied it. I studied Walt Whitman, Robert Lowell, Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke, and all those guys of that era and that school of poetry, which has basically won the day. I still recall why my profs thought they were significant. The problem is that the poems themselves I have utterly forgotten. Lowell has a great line somewhere about ’59 Chevies rolling past like fish in a tank, in finned servility. But that’s all of him that I can remember, having read an entire book full of his stuff and discussed it at length in a 300-level class. I’m sure it was carefully crafted. I’ll grant that it was important. But in no way on this or any other world could it ever be fun.

For that you have to go back to poets like Vachel Lindsay, who opened “The Santa Fe Trail” in an eminently memorable way:

This is the order of the music of the morning-:
First from the far east comes but a crooning.
The crooning turns to a sunrise singing:
Hark to the calm-horn, balm-horn, psalm-horn.
Hark to the faint-horn, quaint-horn, saint-horn…

Damn, not only can I see that, I can feel it! It makes me want to run around the house with my baby sister (now 55) yelling “Ho for Kansas land that restores us! When houses choke us and great books bore us!” Eventually we collapse on the couch, breathless from laughing so hard and glowing from feeling so good. Kid stuff? Sure! At least for kids who haven’t yet sold their kidness for a pot of message.

Poetry is about laughter, especially laughter that comes of wishing we could be in Kansas so that we could get away from all those Great Books that are so ponderously self-important they they undergo lexical collapse and vanish into their own navels while everybody stands around scratching their heads trying to understand what the hell they were attempting to convey.

And about dancing, yes. Poetry is dancing with diction, doing the polka with participles, spinning an allemand with adverbs. It’s cutting loose from grim reality for awhile and letting language just take us. “He thought he saw an elephant / That practiced on a fife: / He looked again and found it was / A letter from his wife.” What does it mean? You’d be surprised. I’ll tell you in a minute, but…the music isn’t over yet.

If I’d had to jump straight into Lowell and Roethke I would have tossed it all overboard. But Dr. Seuss had gotten to me first. He taught me that you could dance to words, and from that dance it was a short step to Chaucer and Pope and Longfellow and Tennyson and Lindsay and Robert Frost and e. e. cummings. Having danced to the edges of rhyme and meter (cummings is a great transition) I could go the rest of the way, and watch the fins go by with Robert Lowell.

Did poetry classes leave a sour taste in your mouth? Grab a Dr. Seuss book, and find your sister if you have one. Run around the house spitting iambs and trochees until you collapse laughing on the couch. That’s how you reboot your poetry sense. Then, if you want, you can take it all the rest of the way to Walt Whitman and beyond.

But I personally wouldn’t blame you if you stopped right there.

Rant: Eat Food. Not Too Much. And Sometimes Plants.

ExtraRich Milk Cap.jpgOh me, oh my, oh me, oh my…I’m just such a bad boy. Last year, I violated the Laws of Thermodynamics by eating more calories…and losing weight. Now, since we all know that every calorie is exactly like every other calorie (settled science!) and since we know that if you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight, well, what other conclusion can I draw? The Laws of Thermodynamics are wrong! And by next week I’ll have this unbalanced wheel spinning away here! Somebody please wire NIST for me; my FAX machine is broken. They can send the Nobel Prize to my Stanwell St. address.

I’ve had to drill new holes in all my belts. I’m not kidding; you can still see the leather shreds on my 3/16″ bit.

Other weirdnesses are besetting me. My blood pressure is down. It wasn’t all that high to begin with (let’s call it high-normal; Carol doesn’t want me to post precise numbers) and now it’s normal-normal. My blood numbers are good, and haven’t changed a whole lot since I gave up habitual sugar in 1997, at which point they abruptly went from worrisomely high to…low-normal. So how did I do it? What’s the magic method?

Simple. Read this very carefully:

Eat food. Not too much. And sometimes plants.

Or, if you’d prefer the shorter, hipper, periods-for-emphasis version:

Eat. More. Animal. Fat.

I eat an egg fried in butter every morning, and I don’t skimp on the butter. I eat full-fat Greek-style yogurt with breakfast. I eat great mounds of several kinds of cheese. I have everybody-knows-are-hideous things like bratwurst for lunch and sometimes supper, especially in good weather when I can toss them on the grill. I eat steak, ground buffalo, pork roast, and chicken deep-fried in lard, when I can find it. (Alas, the poor lards have been hunted nearly to extinction by cruel activists bearing rapid-fire lawsuits and campaign dollars.)

And most recently, I’ve discovered extra-rich milk. It’s not easy to find, but it’s worth the search. Hereabouts, you can get it in half gallons or gallons at Farm Crest milk stores. Farm Crest milk comes from cows not treated with antibiotics or growth hormone, which is why I started drinking their lower-fat versions to begin with. And it is the whitest, creamiest, most delicious milk I’ve ever tasted. 4.5% milkfat, wow.

So why am I not dead? Am I some kind of alien fluke, or zombie? (If so, I’m coming for your brains, which are deliciously high in fat.) By all the objective measures that we have, I’m healthy and apparently getting healthier. (And most recently, I discovered during a routine eye exam that my vision is getting better. Not so much better as to obviate the need for glasses, but my prescription went down almost half a diopter. No clue why–even I won’t blame it on a low-carb regime–just tossing it on the table.)

That’s the more. Here’s the flipside: I eat a lot less pasta and rice than I used to, love it though I may. I have refined sugar only occasionally, and then only as dessert after a high-fat meal. And little by little, I’m trying to give up refined grains and starches, though that’s a much tougher climb. I do eat vegetables that don’t make me gag or bloat, admitting that it’s a short list. I eat fresh fruit only in moderation, since fruit is mostly sugar. I snack on peanuts or almonds, chased by a glass of extra-rich milk. Once it goes down, I’m not hungry anymore. (Bet I can stop eatin’ em!)

Like a lot of people, I went on the low-fat, high-carb diet recommended by our all-wise, benevolent Federal government in the 70s, and that’s when I started to put on weight. Middle age accelerated the process, and I’d probably be over 200 by now if I hadn’t figured it out.

So let me beat you shamelessly over the head with it, while reminding you that this is one of my clearly labeled and tightly self-rationed rants:

1. Government low-fat dietary guidelines are bullshit, all of them anchored in the bogus work of Right Man Dr. Ancel Keys, who may well be the most damaging fraud in the entire history of science. He had data for 22 countries. He picked the six countries that supported his hypothesis, that fat is bad for you. Then he attacked his critics until the government raised him to sainthood. Over the next thirty years, humanity gained the weight of a minor planet.

2. We know a great deal less about health and nutrition than we think we do, and as with all science, what we know gets old fast. For a quick catch-up, read Gary Taubes‘ book Good Calories, Bad Calories. Breaking news: Human biochemistry is complicated! Story at 11!

3. You may be the fluke, and thrive without effort on a low-fat diet. Maybe we’re all flukes–human beings are not identical. (I love the word “fluke”! I had it printed right on my VOM!) Makes no nevermind: You have the power to find out. You are the experiment. Do the science. I did.

Good luck. Butter is delicious.

Hurray for the Leaners!

Rated-S_scientific_300.jpgSay what you want about cold fusion; it’s been a great show and a huge amount of fun. If time allowed I would read more on it; right now, the only book I’ve been through is Fire from Ice by Eugene Mallove, the cold fusion culture’s first martyr. In 2004, Mallove was murdered, probably by muggers, but Certain People are sure that it was the government, or the oil companies, or Arabic shieks, or somebody else who would be on the losing end of the energy stick if cold fusion actually came true.

Mallove’s book is now 11 years old and is strongly pro, and I need to read Gary Taubes’ book Bad Science (1993) for balance. Beyond that, well, the literature, having lain low for many years, is exploding again in celebration of finding a whole new name. (More on this shortly.)

I know, I know. How can I take any of this seriously, you ask? Back off, man. I’m a scientist. I also like street theater, especially science and technology street theater. I suffer fools gladly if they entertain me, because I learn best when I’m entertained. (Fools spouting politics rarely entertain me; street theater has its limits.) I’ve stated my official position here many times, and I’ll say it again: It’s probably not fusion. But it’s almost certainly interesting, and if pursued may actually turn out to be something useful, if not a source of free energy. Desktop fusion is nothing new, after all: Philo Farnsworth, needing to do penance for having invented television, went on to create desktop fusion. The nut they couldn’t crack is releasing more energy than their gadget absorbed, but hey, neutrons are useful, and they don’t just come when you whistle.

I was pleased to learn quite recently that “cold fusion” as a term has been deprecated in favor of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) which has the authority of an acronym and no obvious links in the public mind to a name more properly associated with margarine. A recent presentation on YouTube from a cold fusion guru admits that it’s not about fusion, and that’s a big step forward. I’m not sure that there as many rabbits in the LENR hat as Krivit thinks, but even one rabbit would be delicious, especially with melted butter.

LENR is supposedly caught up with the electroweak force. One thing I do need to do is hunt down a good summary of what we know about the electroweak force; there are a few too many Greek letters in the Wikipedia article for my tastes, and probably my forebrain as well. Suggestions always welcome.

As an SF writer LENR fascinates me, especially the notion that it could be implemented in biological system. Nuclear-powered cockroaches, anyone? The bugs wouldn’t need to make breakeven; LENR could act as a storage mechanism: After gathering and processing fuel during times of energy abundance, they’d consume the fuel when their only sun sets for a decade or two and temps go down to double digits K.

The show goes on. LENR can and should replace all mention of “cold fusion.” The LENR acronym suggests to me a general term for people pursuing (or cheering on) research in that area: Leaners. I’m a Leaner. I’m cheering for these guys, and with more lifespan ahead of me, more time, more brains, and another small fortune in machine tools beyond what I already have, I would go downstairs and see what I could throw together. Damn, this stuff calls to me.

It’s April, the month to be mad as a hatter, and you know all about me and hats.