Sunday, December 13, 2015

Von Waldteuffel’s Waffle: A Tale of Gravity & Levity

Mathematics can be tricky. Not only does it describe conditions that are well known and familiar to us – unless you’re careful it may upend convention and restructure matters entirely.

Thus did Professor Klaus von Waldteuffel, Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik (Gravitational Physics), discover all on his own and rather by accident.

Von Waldteuffel, a theoretical physicist, spent most of his time pursuing exotic ideas of quantum gravity, fresh concepts that might advance the boundaries of cosmology along with his flagging career.  Among his favorite fancies was “Waldteuffel’s waffle,” the notion that space-time is corrugated, crenellated, creased, and indented with plenty of room for extra dimensions, spare galaxies, and at least ten theoretical descriptive approaches.

Yet deciding which of these ten held the most promise proved daunting, and the project languished. Alone in his small oak-paneled office with paper, pencil, a Nestler model 23 (Mannheim style) slide rule, and quarts of black coffee, von Waldteuffel toiled long hours mulling over the options, each in its turn, again and again, waiting for inspiration and insight.

Then one afternoon, tinkering for the umpteenth time with Einstein’s famous mathematical expressions for general relatively, trying to force symmetry in the case of waffle approach number six, he stumbled upon a stunning and transformative find (or more properly, perhaps, the finding stumbled upon him): an outlandish assortment of geodesics for space-time that, with a prodigious zzZZOT!  and flicker of radiolucency, converted the hapless physicist’s body mass from positive(+) to negative(–).

Plate 1. Illustration of transition from a  
state of positive (+) mass to negative (-)
using the Klein-Möbius manifold model.
Now Einstein’s field equations wouldn’t ordinarily yield negative space-time dimensions this way, i.e., produce gravity in reverse or anti-gravity. Not unless you plugged in negative(–) values for mass which is just what poor Waldteuffel unwittingly did – and imaginary(?) negative values at that! The effect of this action was so singular, so startlingly unaccountable that as if by some quantum legerdemain, the professor was pitched headlong (Plate 1) outside of space-time as we know it (Plate 2) into the strange and hithertofore notional counter-state of negative gravitation (the latter, the consequence of his negative(–) mass) (Plate 3).

And what a peculiar state it was. Instead of the traditional “pull” of gravity, Waldteuffel now experienced a “push,” boosting him aloft with such enthusiasm it might have appeared Nature herself were intent on ejecting him.

“Fräulein Watson, come here. I want you to see this!” he called out excitedly to his office assistant, Ms. Helge Watson of Potsdam.

Yet even with his nose pressed against ceiling plaster, von Waldteuffel wasn’t one to overlook the main opportunity.

Plate 2. Two-dimensional analogy of spacetime distortion 
generated by positive (+) mass.  White lines  represent the 
coordinate system imposed on curved spacetime, which 
would be rectilinear in a flat spacetime. In Newtonian terms, 
this corresponds to gravity.
“I’ll call it levity,” he concluded jubilantly, “the opposite of gravity. Wait’ll they see this at the Astronomische Gesellschaft! No more ‘dreamer with his head in the clouds’ stuff. Now, scientifically speaking at least,  I’ll always have a warm roof and a bed over my head!”

The thought of it got him to laughing out loud.

“Wha….?” exclaimed Ms. Watson, coming up short just then in the office doorway. “Have you…have you been sniffing helium again?”

“Not funny. Find me a rope. I need to get back down there and complete my calculations.”

Ms. Watson quickly composed herself. She was so accustomed to Waldteuffel’s eccentricity that his present predicament hardly surprised her. Now she began to look annoyed.

Plate 3. Two-dimensional analogy of spacetime distortion 
generated by negative (-) mass. White lines  represent the 
coordinate system imposed on curved spacetime, which would
be “negalinear” in a flat spacetime. In science fiction terms, 
this corresponds to levity.
“Even if you’re still, well, up in the air with your theories of space-time, how much more complete could your calculations possibly get?” she queried. “Do you want the rest of creation up there, too?”

“Uh…no, of course not,” replied her boss. “I just have to make sure this is all written down before I forget how I discovered it in the first place. The shift to negative gravity – to levity! [he savored the word] – occurred, you see, even before I'd integrated all the equations.”

Looking skeptical and shaking her head, Ms. Watson backed out hesitantly the way she’d come.

“Whatever you say, sir,” she muttered.

“And it’s nitrous oxide I sniff, not helium,” he called after her from the ceiling. “Please keep that under your hat – and your nose out of it.”

Procuring a length of rope from university building maintenance took Ms. Watson some little time. Not wishing to be thought a lunatic, she purported that the rope was for tying up shipping crates. When a friendly custodian ingenuously offered to help, she momentarily verged on panic, then tactfully but hurriedly demurred.

Arriving back at the office she was in for another surprise. The professor, no longer stuck to the ceiling, lay sprawled across the office carpet, groaning in pain.

“What happened?” she asked as though there were something unusual about gravity.

The office ceiling being rather low, the professor’s ignominious descent resulted in only minor injuries, and he was quickly back on his feet.

“I’m going out for a walk to clear my head,” he announced. “Got to remember just how I arrived at all this and try to make it more stable.”

“Is that really a good idea?” cautioned Ms. Watson anxiously.

But von Waldteuffel was already out the door with his slide rule, notes, pencils and a threadbare Harris tweed. He made it as far as a park bench on the lawn beside Heisenberg Hall, the astrophysics building. Here he sat down and began pumping his slide rule like a jazz trombone, penciling voluminous notations.

By now the sun sagged low on the horizon. From a nearby soccer field came the pulsating beat of a fußball cheerlieder (football cheer songs) rehearsal. 

"Give 'em hell, Tachyons, cis, boom, bah. Goin' past the top tonight, rah, rah, rah."

The professor took no notice but worked ever more feverishly, large drops of sweat standing out on his forehead. Gradually, a delirious, enigmatic grin crept over his face, and his hands began to shake.

Then… zzZZOT!

Twelve thousand feet overhead, a Fairchild-Dornier 328JET on vectored approach to Berlin-Tegel International was suddenly forced into a steep emergency left bank to avoid a midair collision. The pilot’s incident report, citing an “unidentified oddity in rapid ascent” was dismissed as a hoax by civil aviation authorities and prompted a reprimand.

Professor von Waldteuffel, alas, was never seen again.  An expert review of his calculations and notes turned up only gibberish.

Yet for months after his disappearance, the story remained a media sensation. “Waldteuffel zuickerwaffeln” (sugar waffles) were a featured favorite at frühstück (breakfast) restaurants all over Germany until finally displaced by the “Kilometer-hohen stapel von pfannkuchen” (Kilometer-high stack of pancakes). After that, the whole affair was forgotten.

Ms. Watson, having salvaged Professor Waldteuffel's slide rule as a keepsake, took up sniffing nitrous.

"There are many cool things in the universe" -- Swami Deepsheesh Rajathustra

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Past Imperfecta: LilthyEtta Decides

I’d visited France many times but it had been awhile since Paris and le Midi. As I discovered last month, much has changed.

The French look different now. News stories about social unrest over immigration and the influx of Islamic peoples shift into sharper focus when you look around at the crowds. France today appears more Middle Eastern, North African, or Mediterranean than it did in the past. The sight of women in chadors or head scarves and men wearing taqiyahs is now commonplace, not only in large cities but in the hinterlands, too. Indeed, its easy to appreciate that France currently has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

It was in 732 AD at Poitiers-Tours, that Charles “the Hammer” Martel, king of the Franks, laid waste the Umayyad Muslim advance into Gaul led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi – a battle Europeans consider as pivotal for themselves as Americans do Valley Forge or Gettysburg. But today’s Islamic invasion is of a different sort, no longer military but economic or personal,  emanating for the most part from former French possessions like Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. As the saying goes, what comes around, goes around.

In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, France seems to have mellowed. Even in Paris, folks appear more casually dressed. Once lavish displays of jewelry by the likes of Piaget, Boucheron, Louis Vuitton, or Van Cleef & Arpels in Place Vendôme look toned down (security could be an issue as well). English is more widely spoken and for the most part, without all the indignation.  Restaurants, too, are more informal with less of the traditional hauteur from maître d’s and waiters. Bistros are gaining in popularity as places to have your dinner.

Lady with a Hat, Le Suffren, Paris October, 2015
Still, some aspects of Paris remain comfortably familiar. Take this millinery masterpiece (Lady with a Hat) on display in restaurant Le Suffren (84 Avenue de Suffren) the other night. Its proportions bring to mind women’s headgear circa 1911 when hats were at their biggest, sporting towers of panaches (feather plumes, often ostrich) and brims that extended beyond shoulder breadth, all held in place by eighteen-inch hat pins.

Viewed in profile, this Suffren chapeau conceals the face of its owner like a bonnet. Coiled precariously about the crown and back brim, draped nearly into bavolet mode at the nape of the neck, is a mink stole that resembles a shaggy boa. A sprawl of peacock feathers erupts exuberantly from the front suggesting a Cleopatra parasol borne by an unseen attendant.

The four-photo montage, a kind of Warholian précis of Renoir or perhaps Degas, I fancy, chronicles the action. The woman gazes principally forward through a large paned glass window giving on the street, the movement of her head seemingly constrained by the hat’s sheer mass. Her right arm and wrist gracefully superintend a cigarette, the smoke from which is almost imperceptible as though the cigarette were unlit, displayed only for effect.

Or perhaps the smoke, like my gaze, is simply constrained by the hat’s extraordinary field of gravity. Indeed, at first glance, I briefly lost all interest in my plate and everything else but the hat.

Who is this woman, the bearer of this mighty crown? A chanteuse? A painter? An actress or poet?  A courtesan perhaps?

Portrait of Gertrude Stein, Pablo 
Picasso, 1906
Or is she one of those wealthy mavens cum writer manqué like Gertrude Stein (whose greatest achievement may have been her collection of French paintings), Natalie Clifford Barney, or Nina de Callias, who with talents meager but money aplenty, industriously churns out artsy produce for the salon she runs in Neuilly, all the while cavorting in the angst-dappled shallows of Lake Lesbos, juggling multiple lovers of at least that many genders?
Nina de Callias as La Dame aux 
Eventails, Edouard Manet, 1873

For all one knows, Our Lady of the Extravagant Headdress could already be well on her way to notoriety, propelled by perfervid writings on sexuality and feminism with an assist from portraiture by one of her artist pals. Or like Natalie Barney, she might be better known for her many romances than for her writing or salon.

Simone de Beauvoir, Henri Cartier-
Bresson, Paris, 1945
And it doesn’t necessarily end there – possibilities yet abound!

Simone de Beauvoir and her long-time companion and collaborator, Jean-Paul Sartre, had an arrangement they dubbed the “trio,” in which de Beauvoir would seduce her students and then pass them along to Sartre. In the novel, She Came to Stay, de Beauvoir explored her convoluted relationship with Sartre and how it was affected by the ménage à trois – or in the case of the deal they cooked up with the Kosakiewicz sisters, the ménage à quatre.

Haight-Ashbury, even in its hay day, couldn’t hold a candle to shenanigans like these (except maybe at the Blind Pig Ashram).

Bizarrely, some twentieth century salonistas like Stein and Barney were Fascist sympathizers, which ought to tell you something – at least about the depth of their political perception. One could but hope that Our Lady of the Extravagant Hat wouldn't be in cahoots with, say, Al-Qaeda!

Still, even Muslim women don’t swaddle their heads like this.

For me, it’s tempting to speculate about literati who might frequent our hat lady’s salon. Presumably it’d be a compelling invite, what with free booze and conversation that reliably turns to sex and politics.

Guest list:

Lady Gaga in a baloney cloche by Oscar Meyer?

Freeman Dyson dissing climate change?

Elvis Costello with a unique one-string guitar?
Molière Reading Tartuffe at the House of Ninonde L’Enclos
Salon of 1802, Nicolas-André Monsiau

Henry Kissinger on life support?

Miley Cyrus in full voice and complete undress astride a wrecking ball?*

Luc Sante with his latest take on Paris?

Mother Plectrude Malaguena of the Little Sisters Constabulary, Donegal?

Ian Buruma elegantly explaining everything (as usual)?

Bohemian Clubbers fresh from their other saloon?

And what of the ever-elusive ("as scarce as J. D. Salinger at a press conference") poet LilthyEtta Saqueth Klatchbustle? Would she grace this salon costumed in antique ancestral muslin, say, and in voice mellifluous, read from her chapbooks as though she were conversing with the dead?

You have to wonder.

* Sound over the top? At one of Natalie Clifford Barney’s salon sessions in the early 1900’s, Mata Hari rode in as Lady Godiva on a white horse harnessed with turquoise cloisonné.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Claspacia and Lepclepides: A Classical Romance

Claspacia of Knossos (c. 600 B.C.) was one of those truly focused women of antiquity who, once she’d made up her mind about something, became more or less intent on seeing it though.

She was born on the isle of Crete, the daughter of King Risiblestes the Solemn and Queen Gaugamela, who lavished upon her every sort of childhood beneficence. From an early age she trained, not only in music, philosophy, and literature, but also in sport and the martial arts – the javelin, bow, and in Minoan bull leaping (the latter later more of a metaphor).

Her greatest talent, however, lay in the wrestling ring. So skilled a grappler was she that amongst the men of Crete, few dared face her. Before the match had scarcely begun, challengers invariably fell prey to her Scythian suplex as the tactic was known, applied with the speed of a snake strike. Not for nothing was she called the Python of the Aegean.

Claspacia’s notoriety for fierceness, however, only enhanced her celebrity and personal appeal, for Greeks young and old flocked from hither and yon – Macedonia, the Peloponnese and from around the Cyclades – eager to engage her, hoping to win her favor and more. Leonidas, king of Sparta, sought her for his elite Hippeis, or cavalry, but in a dazzling display of the bull leapers’ headscissor, she defeated the horse soldiers to a man astride their mounts.

“Better to send these steeds into battle riderless than saddled with this lot,” she told a chagrined Spartan king.

In Athens, Praxitleles attempted to sculpt her in marble, but she wouldn’t sit still.

When the famous sophist Protagoras of Thrace tried to daunt her with logic, she instead persuaded him fluently that nothing can be greater than the sum of its opposites divided by pi (though the conundrum thereafter hounded him doggedly).

A succession of celebrity rounders, among them the scoundrelous Sisyphus of Corinth, came forward, brazenly seeking a roll in the hay. But this sort soon left disappointed, so shorn of ambition that it would have been impossible to imagine them happy.

Still, Claspacia reveled in such pretexts and challenges and missed no opportunity to flaunt her feminine form, the which had without a doubt given rise to much of the excitement.

For truly a work of art was she, an exemplar of the golden mean in both strength and beauty. When she stirred, the muscles of her limbs rippled like a mountain brook. The twin thews of her belly undulated sinuously like a marauding constrictor, striking awe into wrestling opponents.

So flawless was her bottom that adoring fans, choosing sides, nicknamed it Euphrosyne and Thalia and engaged in heated debate as to which might be the more perfect. Her exquisite breasts, Elysia and Ambrosia, became virtual objects of veneration.  The alabaster radiance of her skin was incomparable. Such was the measure of her loveliness that admirers could scarce take it in at a glance but had instead to linger over each feature in its turn in order to consider the virtues.

Upon this scene there appeared one day a stalwart of cunning and purpose, young Lepclepides of Thebes, son of Epaminondas, resolved to prevail over Claspacia at any cost and thus claim her hand in marriage. It was bruited about, moreover, that to bolster his cause he’d enlisted the aid of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. Having made known such intent, however, he like his predecessors succeeded only in inspiring in Claspacia a stubborn resolve of her own: the desire to see him thwarted.

“I hear you’ve been lobbying Aphrodite,” she taunted, “but don’t think you can distract me with a few golden apples. I tend to stay focused. Believe me, when we meet in the ring you’ll fare no better than Peleus against Atalanta.

If by the wiles of the goddess you succeed, for her mischief knows no bounds, you shall indeed have my hand in marriage.

Peleus & Atalanta
But if through Athena’s charity you fail, as surely you shall, you must flee like the winds of Aeolus ere my father the king command you review his new novel, writ by His Majesty’s own hand withal, The Riddle of the Salpinx."

“You mean sphinx?”

“No, salpinx – gynecologists are acclaiming it. Now do you see what you’re up against?”

Yet despite even the prospect of torture, Ledclepides remained undeterred. Knowing Claspacia to be uniquely formidable, he had not arrived unprepared. During his journey to Crete, he paused at Delphi to inquire of the Pythia how best to overcome an opponent so daunting. The response had been typically Delphic:

“He who possesseth the milk of Medusa shall win for himself the hand of purest alabaster.”

“Milk of Medusa?” Lepclepides grimaced. “How on earth do you get milk from a gorgon?”

To learn more on the matter, he turned to his long time friend and confederate, Isosceles of Sparta who lived not far distant on the banks of the river Eurotas.

Isosceles, by nature more pastoral than martial and generally possessed of sound judgment, had nonetheless for a time been entangled in a romantic triangle with identical twins, Helen and Clytemnestra. On account of this – the Dioskouri, Castor and Pollux, being twins themselves and sacred to Spartans – he had come to be regarded as learned in courtship and distaff affairs.

“It really pretty simple,” he told Lepclepides. “You get your sample of Medusa’s milk by explaining your situation to her, asking her courteously, and bringing along a breast pump. You ought also bring her an offering or present. She’s not as fearsome as she’s made out to be. Indeed, if you want my opinion, she’s rather attractive – hot, actually! Sure, she’s a bit unusual – her hair dresser’s a herpetologist and she’s dating a snake charmer – but so what?”

“But wouldn’t I be turned to stone just by looking at her?” Lepclepides objected.

“Nonsense,” replied Isosceles, “that’s the biggest part of the myth. Medusa possesses a bodily essence – concentrated in her milk, by the way – that’s absolutely narcotic. So if you get near her, you’ll likely end up, not turned to stone, but just good and stoned. Isn’t it amazing how such notions get lost in translation?

Anyway, what you must do is spike Claspacia’s wine – she drinks that Commandaria label from Cyprus – with gorgon’s milk and then bide your time. One sip and she’ll go out like a candle, hit the grappling mat dead to the world. Then you can pin her at leisure and claim your victory.”

In the event, things came to pass at the Knossos arena much as Isosceles had described – with the exception of one detail. Lepclepides for good measure dabbed himself with the gorgon’s milk so that Claspacia would receive a booster shot just as they began to tussle. But, of course, this ill-advised treatment also drugged him. Reviving before she (due to a smaller dose), however, he pinned her without a fight and was duly declared the winner.

True to her word, Claspacia gave him her hand in marriage – but with a devious twist of her own, for she, too, had been thinking ahead. The hand she proffered was one that Praxitleles (Claspacia had finally managed to pose) had marvelously carved in stone, an exact rendering of her own left hand.

“I promised you my hand, Lepclepides,” she said laconically. “Espouse it if you wish. By Hymenaios, I believe the wedding band is even a fit!”

Too stunned to be angry, Lepclepides realized he’d been completely outfoxed.  “By Koalemos,” he thought, “I succeeded in getting milk from a gorgon only to be undone by a simple synecdoche!”

“May I ask one question?” he said, gazing dejectedly at the replica. “Is this figurine carved in marble?”

“No,” replied Claspacia, “its done in alabaster. Why do you ask?”

Wringing his hands (all three), Lepclepides turned and trudged off without answering.

Staring after him Claspacia waxed pensive. He’s really rather sweet, she told herself, and not bad looking. He’s also passionate, persistent, and ambitious yet still simple enough not to pose too many problems. Besides, I could always send him to Delphi. Maybe that geek is my Greek!

And sure enough, before the day was out, she’d asked for his hand in marriage.

Lepclepides, overjoyed, accepted at once and this time didn’t ask questions.

Monday, July 27, 2015


How many kinds of hugs can you think of? Depending upon the circumstances, hugs might express strong emotion or perhaps little emotion at all. Either way, they’re a form of so-called haptic communication. Here’re a few of them.

Bear hug: strong, hearty, and sometimes 
uplifting. Has versions in wrestling, social 
greeting, political theater, and amongst bears.
Affectionate hug: available free or for 
a fee (1, 2)
Wrestlers' bear hug
Kitty hug: opposite of  bear hug

Pet hug: Most doggies like hugs.
Political hug: a way politicians greet one other short of  declaring war. 
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer still – hug them, in fact. 
Manticore hug: not recommended
Sports hug: “We’ve been trying to annihilate each other but, hey, good game and its nothing personal, you understand.”

Group hug: “For we’re such jolly good fellows, and 
anyways we’re all drunk.” (In football, also known as the 

Christian side hug: "You'll see another side of me once 
we're out of this church.

Romantic hug: Mwah!

Comfort hug: when tragedy strikes, people need 
to lean on each other, literally, for support.

Hollywood romantic hug: “Now that
you’ve seen this, go see our movie.”

Hollywood mug hug: “Now that
you’ve seen this, go see our movie.”

Pound hug (pound shake, one-armed hug, dude hug,
homie hug, shug, hetero hug, bro grab, bro hug, thug
hug, man hug, hip-hop hug): a hug and a handshake
at the same time. “I’d just give you a hug, but you might
think I’m gay.”

Con hug: tricking some stranger into hugging you

Proto-hug: give ‘em a minute, and 
they might be hugging. 

Reluctant hug: “I’d rather have a high colonic 
than hug Abbas.”

No-hands hug: limited applicability but pretty convincing.

And, of course, if none of this interests you, there's always the...

Friday, July 3, 2015

Old Kentucky Home

Raccoon State

Summertime and the living was easy. Raleigh relished it, had no compunctions about availing himself of Nature’s bounty, fruits and vegetables from my backyard orchard and garden. By his lights, the food was simply there for the taking – “to share,” as he put it succinctly. What’s more, he was of the opinion that today’s homo sapiens weren’t nearly sapient enough when it came to their waste lines – consuming, as wont they seemed, way more than was good for them.

“Just living off the fat of the land in the land of the fat,” he’d observe sardonically. “You people need to lose weight, and I’ve been sent by Providence to help stem the tide – nay, the torrent! – of your caloric indifference.”

Such is Raleigh’s eleemosynary complexion.

Rearing up on hind legs, he snatched a low-hanging Bonita peach and began casually nibbling away at it.

“Want one?” he asked glancing up and flashing his patented shit-eating grin.

I glared back in annoyance.

“Peaches are a stone fruit,” I cautioned, trying to sound ominous. “Take care you don’t break your jaw on the pit.”

“Never you mind about the pit,” he snapped back, “it’s the pendulum ought to concern you. Time’s a-fleeting in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Indeed, I had noticed, making his admonishment that much more galling.

Raleigh had educated himself about humans by reading what they threw out in the trash – trash being chiefly what humans read. By degrees, I’d come to appreciate the scope of his ken – everything, it seemed, from Chaucer to People Magazine. I’d subscribed to the latter through one of those frequent flyer mags for miles offers, though I rarely read it myself. Raleigh, on the other hand, knew all about the bachelorette sex scandal, how Kaitlyn “Maybe went too far!” No doubt it was the “went too far” part that first caught his attention – he being such the aficionado of life on the edge.

“When in Venice, do as the Romans do,” he grinned, finishing off the peach. “I think that’s from Italo Calvino.”

“Maybe,” I replied. “Calvino was a Communist for awhile, and Communists used to talk like that. But this isn’t Rome or Venice, and those are my peaches, you little…!”

Raleigh, facile with whatever’s to hand, treats facts as important only in so far as they bolster his biases and secure his supper. In this respect he’s surely much like the rest of us. You have to admire the furry little dervish’s tenacious defense of viewpoint, though, even when he’s not necessarily certain what it might be and, beyond the moment, might not even care. If there was ever a scion of natural philosophy, it’s he. He could foist a Ponzi scheme and when it went bust, convince you of his victimhood on the grounds of abject privation.

For such reasons as these, I found myself curious that afternoon to learn more about him, especially his lineage. What pedigree of raccoon, I wondered, had given rise to one such as he?

“You’re a California raccoon, Raleigh, but were your ancestors from here as well?” I ventured.

In the face of my just-dispensed rant about peach proprietorship, Raleigh had judiciously retreated a few paces. Now, enticed by my interest, he drew nearer.

“My great-great-grandfather, Jedediah Raqkune originally hailed from Kentucky,” he began, “but in 1820 – just after the demise of Daniel Boone, the famous buckskin sartorialist and explorer of the American frontier – he set out for California. In as much as I mention all this in one breath, you might suspect a connection, as indeed there is.

“How so?

“It’s a story that bears some recounting,” Raleigh cautioned, “and to give it credence may require some effort.”

Daniel Boone
“Most things involving you require some effort,” I replied dryly, “say on.”

“Daniel Boone, as perhaps you’re aware, was known to his contemporaries and later to history as an exemplar of the "natural man” – the man who lives in harmony with Creation, simply if roughly out in the wild. Like Native Americans of his day, and… ” – here Raleigh put on an air of studied self-satisfaction – “…and like myself, I might add, Boone survived off the land, taking only what he needed to sustain life and limb. He was given neither to malice nor greed. Like a sylvan saint, his was a soul set apart, lofty and sanctified in a tabernacle of loblolly and fir.

Anyway, that was the popular myth – which, of course, Grandfather Jedediah knew to be nonsense.”

“Does sound sort of far-fetched,” I conceded. “I wouldn’t have exactly connected Boone with the beatific vision, not even of the bucolic variety.”

“Certainly not!” Raleigh retorted, as though he had a bone to pick with the past. “The truth is Boone was a cold-blooded killer indifferent to genocide. Indeed, when it came to the latter he was all too snug in his skin – not to mention the skins of countless of his victims.

It was Boone, you understand, who mapped out the wilderness, not only for the human settlers who moved into Kentucky, but also for the fur trappers and traders who trafficked remorselessly in the lives of their fellow creatures just to satisfy the fashion houses of Europe. The effect on all concerned was disastrous, disrupting the natural balance of things and suborning Native Americans to crass exploitation of their primeval environment.

Boone himself, who was known to my kinfolk, many of whom fell victim to his skinning knife, as Daniel the Dastardly or sometimes Boone the Baneful, must be counted among the ranks of these despoilers.

When he died in 1820 of natural causes, Grandfather Jedediah Raqkune set in train a sort of posthumous leveling of the score: he dug Boone up while his corpse was still warm and skinned him from head to toe. Not many of you humans know this, but it’s legendary amongst us raccoons.”

“And what on earth did Jedediah do with Boone’s hide?” I grimaced.

“Don’t look so pained,” Raleigh chided me. “I bet you gleefully slapped on one of those outlandish Davy Crockett coonskin caps just like all the others when you were a kid.”

“Well, I, I…” I stammered, tugging at my suddenly-too-tight collar.

Jedediah Raqkune
“I thought as much.” Raleigh squinted at me accusatorily for an instant, then went on.

“From Boone’s scalp, Jedediah made a…well, a Booneskin cap.”

“That’s not funny! Wha..what about the rest of him?”

“Through contacts in New York, the remainder – torso, limbs, behind – was forwarded to one Duncan Phyfe, a leading cabinet maker of the day, with instructions to construct a unique leather love seat, complete with throw cushions made from Boone’s buttocks. Dead center upon the backrest in large, flowery calligraphy was to be embossed the phrase, ‘My Boon Companion.’

Phyfe, of course, was naive as to the provenance of the hide he’d received and presently completed the little couch in a fine-grained polished cherry wood. It was a superb piece of work!”

“And whatever became of this macabre masterpiece?” I asked, by now feeling quite pained indeed despite Raleigh’s earlier injunction.”

“It found its way into a private collection of Federalist furniture in Boston, by which time it looked pretty scruffed up – like some relic of the wild frontier, as one might say!”

Pink Ladies
Tickled by this witticism, Raleigh burst into laughter. Then, regaining composure, he sidled over to an apple tree, grabbed a low hanging Pink Lady, and sank his teeth into it.

For a moment or two I stood wordlessly watching him eat.

“Do you really expect me to believe a tale like that? You must think us humans pretty slow if you do.”

Raleigh looked up, suddenly serious. “It’s no skin off my back whether you believe it or not,” he said through a mouthful of apple, “the point is the same. For generations, you humans have robbed us forest folk of our lives and homes, on account of which we’ve had to take shelter in your cities. Well, now we’re here and drinkin’ your beer. And if you ask me, that seems only fair.”

Fiddling with a Kleenex in my pocket, I stared down at my leather-shod feet. “Try the apricots next, Raleigh,” I said. “They’ve just gotten ripe – I should have mentioned it before.”

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Absentmindfulness: A Modest Proposal


So what is mindfulness, anyway? Everyone knows expressions like mind your step, pay him no mind, mind the teacher, be mindful of others, etc., but do any of these represent "mindfulness?"

Mind you, nobody really knows! Despite all the hoopla of recent years, there seems to be no uniformly accepted definition of mindfulness. Its one of those expressions French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) might have described as a “floating signifier,” a protean notion that like tofu has little taste of its own but readily soaks up surrounding flavors.

Even so, with its burgeoning popularity, mindfulness has emerged as the psychology craze du jour, supplanting such earlier fads as est, primal therapy, transcendental meditation, and lucid dreaming -- and has done it with a patina of science to boot!

Like many ideas that capture the public imagination, the mindfulness movement has no shortage of progenitors. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist leader, is said to have introduced mindfulness to Westerners. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, is often credited with introducing “secular” mindfulness to the American mainstream.

Today, mindfulness mavens of every stripe abound.

Kabat-Zinn, considered by some the dean of Zen, defines mindfulness as “paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

“Mindfulness is not a technique,” he explains, “It is a way of being, a way of seeing, a way of knowing.”

Maybe so, but it seems to be good deal more than that. Mindfulness has been applied to the treatment of chronic pain, depression, and psoriasis; caregiving, death and dying; sex and intimate relationships; entrepreneurship, consumerism, and finance; cooking and eating; creativity; sports; activism; parenting and education from kindergarten up; environmental protection; interventions with prisoners; and even war fighting.

And then there’s mindfulness meditation, a tautology if ever there was one.

When it comes to mindfulness, in other words, everyone seems to be playing in his own sandbox.

Not surprisingly, the mindfulness onslaught has caused consternation among Buddhists who fear their religion is being highjacked for self-centered, secular purposes. Others share their concern. In a December, 2014, piece for Salon, writer Sam Harris observed that:

"The rapid mainstreaming of mindfulness has provided a domesticated and tame set of meditation techniques for mainly upper middle-class and corporate elites so they may become more 'self-accepting' of their anxieties, helping them to 'thrive,' to have it all—money, power and well-being, continuing business-as-usual more efficiently and, of course, more 'mindfully'—while conveniently side-stepping any serious soul searching into the causes of widespread social suffering."

And that may not be the worst of it. What if mindfulness in the service of enterprise turns out to be little more than a loosely stuck Band-Aid?  What if it has the potential to work something like prednisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory corticosteroid that can mask the symptoms of serious disease, producing a false sense of health and well-being until its too late? So, for example, bacterial infection “treated” with prednisone instead of antibiotics may appear to improve dramatically until the affected individual suddenly ups and dies of sepsis.

At least for some folks, managing, say, tension and anxiety with mindfulness therapy while ignoring the root causes might lead to an analogous emotional catastrophe: one day the optimistic, upbeat – and mindful – executive; the next, a startling suicide. The best treatment for any malady, of course, is one that eliminates the cause, not merely the symptoms (though admittedly this is often not possible).

On the other hand, if mindfulness is really about slowing down enough to smell the roses (as seems likely), perhaps it’s essentially innocuous after all.

Not everyone would agree, though. Columnist Judith Warner discovered that “...being fully in the moment, all senses turned on, feeling your hands in your lap and the ground under your feet, is a very good way of not being there at all” – that mindfulness often turns into “extreme solipsism” and is “stultifyingly boring.”

You’d need a touch of the Stepford feminoid not to take Warner’s point.

In contrast, for writer Vivian Gornick the beginnings of mindfulness struck like St. Paul’s epiphany. Walking along a country road, she says, “running a movie in my head,...right in the middle of the film, a kind of visual static..cut across my inner field of vision; the ‘story’ began literally to break up before my eyes and then…terminated.. At the same time an acrid taste began to fill my mouth and, deep within, I felt myself shrinking from: I knew not what.”

Succored by nascent mindfulness, or something very much like it, Gornick eventually gives up daydreaming (watching movies in her head) and learns to live in the moment.

Well, hoorah (at least for the moment)!

The Zen-iest mahatma of them all, however, has to be India’s Mohandas Gandhi. He had young women from his ashram, some of them teenagers – one, his grand-niece – sleep naked with him. In part this was to keep an old man warm, but it was also imagined as a test of his vow of “brahmacharya,” or total chastity in thought and deed. If he could manage to be non-judgmentally mindful of nubile young female bodies – yielding, curvaceous thighs draped over his stiff old gnarled ones – without losing focus, he’d be a true Zen master indeed!

Supposedly Gandhi succeeded – no manifestations of the inflatable obelisk – but so what? He might just as well have been dead.

For me, all these postures seem a bit over the top. Tuning in non-judgmentally to one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings on an ad hoc basis does seem like a good idea, but why make a fetish of it?  I’d even suggest letting your mind go totally blank now and then, thinking about absolutely nothing at all, entering into a sort of lucent slow-wave, non-REM state of consciousness, as it were – the sort of state in which you might find yourself during speeches at a political convention.

By the same token, watching movies in your head isn’t necessarily all bad – as long as they’re not B-grade films. Many of life’s everyday tasks can be accomplished on autopilot, giving one the opportunity to think creatively, dream the impossible dream, or just seethe silently in anger if that’s your thing.

I propose we dub the creative side of this absentmindfulness – taking mental leave of your surroundings in order to be proactively imaginative within your own head. Absentmindfulness thus understood would serve as a refuge from the enervations of quotidian mindfulness, mindlessness, or the just plain quotidian. The “absentminded” professor lost in thought over some intellectual conundrum, for example, would now be more properly – and respectfully – regarded as absentmindful.

As for the “I knew not what,” that ineffable something that had Ms. Gornick a-shrinking within, I suspect it was her sense of chagrin over irredeemable temps perdu – a regret we all feel occasionally, especially after watching bad films. If that’s what you’re experiencing right now, please feel free to comment – but be mindful of what you say.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Straits of Morgellons

Scratch your itch!

Spring was drawing nigh. I hadn’t seen Raleigh for awhile and suspected reflexively he must be getting up to something. When it comes to the devices of himself, scarcity for Raleigh usually spells chicanery.

What was it this time? Someone had been scraping up mulch in the flowerbeds, looking for grubs. Then there were the tomato plants dug out of the garden. But none of this was out of the ordinary and could have just as easily been skunks. Moreover, the trash was intact, and there were no muddy footprints on the back porch. Raleigh always leaves tracks – if he’s around.

I generally refer to Raleigh as a natural raccoon, but the truth is he’s disturbingly preternatural. Coons as a species are smart, especially when it comes to opening lids, undoing locks, squeezing into unlikely spaces and such, but Raleigh’s ingenuity goes way beyond this. How many raccoons know the credit limit of your MasterCard? Or the basics of molecular biology? Raleigh is that kind of smart.

Curiosity, if not suspicion, getting the better of me, I made up my mind to track Raleigh down. That meant keeping a midnight watch in the garden of coonly delights, the backyard of my house, particularly amongst the vegetables.

So there I sat like a statue in an aluminum folding chair, concealed from an inquisitive full moon by a nine-foot Celadon-green patio umbrella -- a light breeze playing with the canopy and a slight chill in the air. My mind wandered to thoughts of friends from years gone by: Hilde, a red-tailed hawk from Kassel with a partiality for Hofbräu brews; Velda, a strict vegan vulture from Saskatchewan; a Texas armadillo by the name of Alamo who methodically varnished his shell with carnauba wax at least twice weekly; and Manfred the Minnesota badger who brazenly sold snowshoes and bootleg tins of Cougar Long Cut Natural to unscrupulous fur traders from Duluth.

Well, who amongst us is without foibles and frailties? What had become of these beguiling chums, I wondered.

Whatever he’d been up to, I was sure Raleigh would stick around once he’d put in an appearance. Like Br’er Rabbit and the tar-baby, I reckoned, he’d be drawn irresistibly  to a motionless me as though I’d somehow turned into a novelty that warranted a once-over – Raleigh the bold and curious, always alert for the main chance.

Sure enough, he sidled up beside me out of the shadows.

“Well, Raleigh, I’ve been look…”

“Hey, there! Where the hell have you been?” he interrupted.

“Hiding out from you, no doubt,” I replied, going with the flow. “Where have you been, and what have you been up to? Somebody hacked into my bank account – using what the bank described as a ‘Procyonic’ exploit.

And speaking of money, I’m dubious about paying you any more rent for this place on account of I doubt your standing to be dunning me for it. You might at least come up with some bona fides – official-looking papers with notary stamps and the like.”

“I’m glad you brought it up,” Raleigh relied. “I was planning to give you a break on rent this month anyway. Instead of dog food, I’d like you to place an order on my behalf for a special restorative shampoo. You see, I’ve come down with a skin condition known as Morgellons. The treatment for it, at least in my case, would be a mixture of rare balms, soothing unguents, and rich immolatients. The special shampoo contains all of those and would be just the ticket.”

“You must mean emollients, not immolatients,” I replied, “unless self-immolation is your idea of a tan.  God knows you’ve burned me often enough with your schemes. So what is this Morgellons?”

Raleigh blinked, pausing for a second to assimilate his malapropism. Then he continued:

“I have these itchy, crawly sensations as though bugs were burrowing under my skin – doctors call it ‘formication’ – and strange hairs growing out of my pelt. Branch Boughman, the park ranger, said I was imagining things, then sprayed me with DDT. But it didn’t help. The best treatment would be that special shampoo – it says so on the internet – and this magazine ad shows that it works for raccoons as well.”

So saying, Raleigh handed me an advertisement for Drene shampoo depicting a glitzy woman clad in a fur.

“This is just an ad for Drene shampoo,” I said, “and that mink stole she’s wearing has nothing whatever to do with raccoons. Moreover, to be frank, I suspect you’re trying to blame all your troubles on your skin like that aged-out folk singer who lost her voice. But the problem is in your head, not under your hide, and the strange hairs of which you speak are just your fur. You could be in a state of displacement here, Raleigh, maybe even losing your marbles. Turn around and let’s have a look at you.”

As Raleigh turned, I examined his coat.

“You’re as clean as a kitten,” I said after a minute or two. “Nothing wrong with you at all.”

“You’ve never had vision, compassion, or any sense of distractionalism, have you?” Raleigh retorted, soundly sharply critical. “And I’d say you lack empathy altogether for troubles of the spirit, especially ones that manifest as malign disturbances of the integument in the unfortunate afflicted. For your information, I’m not the only raccoon around here with Morgellons. I’ve convinced at least eight others that they have it, too.”

“Distractional what-ism? Maybe you mean abstractionism or something,” I replied,  “but never mind about that. If you really think Drene shampoo will help you, I’ll spring for it as rent this month. But don’t press your luck or I might have to season the creek with Zyprexa to prevent all you coons going mental. This psycho-contagion of yours could run rampant like an internet meme. (Formication, indeed!)”

The URL Raleigh gave me for Drene turned out to be the place-your-order-now page, and paying little attention I perfunctorily made the purchase. The whole thing was clearly ridiculous, but I enjoyed humoring him. Going along with his delusion made me feel broadminded and forbearant, a person of depth and sensibility not at all like the soulless android he’d made me out to be. Moreover – I’ll not deny it – indulging him like this gave me a little sense of intellectual superiority, the way you might feel, say, when amicably patronizing a nitwit.

When next I saw Raleigh, about ten days later, he was cavorting with a bevy of highly attentive coonettes down by the creek.

“Hey, Ral! Glad to see you’re better. The angst and formication gone now?”

He turned, winked, and gave me an enormous grin that slowly went from shit-eating to wicked.

“My angst passeth apace,” he declared. “And as for the formication, t’is naught after all but passion’s name misspoke, a tonic rather than an ill.”

“C’mon girls! Time for some fun,” he shouted to his harem, and off they romped in a tumbling confusion of gray-brown fur.

After recovering from my surprise, I trotted back up to the house to find the packing slip that’d come with the Drene. It read as follows:

To think I’ve ended up a procurer for a coon – and a smartass Elizabethan coon at that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Joy of Illiteracie

Reader beware!

Recently, critics hereabouts have taken me to task for not reading more. Well, its true: except for, say, bank statements and bills, I’ve developed an aversion to practically the whole of literature. I’d rather spend time writing twaddle of my own than reading somebody else’s.

But if you’re determined to gobble up books and such, what would be the point of it? Why, to discover new and interesting things, no doubt. Which suggests right off that reading might properly be of most benefit to the young who yet have much to learn. If you’re callow and inexperienced, one way to discover the world without leaving the coop would be to read what others have had to say about it.

So, for example, a sophomore might learn from novelist Milan Kundera that “…gratitude [is] simply another name for weakness, for dependency…” (Ignorance, 2002) – something to ashamed of, apparently, unless weakness and dependency happen to be virtues (which is not what Kundera appears to be arguing).

Or again from Ignorance: obscenity is “the root that attaches us most deeply to our homeland.”  Well, perhaps, if like (the late) Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward, you can’t define obscenity but know it when you see it: an ineffable something that, together with devotion to country, or maybe instead of it, goes to the very core of your patrimonial selfiness.

To be sure, these are only two random clinkers from fiction and from the same author at that, but for my money they could be exemplars of fiction in general, especially the novel, literature’s preeminent vehicle of dexterous bamboozlement.

Perhaps to cover his tracks Kundera admits that characters in novels are not simulations of living beings, but imaginary beings, experimental selves.

All well and good, but with the sophistication of social science nowadays and computer AI, must we really explore humanness through make-believe characters caged up in books? If its an experimental human you’re after, why not get a programmable robot from Hammacher Schlemmer, say, or just have yourself cloned? Better yet, join a theater troupe where real characters bleed into fictional ones, lending renewed vitality perhaps to both and holding each accountable, more or less, for the other.

If this sounds severe and a bit simplistic, it is. But bear in mind that I don’t begrudge your fondness for novels; I wish only to explain my lack of it. Having spent a career in one of the profane professions§, real people seem way more complex and compelling to me than fictive ones who crop up in literature, from whence perfervid reviewers gush over them like life-long intimates, and authors with much-studied coyness and gravity, “explain” them to credulous talk show hosts.

Still, in one respect, novels seem dependably genuine. As Kundera once told Philip Roth, the erotic scenes in which all his (Kundera’s) novels climax are the "focus where all the themes of the story converge and where its deepest secrets are located.”

Yup, and Freud would agree. Sex and eroticism, accommodating of the wildest fantasies, are distortion-resistant, there being barely a notion of them that could not be deemed real – unusual, perhaps, but not unimaginable.¶

So much for fiction. What of its companion and partner in crime, non-fiction?

Here for me things get dodgier still. I mean, who could object to the facts or to a scholarly collating of them taking the form of, say, history?

Yet I‘m certain there’s such a thing as too much knowledge, a surfeit of learning that contributes, not to enlightenment, but to a sort of cognitive overload, an exhaustion of mental receptiveness and atrophy of the intellect.⌘

Or worse still, perhaps even to moral turpitude! In The Powring Out of the Seven Vials (1642), John Cotton wrote that “the more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee.”

Heavenly days! Should incunabula (and perhaps books in general) finally be deemed as iniquitous as they sound?

The Reverend Bayard R. Hal, in The New Purchase, or Seven and a Half Years in the Far West (1843), opined that “smartness and wickedness [are] supposed to be generally coupled, and [like-wise] incompetence and goodness."

Surely, it would be better to be good and incompetent than smart. Shouldn’t one set forth with a vengeance, then, on the path to goodness by eschewing the ensmartening influences of literature, and cherishing instead the bold, pristine simplicity of ignorance?

I think so.

If that’s not enough, it seems that reading actually dissuades one from thinking! Said German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, “If I have a book to have understanding in place of me…I need not think…”

Yet who could gainsay the importance of thinking and not want to think for him/herself? Assuredly, the way forward is to put aside the perils of reading, especially the writings of Kant.

And it ain't just the Germans, either! French philosopher Michel Foucault argued for “the necessity of stupidity to re-connect with what our articulate categories exclude, to recapture the alterity of difference.” Whatever this means, I’m pretty sure it supports my case: illiteracy, good; learning, bad.

To the objection that ignorance stifles learning (if the ignorant believe themselves already learned), I reply “So what?”  By facing up to their situation and embracing their illiteracy as learning, the ignorant may so far gain insight into clarity and simplicity that further enlightenment be superfluous. In which case, far from a conniving adversary of learning, chaste ignorance be instead its redeemer and liberator, relieving it of all tiresome tasks and responsibilities. In other words, ignorance doesn’t stifle learning, it makes learning unnecessary.

Researchers Moxie Cowznofski and A. E. 
Neuman, pioneers in the functionalist theory 
of education, educational perennialism, and 
the hidden curriculum, publish their data. The 
gist of their findings? “Carnal knowledge 
and that’s it!” 
And none too soon, neither, for what if noisome learning were to prove worse than unnecessary, should accrete insidiously like dental plaque upon the sweet brow of ignorance, debasing it unto lecherous sophistry, erudition’s diabolical twin?

O, ne’er e’re go there, dear reader – not e’en for Eve’s Red Delicious!

Finally – and here comes the frappe de grâce – you simply can’t argue with science! Recently published findings (see Plate), the product of untold dyspneic research, suggest that only the most elemental sort of education is ever required in order to achieve enlightenment and happiness in your work.

“Wise is the one who followeth the path of simplicity e’en until the ends of the earth, but foolish be he who stays home.”

                                                                                              -- Swami Deepsheesh Rajathustra

§In more or less their order of importance, the profane professions include prostitution, medicine, law and law enforcement, the clergy, crime, etc.

¶For the profane professions, way too much of such info comes with the territory. Imagine having to surgically extract one of these from a rectum decisively corked with it during an erotic escapade run amok.

⌘ After wading through the Autobiography of Malcolm X (496 pages) – on account of an enervation of mind that denied me access even to my own name (“Steven”) – I went for days woozily signing myself “X.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Littoralae: Santa Barbara’s Lost Tribe

From here to antiquity

After moving to Santa Barbara I soon got into the habit of hiking on nearby Hendry’s beach. There, below the indulgent cliffs of fossil-laden beach cobble and soft sedimentary rock carved out millennia ago, I could enjoy wet sand and sea fog, driftwood, flotsam seaweed, and shore birds poking about for sand crabs in the dithering surf.

Plate I. Mercator projection relief map of the 
world dating to around 6,000 BC when the 
Littoralae are  believed to have first emerged.
Sometimes dolphins would navigate the narrow stretch between the kelp beds and shore, breaching in smooth, leisurely arches. In these sequestered channels, its said, they can rest up whilst avoiding sharks which tend to be kelp-adverse.

This idyllic place, both the coastal mainland and Santa Barbara Channel Islands, was for some dozen or more millennia, home to the Chumash people, California natives just like you or me. Since food was abundant year-round, the Chumash were able to stay put, avoiding seasonal migrations. With the arrival of the Europeans everything changed, and the Chumash were compelled to move on.

Nowadays, you seldom see Chumash at the beach. About two hundred of them, the Santa Ynez Band, inhabit the 120-acre Santa Ynez Reservation thirty miles from here.
Plate II. Stockade fortification used in time of war
with the Dungeness Creatures. When one of the
Dungeness exclaimed “Why can’t we just all get along?”
a Littoralae trooper is said to have muttered,
“Because you're delicious with a little salt and a dry
white wine.” Despite calls by the Dungeness for
stockades to be repurposed as “hermeneutic circles”
(centers) for the study of conflict, crab cakes remain
a tribal favorite.

Yet I gradually became aware of a tribal presence at Hendry’s, almost numinous, like the spirit or avatar of some more ancient aboriginal story. Small evidence of this seemed to crop up everywhere – dwellings, stockades, monuments, and even burial sites, but on a miniature scale (Plates II-V) – a kaleidoscopic jumble of diminutive structures appearing and disappearing with the rhythm of the tides.

What on earth could be going on?

Plate III. Littoralae dwelling. Constructed
in Proto-Gothic style but now in need of
repairs, this building is not unlike many
others in the greater Santa Barbara area,
perhaps reflecting a wider culture of the
fixer-upper home. Note Sears-like
About a year went by before I discovered the answer – happened across it in an obscure publication from the Institut pour la Communication Nonliminal, Paris, detailing the anthropological significance of a large beach stone I’d previously overlooked as an ordinary boulder: the Great Lodestone of the Littoralae (Plate VI), Santa Barbara’s lost tribe!

The tribal narrative memorialized on this stone is absorbing, but before going further, we ought first consider what we mean by lost tribe.

Lost tribes are of two basic types: those that on account of circumstance slip from historical notice and those that because of, say, geographical isolation have received no notice at all – the latter often described as “uncontacted” (Plalte VII).
Plate IV. Obelisk-like monument to legendary
tribal queen, Parturitia the Plentiful, “mother
of her nation.” Littoralae society is matrilineal,
but you probably wouldn’t know it from this.

History is replete with examples of both. The Mechta-Afalou or Mechtoid are an extinct people of North Africa who flourished during the late Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods before vanishing. Several tribes of ancient Judaea-Sumeria – Canaanites, Hittites, Moabites, Midianites, Israelites (ten tribes of them, purportedly*) – extant before about 700 BC, subsequently disappeared.**

During the Middle Ages, many tribes of what was then Russia went extinct.

As Europeans colonized the New World, destruction of indigenous cultures became rampant. In Brazil alone, many thousands of native tribes dissolved, 87 of them between 1900 and 1957.
Plate V. Stone-chambered burial cairn.
According to one interpretation of the Great
Lodestone, such burial sites are to be managed
on a timeshare basis.  Since the Littoralae
prefer to outsource custody of the deceased
during their time off, holiday periods for cairns are
much sought after. 

Surprisingly, even today uncontacted communities are to be found in densely forested areas of South America, New Guinea and India, among them the Sentineli who’ve inhabited their island in the Andamans (Bay of Bengal) for 60,000 years. The provinces of Papua and West Papua, New Guinea, are home to some 44 uncontacted tribal groups.

Which brings me back to the Littoralae – still an uncontacted tribe themselves, it appears, since nobody’s ever seen them!
Plate VI. The Great Lodestone of the Littoralae, “imparted
unto them” during an epiphanic cataclysm (probably a seismic
rock fall). Proportionately speaking, the stone is of an order
of magnitude comparable to Mount Rushmore and bears the
tribe’s complete religious canon and history. The inscriptions,
known as Linear ABC, have a symbology similar to bar code
(inset) and were first deciphered in 1999 by Jean-François
Champignon, Institut pour la Communication Nonliminal, Paris.
Unfortunately, reading the stone from top to bottom or left to
right yields meanings that contradict what one learns by starting
from the obverse directions. Littoralae scholars, however, point
out that not only does history repeat itself, it ends up in the hands
of revisionists. As for religion, well, today’s heresy is tomorrow’s

The Great Lodestone is not just some striated rock form; its etched with barcode-like writing lately dubbed Linear ABC by Professor Jean-François Champignon of the Paris Institut, the first to decipher it. Thus, it’s to him and this extraordinary chunk that we owe our knowledge of the Littoralae.

Among the legends inscribed on the stone are two creation myths, one predating the other by centuries. According to the earlier version, the first Littoralae were born of sea foam like the Roman goddess, Venus, and subsequently adapted to life on dry land (and then again to the life aquatic as they took to warring with the “Dungeness Creatures”).

In the more recent account, however, the tribe voyaged to California long ago aboard primitive stone spacecraft from their home world, Planet Hollywood, in a galaxy far, far away.  This version of the beginning times, now considered apocryphal and the work of a skillful graffitist with a knowledge of barcode, nonetheless makes for interesting reading and remains the more popular of the two – so much so that a large number of Littoralae, known as the Assemblage of Littoral Belief, have come to accept it as literal truth

“Believing your own myths is one thing, but somebody else’s graffiti? What the hell?!” marveled Professor Champignon, who rather precipitously moved on to another project.

Plate VII. Explorer anthropologist Dr. Njenga
Mbaru with the hitherto uncontacted Qaddy
people of western M’gmbique in 1954. A Qaddy
woman in native costume and sandal spikes used
for cultivation, offers Dr. Mbaru larvae of the
giant piebald Alopecia moth prepared in earthen
crockery (inset). Unfortunately, "half-baked social
mores" and rampant addiction to fermented bisquick,
Dr. Mbaru found, spelled dissipation for an entire
generation of Qaddy.
Even so, there’s much to admire about the Littoralae. For centuries they’ve lived self-reliantly, hidden in plain view as it were, their lives interleaved imperturbably with the Sturm und Drang of the larger world. Though to the unbeliever their religious ideas might seem ridiculous, they’ve made no attempt to impose them on others (those nice evangelists who keep ringing my doorbell have never hinted they might be Littoralae, though sometime I wonder).

They’re a peaceable folk, largely agrarian and vegan, though with one notable exception: predation upon their crustacean neighbors, the Dungeness Creatures. This conflict (Plate II), which has raged for generations on more or less unequal footing, has seen the Dungeness get the worst of it.

Plate VIII. Stone cairn memorials to Littoralae
leaders and glitterati. Note crab cakes wryly
stacked in cairn-like fashion (inset) – a sort
of backhanded tribute to tribe’s comestible foe,
the Dungeness Creatures. Even if well-intentioned,
however, such homages seldom survive mealtimes.
Plate IX. Reminiscent of Peru’s Nazca
Lines, this zoomorphic geoglyph seems a
reflection of  coastal culture. Or could the
Nazca and Littoralae simply have been
influenced by the same band of ancient aliens?
Yet violence begets progeny of its own, in this case, a deforming of the Littoralae psyche by an almost involuntary cynicism. Unlike other Native Americans who were known to beg forgiveness from the spirits of animals they’d killed for food, the Littoralae instead stoop to subtle acts of distain for the fallen (Plate VIII) – and sometimes even to banal vulgarities (e.g., “Upon the plate doth rest thy fate!”).

Still, nobody’s perfect. On balance I do hold the tribe quite in regard. I’m crazy about crab cakes myself, you see, and I’m also a tin-plated cynic.

And then there’s the final line of the Lodestone that reads: “The greatest of all virtues is kindness.”

*As it happens, the word “Chumash” also means Torah. Ten Lost Tribes theorists are welcome to take it from there.

**Perspective, too, plays a role in this. Some disappeared Sumerian tribes – the Malachites and Dolerites, for example – may not have been considered missing at all, at least not the time. The former, green-eyed malcontents the lot of them, and the latter, endlessly disconsolate over something or other, vanished but went un-missed by anyone, their scarcity deemed more boon than privation. You’re not lost, in other words, until somebody thinks you are.

“A new beginning shall I sing, for the Hog Farm of the Virtuous is at hand, when the shoat shall praise the day.”

-- Swami Deepsheesh Rajathustra, speaking (after a toke or two) at the dedication of the Blind Pig Ashram, Great Salt Lake