Friday, December 2, 2016

Safe Spaces: Refuge for the Identity Liberal

(Trigger warning: this content may include material that is innocuous or – worse – boring)

You can run, but you can’t hide.

In today’s world this would seem to be a truism. If a surveillance camera or drone doesn’t have you in focus, your smart phone is probably leaving an electronic scent trail.

Yet in spite of this, or perhaps in part because of it, college campuses in America and the UK
have seen a burgeoning demand for so-called safe spaces and trigger warnings about academic course material to protect students from thoughts and ideas that might seem controversial, anxiety-provoking, or perhaps merely novel.

The traditional role of schools as safe spaces for free speech and intellectual inquiry would appear to be taking a dark turn. Even freedom of the press on campus has been under assault.

But what is a safe space? The phrase is a shibboleth malleable enough to cover a lot of ground. It could be a dedicated room like Harvard’s Room 13 that offers cookies and counseling 7:00am to 7:00pm.  Or a room equipped with pillows, bubbles, Play-Doh, coloring books, puppy cuddling, or even a “massage circle” – a sort of ad hoc first responder base for students “traumatized” by, say, a debate about a hot button topic like campus sexual assault. Several universities, for example, offered such services to students distraught over the news of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. (I could have used a ton of Play-Doh myself.)

Because of the taboo in academic circles against “blaming the victim,” the reasonableness, much less sincerity, of a student’s emotional state is seldom called into question when he or she testifies to feeling threatened and invokes the right to redress and/or safe space, especially if the student’s emotions speak to the his/her identity group. Thus, the mere testimony of threat mandates a remedy – such as dis-inviting a public figure from a scheduled campus appearance (at least 240 such campaigns since 2000) or the censure/ resignation of faculty or administrators.

Besides a particular room, a safe space could be a building such as an ethnic or cultural center – black student union (e.g., Northwestern’s Black House), Hillel house, Catholic or Christian center – or a designated (usually temporary) outdoor area of the campus. On occasion, students have demanded the entire campus be turned into a safe space – topically, of course, for the benefit of the group in question.

Many institutions now offer programs that train “allies” for, say, the LGBT community, upon completion of which the student or faculty graduate receives a colorful decal to put on a locker or to designate an office as a safe space for members of that identity group.

Paradoxically, safe spaces, which may be segregated by race, identity group, or even subgroup, are not necessarily themselves free of risk. Students at a “safe space” at Claremont McKenna College in California shut down an Asian woman who was describing racial harassment by a black man, booing her when she declared, “black people can be racist.” People of all sexual preferences are more likely to discriminate against self-identified asexuals as compared to other sexual minorities, potentially leading to their exclusion from, say, an LGBT safe space.

As to what’s behind the safe space craze, many factors are doubtless at play, not a few of which seem  regrettable (see Appendix). Even so, the safe space tsunami has washed up some colorful flotsam and jetsam, in some instances so ridiculous it’s downright hilarious:

Students at Harvard Law School asked various professors not to teach rape law or even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest they cause students anxiety.

The Affirmative Action Office of Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis, found a white student guilty of racial harassment for merely reading a book titled Notre Dame vs. the Klan. A picture of a Klan rally on the book’s dust cover had offended one of the student’s co-workers – himself a janitor as well as a student.

While correcting a student’s grammar and spelling, a UCLA professor noted that the first letter of the word "indigenous" had been wrongly capitalized. Lowercasing the capital I was deemed an insult to the student and her identity group.

At Yale, English majors demanded that classes featuring white male poets be abolished.

Asian students at Oberlin College complained that the General Tso’s chicken wasn’t up to their standards – a case of misfired “cultural appropriation," you might say – ironic in that the meal was originally standardized in America as a way of introducing Americans to Asian food.

In another “cultural appropriation” contretemps, a San Francisco University coed attacked a white man wearing dreadlocks because “It’s my culture,” not yours!

When the University of Michigan Ann Arbor announced a new campus-wide policy allowing students to select their own “designated personal pronoun” – informing the campus community they were expected to adhere to those preferences – one student chose “His Majesty” (as a satirical joke, fortunately).

At the University of New Hampshire, the word “American” was (briefly) deemed problematic. The school’s online “Bias-Free Language Guide” wherein this claim was made, however, didn't last long.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has published a jolly gender pronoun guide. You might want to keep this one uploaded to your Google Glass because, well, you never know...

So where does all this leave us?

America’s political azimuth having taken a sharp swing to the right, some pundits now proclaim the end of identity liberalism, the vis a tergo of the safe space phenomenon. Perhaps, but I’m not so sure. Even if identity liberalism, understood as safe space-addled, narcissistic disconnectedness to anything outside one’s identity group, regresses so far that, bereft of other distractions, it ends up, however implausibly, oblivious even to itself – and thus defunct – liberal birds-of-a-feather, squabbling all the while, will still flock together. And as traditional safe spaces or sanctuaries dwindle, especially on campus (due to the onslaught of identity conservatism, for example) new ones will have to be found.

But found where? Or with what?

During the latter days of his dotage, my great grandfather Nachmann “Knack” Podhoretz – who was admittedly prone to collecting, nay, hoarding, even the most woeful of misconceptions – once commented (rather too offhandedly, I thought), “every idea comes in handy sooner or later.” With this aphorism of his in mind, though, I’d like to venture a suggestion for coping with the safe space/liberal identity crisis, a possible everyman (conservatives, too!) solution you could keep in your garage and perhaps even trail behind your car – namely, the orgone accumulator.

Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Energy Accumulator circa 1940, “Ghosts in the Machine”
, New Museum, New York, 2012. In today’s social milieu, it’s easy to
imagine the accumulator repurposed as safe space.
First introduced around 1940 by a Viennese psychiatrist, one Wilhelm Reich, the orgone accumulator was perhaps his greatest achievement. Amongst other fixations, Reich was a believer in salvation through "apocalyptic orgasm." He claimed to have established the basis for this idea – and indeed, for everything! – with the discovery (in a pot of beef stew, of all places) of orgone, the universal life force that accounts for, inter alia, the color of the sky, gravity, galaxies, and, yes, a good orgasm.

Tossing meat, potatoes, vegetables, and a few other ingredients into a pot and cooking it for half an hour (not unlike how I do this blog), he siphoned off some of the broth and observed it under a microscope. There, contained in vesicles called "bions," he first discerned the orgone energy.

[Left] Diane Keaton and Brian Avery exit the orgasmatron in the 1973 Woody 
Allen classic, Sleeper. [Right] In a  dystopian world, the orgasmatron proved to 
be the safest space around, although Miles Monroe (Allen), seen here enraptured 
by a go in it, is readily apprehended by security police.

It didn’t take long for Reich to determine that he could trap orgone in a specially constructed cabinet called an accumulator, closeted within which patients could experience cures for just about any medical disorder – and perhaps a good orgasm to boot.

But if you were ensconced in an accumulator too long, it turned out, you could potentially end up overcharged (with orgone, not necessarily by Reich), though whether this might lead to, say, an orgasm cataclysm, one just doesn’t know.
Safe Space alla Rustica. Unlike
the Reich accumulator, this design
and the Moderna (see below)
function more as disposal units.

In 1956, Reich was thrown in jail on US federal charges of fraudulently selling accumulators across state lines, whereafter the device disappeared from view for awhile. Film director Woody Allen re-introduced an up-graded version of it, the orgasmatron, in the 1973 movie classic, Sleeper, though this one suspiciously appears to require an electrical plug-in.

Safe Space alla Moderna
Yet now I wonder if the time has come for still another upgrade to the accumulator: to wit, the Orgaz-Go-Safe, a composite device that in addition to the amenities of previous models, would also function as safe space.

I have no idea exactly what it would look like, but some prototype ideas are depicted herein, along with an example or two of historical interest.

The unit would probably be bulletproof, tear gas-proof, soundproof, idea-proof, and of course childproof or at least offer such features as popular options. Wireless Wi-Fi and a year’s supply of Play-Doh, though, would come standard. For affluent buyers, the Orgaz-Go-Safe might also be available with designer branding (think Orgaz-Go-Safe, Eddie Bauer edition).

Campus rape would likely  plummet.

And if you ended up using yours for a convenient voting booth, too, what harm could it possibly do?

Artist’s conception of a novel orgonic safe space, 
the Gaz-Go-Safe, rendered here in Georgian 
Colonial style.  The boeuf-sur-toit offset  finial is 
an homage to the village green of  bygone days.


There are doubtless many factors at play in the safe space craze.  For whatever reasons, today’s undergraduates seem more immature and emotionally fragile than their predecessors, making it easier for schools to slip into an in loco parentis role and treat them like vulnerable children. Students, in turn, then expect to be treated as such. Given the astronomical cost of a college education, especially at elite schools, an experience uniquely tailored, not just to a student’s academic needs, but also to his or her emotional ones, is now presumed to be part of the package.
Institutional Safe Space Program

Indeed, students’ emotional needs are a growing concern. In a 2013 survey by the American College Counseling Association, a majority of campus mental-health directors reported an increase in the prevalence of severe psychological problems among students. Perhaps this explains, at least in part, students’ inordinate sensitivity to things like “microaggressions,” small actions or words that seem innocuous but are taken as attacks. Asking an Asian or Latino student “Where were you born?,” for example, would be considered a microaggression. So would spelling the word history as “history” instead of “hxstory” – the former being considered sexist and patriarchal: “his”+ “story.”

Outmoded Safe Space
Imaginary Safe Space
If you run about this emotionally discombobulated, on hair trigger setting for every occasion, you can’t be very comfortable with yourself. No wonder you’d want a safe space.

Another reason for the safe space obsession – and associated student assertions of feeling unsafe – may have to do with changes in two civil-rights statutes, Title VII and Title IX,  that require campuses not be “hostile environment[s]” for women and minority groups. If students demand censorship on the grounds of feeling unsafe – i.e., that their environment is hostile – they’re more likely to be heard than if they do so on other grounds. In other words, the almost knee-jerk concession of safe space, along with any censorship, is understood simply as compliance with the requirement for a non-hostile campus environment.

Ironically, diversity itself could be a contributing factor. Today's Millennials, young adults ages 18 to 33, are the most racially diverse generation in U.S. hxstory, and this is reflected on college campuses. Most college students prefer a campus “where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints,” including offensive and biased speech, over a campus where such speech is prohibited.

Yet achieving consensus for normative behavior and discourse in the face of such diversity could plausibly be difficult (like the Tower of Babel) and lead paradoxically to the sort of minimalist campus neo-orthodoxy that tries above all else to ensure nobody’s feelings get hurt and minority groups, especially, are “safe.” As a consequence, almost any idea could potentially be deemed threatening and subject to censure. These days, even professional comedians avoid appearing at college campuses because campuses have become just that PC.

Finally, today's campuses are dangerous in ways that are all too real. More than one in five female undergrads at top schools, for example, suffer sexual assault, and the response of school administrations to such crimes has tended to be lackluster. Moreover, merely knowing that you could be caught up in a shooting rampage on campus surely ups the ante for any notions of safe space. Who can forget the 2007 nightmare at Virginia Tech?

Horizontal Safe Space

                                       "You have to let the inmates out of the asylum once in awhile. 
                                        Otherwise, things get dicey. The trick, of course, is to get them 
                                        back in."

                                                                                                — Quinlin Blemish, Esq.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Vibrations & Libations: The Search for Quantum Consciousness and a Good Sherry

Why is one?  Why should one be at all – have just enough presence of mind, let’s say, to grasp the notion of presence-ness?

Well, why not? The question, steeped in myth and fated to slow cook forever in the crockpot of muddled ideas, seems not so much mysterious as silly.

Yet setting aside the ‘why’ nonsense, unless you’re a shell-shocked existentialist, you probably accept as if by rote the notion of ‘who’ – who one is, or that one is – if not necessarily when or where or what one is.  Which makes you wonder if consciousness, the primordial advertence to self we so typically take for granted, could be another of those quantum fields we keep hearing about from particle physicists.

According to this idea (pace, Sean Carroll) each of us, each consciousness, would be a vibration or excitation in the quantum consciousness field, a sort of existential wave function or event distribution so distinct and coherent that even the likes of the Beach Boys, say, could pick up or detect it whilst surfing their own wave function around Malibu. Viewed in this light (as being all about vibes), canonical consciousness states would tend to blend with the background field. In some slices of the spectrum, though, you’d find waves of high frequency and bigness (see de Broglie wavelength), signals of an amplified presence or a heightened expression of self-ness.

No wonder Noetics and New Agers, much attuned to the idea of vibes, gravitate so avidly to those excitable, photon-emitting gurus.

Now recall that quantum waves also behave like particles. So, besides a vibration, each of us would presumably correspond to some sort of consciousness particle or singularity – a singularity every bit as singular no doubt as we’ve been led to believe.

During  quantum entanglement, for example, one’s particle self (consciousness) might take on a particular task while at the same time be spaced out somewheres  tackling entirely separate issues (pace, fanboys of mindfulness).

And what about quantum superposition? Might it not explain how one could be of ‘two minds’ about something, hold contradictory ideas in one’s head at the same time? Surely, everybody’s felt superimposed this way at one time or other. It happens when you start to feel like a guest in your own skin, hankering for a bailout by Schrödinger, say, no sooner than the in-laws arrive with that upholstery-shredding tabby of theirs, already rampant in its flimsy, plein-air pet carrier  – and you’re allergic to cats.

On the other hand, if yours is the calm calamity of a one-track mind, don’t go blaming Schrödinger or collapse of a quantum function. Getting bogged down mentally in a soggy patch of the Higgs field is probably your own doing.

By now you can see where I’m going with this – that consciousness is hard to pin down and why in the view of some, it’s unlikely to ever be.  I for one would argue why bother at all? It’s like trying to perform your own colonoscopy using a Kepler telescope.

Indeed, don’t you wonder sometimes if there’s even a particle of consciousness out there?

Still, fluxes in cognition, or whatever you want to call it, can make for interesting times, as I found out the other day while shopping for one of my preferred beverages, Harveys Bristol Cream sherry, at a nearby BevMo! liquor store. I’ve been a fan of the Cream for almost a half-century, so for me the idea of Harveys is sort of second nature.  For others, though, it ain’t necessarily thus.  But more about that latter.

I got my first taste of Harveys at an English pub, the Blue Pig Inn in Grantham, Lincolnshire, many years ago. It was on one of those gloomy English afternoons in midwinter when the lecherous damp, breaching collars and buttonholes, leaches into your skin like a Trump, when sidewalks look moist and osmotic as though the cement were still fresh. Trudging along Vine street toward Swinegate, en route to visit nearby St. Wulfram's parish church*, I came upon the sign of the Blue Pig looming over the pub entrance. The effigy’s desolate blue-ness only sharpening my sense of the cold, I ventured inside to warm up and have something to drink.

But what drink to order? My teetotaler days not far behind me, I was no expert on ales and spirits. Callow about most things British to boot, what caught my eye was a bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream and the label that read:

By appointment to her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Wine Merchants John Harvey & Sons Limited, Bristol, United Kingdom

“Well, hail, Britannia!” I thought. “I’ll have what she’s having!” – and ordered a glass. For an expatriate visitor to Grantham, hometown of Margaret Thatcher, I reckoned, taking a quaff of the queen’s own potation might well be considered de rigueur, a gesture of respect.

The Harveys turned out to be tasty alright and had none of the bitterness of the Guinness stout I poured on my rolled oats of a morning!

Believe it or not, sherry, a Spanish drink, has a long history in Britain. The beverage began gaining in popularity around 1587 soon after Sir Francis Drake sacked the port of Cadiz and stole nearly three thousand barrels of, well, ‘sack’ as it was known at the time. Nothing like free samples to gin up the market!

After sherry had become a major import commodity, many English companies were formed, and styles developed, to take advantage of the trade. Indeed, not a few of the cellars in the sherry-producing region around Jerez were founded by British families.

Bristol Cream sherry, today one of the world’s most recognizable, originated with John Harvey & Sons, Bristol, around 1796. If you haven’t tried it, it’s dark amber in color, complex, and slightly spicy – a mixture of fortified (added alcohol) Spanish wines, including Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximénez, blended for sweetness and richness and the ‘creaminess’ of aftertaste that is its distinction.

For me, one drink of the Cream at the Pig, and I was hooked!

Which brings me back to BevMo!.

BevMo!, with nearly 150 stores in several states, offers more than 3000 types of wine, 1500 types of spirits, and 1200 varieties of beer. Was I remiss, then, to think they’d have Harveys?  Yet as I searched through their wine section – sweet wines, dessert wines, fortified wines –not a bottle of Harveys could I find.

So I approached the sommelier de la maison, the guy at the cash register, for a little assistance.

He was a young fellow, probably in his early twenties, congenial, with a broad, sincere, if somewhat vacant-looking face, and he sprang up to help me before I’d even had time to ask.

“I’m looking for the Harveys Bristol Cream sherry – I’m sure you must have it,” I said tersely and with authority, as though rendering a sort of admonishment for the unaccountable scarcity of Harveys presently dilapidating their shelves. So confident was I of success in this matter that I took it for granted that random others would rise to the occasion with splendid aplomb – leave a connoisseur (moi) satisfied in every particular.

“Uhhh, crystal what?” The somm cashier looked confused.

“No, no, Bristol Crea…sherry. Do you know sherry?”

Admittedly, sherry has a stolid reputation these days as the favored drink of your maiden Aunt Minnie, but supposedly that’s changing. It’s said to be in the midst of a big comeback. At the very least, I thought, the term wouldn’t have dropped out of the lexicon, certainly not at a place like BevMo!

Together, the sales guy and I retraced my steps through the store’s cavernous wine section. “It’s a cobalt blue bottle,” I encouraged him, “you can’t miss it.”

 But nada – nothing.

“Let me look on the computer,” he said at last, still trying to be helpful, just as we were joined by one of his equally befuddled colleagues. They clicked away at the keyboard.

“…Harvest, harvest…no, I don’t see it.”

“Harveys! Harveys!” I said in exasperation.

But I’m not sure they heard me. Words were forming yet nothing was getting through, as though the oscillations of my consciousness were stuck in a standing wave exactly cancelled by the sales guy’s.

“I’m new here,” he explained impassively, “just transferred in from another store.”

“But doesn’t BevMo! have a standard inventor…”

Waaush, Waaush, Waaush, Waaush...

Either my asthma was kicking up or that was the sound of an outbound tardis!

‘Just transferred in,’ indeed!

And the other store of which the sommelier spoke? What about that? Even out-of-the-way planets in far-away galaxies have sherry and serve it to the likes of Dr. Who!

Next day I bought a bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream at a Vons grocery a few blocks from my house. It seems to be vanishing rather quickly, too, though not like the tardis.

If by now you’re feeling the need for a ‘why’ after all, an explanation, a reason for being, here’s one to consider. Endure nay, flourish! to cherish your sherries, especially your Harveys. Come the Holidays, accept nothing less. Aunt Minnie won’t mind about the stockings – a tipple or two and she’ll feel no distress.


“Only a teetotaler could see the universe in a drop of water.”
                          – Buckley Brandhoofer, cowboy physicist

* St. Wulfram (Wulfram of Sens, c. 640–703), among other miracles, was credited with the safe passage of a copper clothespin swallowed accidently by a two-year-old boy. I once invoked such a ‘miracle’ myself, but a series of x-rays confirmed that the swallowed sewing needle had stalled and was unlikely to progress any further. The ‘haystack’ in which I found it – it wasn’t easy – turned out to be the patient’s appendix! Although Wulfram and the saint-makers presumably wouldn’t have known it, most small, swallowed foreign objects that manage to clear the stomach have a very good chance of passing uneventfully in the stool, even if they’re edged or pointed. If you’re trying this at home, be sure to eat lots of bulk to keep the pipeline well open.

And my latest miracle fail? Trying to turn money into wine at BevMo!, of course.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Goya’s Majas

Recently, I downloaded Touchnote, an app that lets you send customized postcards anyplace in the world that has a functioning postal system. Just for fun and to demo the service, I sent a Touchnote card to a friend of mine in Pasadena while I was visiting the Getty Center in Brentwood.

The Nude Maja , c. 1797-1800, oil on canvas, F. Goya
A few weeks later, by way of reply, he sent me a conventional postcard he’d picked up at the Prado Museum in Madrid fifty years ago and kept all this time as a souvenir, a reproduction of Francisco Goya’s famous painting, La Maja Desnuda (The Nude Maja).

“Your Touchnote is one of those cheesy
Getty imitations,” he wrote.

The Clothed Maja , c. 1800-1805, oil on canvas, F. Goya
Maybe so, but feel free to decide for yourself!

Be that as it may, the Nude Maja (c. 1797-1800, oil on canvas), even reproduced on a postcard, is a striking piece of work and a nice example of Goya’s “playful and mischievous” side, especially when viewed in context with its twin, the Clothed Maja, painted by Goya a few years later.

Both pictures, on display at the Prado since 1901, were probably commissioned by Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, Duke of Alcúdia, who hung them in a special cabinet reserved for his collection of nude paintings. (Velásquez’s Rokeby Venus, c. 1647–51, was also part of this trove.)

Devoid of allegorical or mythological allusions, the Nude Maja was "the first totally profane life-size female nude in Western art” – classical porn, you might say, since she was certainly considered to be such at the time.

Godoy, a notorious womanizer, hung both painting – the clothed one in front of the nude – in such a way that by means of a pulley system he could dramatically expose the naked version to startle and titillate guests once they’d seen her with clothes on.

But if Godoy was running a peep show, Goya, I believe, was up to a little mischief himself. For taken together, the paintings, intended to be viewed in tandem one after the other as noted, add up to an artistic prank played on the viewer, a painterly tour-de-force achieved through anatomic distortion and trompe-l'oeil windup.

First off, you’d get a gander (in Godoy’s closet) at the Clothed Maja. Immediately grabbing your attention is her elegant black and bronze jacket highlighted in gold, offsetting her rosy cheeks and lips. She wears a white chemise with a broad pink sash snugged up just below her splayed, almost wing-like breasts. Her gown is diaphanous, arrestingly sheer, almost as though she were clad in no more than body paint, and as the eye moves downward, her pubic hair rendered as shadow – or shadow masquerading as pubic hair – subtly beguiles the gaze. And it’s this feature in particular that primes the viewer for what’s to come next – the Maja in full, frontal undress.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell in works of art whether anatomic distortion is accidental or intentional, and if the latter, what purpose it serves. But as in the case of the Nude Maja, context can be helpful. Confronted with the lady now suddenly naked  – again, in Godoy’s closet, as if by means of a curtain hastily raised – you meet the Maja’s gaze: engaging, playful, and unashamedly brazen. Yet her pasted-on head seems to levitate from the canvas almost holographically or trompe-l'oeil fashion. Cockeyed is one thing, but whoa!

Her chest, abnormally broad, extends upward beneath flowing hair to the appliquéd or photoshopped, levitating head, which now suggests a face wedged into one of those funhouse photo cut-out boards that turns you into a gorilla or a clown or a naked lady, say. Her breasts, set too widely apart with a perkiness that defies gravity, are outspread as though poised for a welcoming embrace – a gesture the arms crossed languidly behind the head seem to eschew. Indeed, the Maja’s arms seem attached rather too high, as though to a neck that’s webbed or, like the chest, conspicuously broad.

Thus, in overall aspect the Maja’s torso and head are unsettlingly, almost comically distorted  (vaguely suggestive, by the way, of a female genetic disorder known as Turner syndrome, though this is likely coincidental).

Much of Goya's work is dark and foreboding.
But in the Nude Maja he seems to play the part
of a mischievous, painterly rodeo clown who
goes about subverting amped-up, myopic
Passion away from the primary object of its 

Goya uses these distortions as a sort of  gonzo ploy to disturb and distract the viewer, to draw his/her attention away from the work’s furry focal point back toward the upper half of her body in order to revitalize interest and prevent the gaze from stalling out at ground zero. Besides, with her hips flexed and bent knees pressed demurely together, there’s something a little anti-climactic about the prospect of the Maja’s small triangle (cf. L'Origine du Monde, Gustave Courbet, 1866), appreciated nearly to the fullest already through the gossamer, fluffed-up cotton candy wisp of a gown seen in the clothed version of her.

Thus, unless you’re a complete tongue dangler, Goya’s treatment of the work adds considerable vitality and attraction.

Perhaps also the Maja’s distorted torso and cockeyed, levitating head are there to remind us that she’s a distinct personality, not merely an object of sexual desire. Perhaps, too, these comic elements are simply meant to add levity, an appeal to the viewer not to take the work too seriously – a good idea, maybe, if you’re a pioneer in pornography whose work is going to attract the attention of the Inquisition.

“Lighten up, Torquemada, she’s not going to bite you,” one can almost hear Goya saying.

In any case, Goya’s artistic stratagem perturbs and energizes, prevents the work from descending into ho-hum triviality, the typical fate of so much of pornography.

Indeed, for porno, its been mostly downhill since Goya.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Saint Faraday

"When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and of industry, there is no honour too great to pay to the memory of Faraday, one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time."  

— Physicist Ernest Rutherford on Michael Faraday

No honor too great? None? How about sainthood?

One bright saffron California morning when I was a college freshman, sitting through a chemistry lecture, Professor F. Koenig got off on a bit of a tangent about Michael Faraday and his contributions to electro-magnetism and electro-chemistry. Amongst chemists and physicists, Koenig informed the class, Faraday was seen as practically a saint.

The venue for Koenig’s lecture was an amphitheater in a large red brick Romanesque building set off to one side of the campus. The room contained tiers of wooden desks that fanned up from an arena backed by two green chalkboards on trollies.

Directly on the heels of Koenig’s remark, from high up in the back of the room, there came a sudden, impulsive guffaw.

“Ha, ha! Saint Faraday!”

Half annoyed, half nonplused, Professor K. glanced up in the direction of the outburst, then wordlessly wheeled about and began to scribble chemical formulas on the chalkboards.

I’d pretty much forgotten about this incident until an article in the New Yorker, The Mistrust of Science by Atul Gawande, somehow brought it to mind and got me to wondering if Michael Faraday might actually be a saint. For, to say the least, he apparently inspire trust.

According to Gawande, people are prone to resist scientific claims when the latter clash with their intuitive beliefs. What’s more, folks today – especially the educated, it seems – are becoming increasingly distrustful of establishment science,  placing their confidence instead in fake experts and pseudoscience (e.g., creation science, climate change denial, alternative medicine).

The solution to this problem, says Gawande, is to assert “the true facts of good science” and expose the “bad science tactics that are being used to mislead people.” Clean up the muddled peer review process for scientific journals while you’re at it, he goes on, and good science will prevail, advancing “knowledge in almost every realm of existence – even the humanities, where neuroscience and computerization are shaping understanding of everything from free will to how art and literature have evolved over time.”

Well, its certainly good to be optimistic, but I suspect mistrust of science may be a bit more complicated than Gawande lets on. If the public has lost faith, it’s not just on account of lax communication by scientists or lazy journal editors. It’s because so much mainstream research is proving to be counterfeit, spurious, and in some cases downright ridiculous.

Indeed, the edifice of science today is afflicted by a litany of woes. In October, 2011, the journal Nature reported that published retractions of science articles had increased tenfold over the previous decade. According to a May, 2015, piece in the New York Times, a scientific paper is retracted because of misconduct on average every single day. Two percent of scientists – out of 2 million published articles per year, so the 2 percent figure is quite substantial – admit to improperly fudging data.

But why would this be? Isn’t professional integrity a sine qua non for the conduct of science?

Perhaps it was in the past, but these days scientists seem to have more pressing concerns. In order to secure funding and safeguard their academic jobs, they feel compelled to publish regularly in high-profile journals at any cost. So sometimes they “massage” (see P-hacking) or even fabricate experimental results in order to keep up the pace, especially in the area of biomedical research where an ever-larger share of government spending is being allocated. Thus it’s perhaps not surprising that attempts to replicate the findings of several recent studies in psychology, genetics, nutrition, and oncology have failed.

fMRI scanner. By means of complex 
computer algorithms, this device can 
render the human brain as lucent as an 
elementary particle, revealing charge, 
spin, and even emergent thought during 
collapse of the quantum wave function. 
The presence of an attractive X-ray tech-
nician, however, can be a confounding 

Yet even in the absence of malfeasance, credibility issues in some areas of research remain. For example, many neuroscience investigators nowadays employ a technology known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at brain function as it applies to the humanities, philosophy, art, literature, aesthetics, religion, hypnosis, etc. Indeed, such use of fMRI has practically become a fad that at times can strain common sense to the point of hilarity, especially if you include neuropornography (1, 2) (which is probably the kissing cousin of MRI coital imaging).

A single “cut” from an fMRI scan
showing “lit up” regions of the brain. A
dim or completely dark image portends
lackluster results.
fMRI measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow to the brain’s various regions.  When an area of the brain is in use, flow to that region increases, and it “lights up” on the scan. (Standard MRI simply produces anatomical images without reference to blood flow.) So, for example, a researcher might image a subject’s cerebral blood flow before and after the subject looks at da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Playboy magazine, and then draw inferences based on changes in patterns of brain perfusion.

This, however, seems a bit like observing the lighted windows of an office building after dark in hopes of determining what’s going on inside. Even if the corner office is brightly lit, you still don’t know whether it’s the CEO or the cleaning lady who’s at work in there. By the same token, the presumption that simple fluxes in cerebral blood flow can yield specific insights into the inner workings of consciousness seems quite a stretch. What’s coming next? Neuroastrology? Neuro-oneiromancy?

In addition, there’re assorted definitional pitfalls. If philosophers can’t agree on the meaning of free will, what can cerebral blood flow tell you about it? Similarly, for compulsive sexual behavior disorder (addiction to pornography), another focus of fMRI study, even the investigators concede there’s no precise definition.

And finally there’s the startling technical glitch brought to light by a UCSB study, an anomaly that may have affected most fMRI neuroscience research to date. Bennett and colleagues did fMRI scans of a dead (d-e-a-d) salmon (f-i-s-h) and found neural activity in its brain when it was “shown” photographs of humans in social situations. This was because the computer software failed to carry out “multiple comparison correction,” a shortcoming that could call into question the findings of much of the work in the field.

No wonder fMRI neuroscience smells fishy!

If all of the foregoing isn’t barrier enough to trust in science, a 1995 analysis of standard statistical methodologies used for the majority of scientific research came as a real shocker. Simulations done by John Ioannidis, now at Stanford, showed that for most study designs and settings, it was more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, claimed research findings were likely to be little more than accurate measures of prevailing bias.

Well, land sakes alive! Don’t even try to pass Go, you rascals, or collect that $200. Forfeit those NIH grants forthwith and hie thee to the Federal Scientist Protection Program. They’re coming for you with torches and pitchforks – or at least a fraud-o-meter and a research misconduct review board.

Which brings me back to Michael Faraday and sainthood. Halleluiah for Faraday, for physics, and for their guardian angel, mathematics!

M-Theory – the big tent theory of everything –
comprised of five string theories (Type I, Type IIA,
Type IIB, SO(32) Heterotopic, E8 X E8 Herotopic)
plus 11-Dimentional Supergravity (Supersymmetry).
But where’s Waldo? T
he construct has yet to result 
in a tested hypothesis.
From Newton to Einstein to contemporary quantum mechanics, physics, underpinned by the elegance and legitimacy of mathematics, has been pretty much free of the stickiness of biology and fuzziness of the social sciences.  NASA engineers used Newtonian mechanics to land vehicles on the moon and Mars. The predictions of Einstein’s theory of relativity and the Standard Model of quantum mechanics have proven amazingly accurate – and for better or worse, gave us atomic energy. Today, M-Theory, which resolves seemingly intractable issues with string theory, shows promise of settling one of physics’ central conundrums, the reconciliation of Einsteinian spacetime (gravity) with the forces of quantum mechanics.

String theory comes in five different flavors,
all of which can be reconciled under M-theory.
What the “M” in M-theory stands for remains
unspecified, but some see it a stealthy
upside-down “W” for Edward Witten,
M-theory’s inventor. 
Of course, like all science, physics has its problems. M-theory, thus far only a mathematical construct, has yet to result in a tested hypothesis. And some discoveries in physics have had to be qualified or retracted.

But fraud and deception have been remarkably rare. When retractions come – and they do – they’re typically the result of honest mistakes that are part and parcel of the scientific process, and they follow soon after the original announcements. In other words, they’re not due to whistle-blowers or the findings of a research misconduct investigation.

For example, following reports in March and June, 2014, of the possible discovery of primordial gravity waves left over from the Big Bang, a more thorough analysis of data from the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite and the ground-based BICEP2 and Keck Array experiments found that the data were inconclusive.  And by December, 2015, a correction had been issued. The primary investigators may have been in too big a hurry to announce their initial findings, but no one believes they were guilty of fraud. Moreover, the existence of gravity waves (though not from the Big Bang) was subsequently confirmed.

Premature claims that neutrinos might have broken the cosmic speed barrier, the speed of light, played out in a similar fashion – from the initial announcement in September, 2011, to the retraction in February, 2012. To date, neutrinos continue to observe the cosmic speed limit.

In the mid-2000s, several physics experiments claimed to reveal so-called pentaquark states of elementary particles. By 2008, however, the journal Review of Particle Physics cited overwhelming evidence that pentaquarks did not exist and stated that the whole story – the discoveries themselves, the tidal wave of publications that followed, and the eventual "undiscovery” – was a “curious episode in the history of science.” Yet, in 2015 during matter-antimatter experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, researchers “stumbled across” pentaquarks quite by “accident." So perhaps these ephemeral subatomic particles exist after all, and in a backhanded way, all those wrong publications were actually right.

So it goes in science. Even when you haven't loaded the dice, today’s heresy may turn out to be tomorrow’s gospel.

Michael Faraday, 1791 – 1867
And what about Michael Faraday? Was he really a saint?

Faraday was a man of humble origins with very little formal education. Apprenticed to a bookseller, however, he gained the opportunity of reading widely. Later in life, when offered a knighthood in recognition for his services to science, he demurred, stating that he preferred to remain "plain Mr. Faraday to the end." Twice he declined the presidency of the Royal Society of London and also turned down an offer of burial at Westminster Abbey upon his death. When the British government requested that he advise on the production of chemical weapons for the Crimean War, he refused on ethical grounds.

Try finding a scientist that saintly today.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Art SPA Getty

                                    Sexcapades      Pilfered antiquities      Authenticity-challenged art works

“If you condemn something, you have to support your argument."
                                               Marion True, Curator of Antiquities 
                                               Getty Museum, 1986-2005

In 1997, the $1.3 billion, Richard Meier-designed, Getty Center opened its doors to the public for the first time – free of charge. Sheathed in white Italian travertine and home to art works ranging from the Middle Ages to contemporary photography – as well as to the Getty Research Institute, Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Foundation, and the J. Paul Getty, Trust – the Center’s several buildings occupy a 760-acre Brentwood campus that towers above nearby Bel Air the way the Capitoline overlooks Rome.

Yet like the private life of its founder and benefactor, J. Paul Getty, Sr., the Center’s 20-year history is replete with scandal and controversy, a story that’s played out as three more or less parallel, sometimes intertwining narratives: looted antiquities, fake works of art, and work place sex.

Somehow, if improbably, all three of these themes appear to have converged on the occasion of the Center’s latest exhibition, the Cave Temples of Dunhuang, Buddhist Art on China's Silk Road, May 7–September 4, 2016.

I arrived excitedly at the exhibit earlier this month expecting a tour of three conserved cave temple originals, restored to pristine splendor.

And why wouldn't they be the originals? With an endowment of $6.2 billion (as of 2013), the Getty is by far the world’s wealthiest art museum and could easily afford to purchase the temples lock, stock, and barrel from China (where since Mao, everything has been up for grabs) and transport them back to Los Angeles.

From a technical standpoint, such an undertaking should be entirely feasible. Folks move big structures all the time. Didn’t engineers uproot and lift two enormous limestone temple complexes at Abu Simbel to avoid the rising waters of Egypt’s Lake Nasser? What would moving a few small man-made caves be in comparison to this?

To ship the caves to LA, you'd first have to excavate them en bloc, pack them up securely in burlap, and stow them on a large freighter like the Maersk Triple-E.

Or for a decent rate, perhaps just send them UPS.

In this particular circumstance, the ethics of an extirpative (en bloc) excavation shouldn't create a dilemma for the Getty, either.  One of the cave temples, #320, had already been partially looted by another American, archaeologist Langdon Warner, in 1924. Thus, defiled with pieces missing to begin with – and with the home team being to blame for it – it'd seem an act of actual responsibility, even charity, to collect the rest of the cave for preservation. Naturally you’d need to dig out a couple of  adjoining ones, too, for purposes of comparative study. But with some 492 of these caves, no one's going to miss a paltry three.
Looted Cave Temple #320

Pretty much on the up and up, really.

True, China is notorious for red tape. But if Customs refused you an export license, you could still have black marketeers smuggle the temples disguised as, say, parade floats to Shanghai and then transship them invoiced as handicrafts to Los Angeles via Dubai. (Everybody does it!)

Like many American art museums, the Getty has quite a history with looted artifacts. In the 1970s and 1980s, the museum’s curator of antiquities, Jiří Frel, cooked up a tax manipulation scheme that expanded the museum’s collection of antiquities, including pieces of dubious provenance – a number of the latter being generally considered fakes.  In 2005, under pressure from Italian authorities to return looted items, an internal review at the Getty found that 350 of its antiquities had been acquired from dealers suspected or convicted of dealing in looted artifacts. By 2007, the Getty had agreed to return forty of these objects to Italy; as of 2014, some fifty-two had finally been repatriated – forty-six to Italy and six to Greece.

One of the museum’s most prized possessions, the 2,300-year-old Greek bronze known as the Victorious Youth, acquired in 1977, remains entoiled in litigation with the Italians to this day.

Most recently, Turkey has sought to recover artifacts it claims are held illegally by the Getty.

Surely, with this much expertise in black marketeering, the Getty could finesse acquisition of a few looted cave temples if it came to that, perhaps even leveraging its reputation for buying fakes as a smokescreen.

Finally, there was the testament of Lou Jie, director of the Dunhuang art research unit, who said of her work on the temple exhibition:

“In this state of submersion, I transitioned through the mental states of self, self-forgetting, and no-self, transported as I worked to a world of more than a millennium ago.”

It seemed likely to me that such thoroughgoing transcendental abnegation of the self would only be occasioned by painstaking en block excavation of genuine caves, not the fabrication of fake ones from fiberglass and Krylon®! Thus, Lou Jie must have been digging up the real thing, not making copies.

But despite all the above considerations,  I was in for a big disappointment!

(To enlarge, click on the image)
The Getty cave temples turned out to be counterfeit after all, merely 21st century copies!* Even to my untrained eye, it was clear right away that one wasn’t dealing with cave originals here (see critical analysis).

How could the Getty have been so mislead?

Well, for starters, it wouldn’t be the first time. The Getty’s traffic in looted antiquities is rivaled only by its history with fake works of art**, and the two things, not surprisingly, have often been interrelated. Bogus antiquities are typically of dubious provenance, and the latter in turn is typical of looted antiquities whether they’re bogus or not.

Take, for example, the “Skopas” head, or head of Achilles, purchased by Jiří Frel for the Getty in 1988 at a price of around $2.5 million. At the time, it was considered one of the museum’s most significant antiquities, a 4th-century B.C. treasure – until it was noted to be a copy of a head on display at the National Archeological Museum in Athens. Of course, no one really knew who had sculpted the counterfeit or for that matter, the original. But the cause of truth in such situations is hardly advanced when you have experts like Frel himself and probably others fabricating false records of provenance on behalf of private collectors and dealers looking to move their own loot.

Originally part of the Getty 
Villa, Malibu, collection

In retrospect, I should probably have anticipated that the Dunhuang cave installation would prove to be counterfeit. For given the Getty’s history with fakes, together with the highly unusual nature of the exhibition itself, this would have been just the occasion for more fakes to turn up.

Which brings me to the final theme of the Getty saga: office or institutional sex.

To be sure, there's nothing special about institutional sex per se. It’s as ubiquitous as red corpuscles, especially in religious institutions. What’s different about hanky-panky at the Getty, though, is the context. Feature a torrid romp on a 110-raj antique silk Tabriz tossed on the marble floor before Rembrandt’s Abduction of Europa or Orazio Gentileschi’s Danaë.

The imagination runs wild!
Alleged Office Party at the Getty (Undated Image)
As did the the staff at the Getty apparently.

In 1987, the president of the Getty Trust left his wife to marry his second-in-command. An affair between the associate director of the museum and the curator of the drawings department was notable enough to get mentioned in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by another employee. In 1996, a different (married) curator of the drawings department began a love affair with his assistant.

“They were fucking like rabbits behind the paintings,” said Peggy Garrity, a lawyer who sued the Getty over a client’s sexual harassment claim.  Especially, perhaps, in the case of the aforementioned Jiří Frel who, well-known for his “priapic tendencies,” had a three-sided desk useful for cornering (often cooperative) research assistants against the window.

And it’s here, I believe – if the Getty's staff would see fit to adopt the cave temples for a self-help regimen of, say, yab-yum tantric yoga – that the Dunhuang replicas could yet prove a major boon to the museum and its associates, way beyond mere historiography and silk road aesthetics. Yab-yum, you see, is the primordial union of wisdom and compassion expressed in a physical sense (yum, indeed). Perhaps the associated rituals would lend a more spiritual cast to the museum’s carnal goings-on and thereby dispel some of the notoriety.

“Where were we? Why, in Cave 320 just…meditating.”

* China is the world's leading center for mass-produced works of art

** In all fairness, art detectives say that around 60% of the art on the market is fake.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

LilthyEtta Here to THERE

featuring S. Clay Wilson’s Checkered Demon

THERE fits HERE to a T

 It was late afternoon. Through a high, stained glass casement window of the Hacienda La Scala, a dust-flecked shaft of pale citrine sunlight fell upon a half-filled page of careful blue script. With an audible sigh, LilthyEtta Saqueth Klatchbustle tossed aside her ink-stained quill and stirred uncomfortably. She’d been composing in dactylic hexameter for hours and exhaustion was overtaking her. What’s more, it’d been over a year since a vacation in Old Habanero, longer still since her last one.

There was about her an air of the traveler, of a sojourner on the verge of departure.

LilthyEtta (“Lil”) Klatchbustle
“I need to go for a swim,” she thought, slumping in her low-back Windsor writing chair and eyeing the small globe-shaped crystal inkwell that rested on the chair’s tablet arm. The iridescent indigo ink glinted back at her with a flash of rainbow colors as though giving a wink of encouragement.

Slowly, deliberately, LilthyEtta arose from the chair and took several steps forward. Then she made an about-face and pulled herself erect as though commencing a springboard dive. Bending her knees slightly, she leaped toward the writing chair in a graceful arc, her body spiraling like an arrow in flight, condensing, contracting, until finally reduced to mere miniature, she plunged headlong into the inkwell with scarcely even a splash (a 9 at least)!
Enigma of Arrival

The lengthy transit that followed, though cosmic in its dimensions, lasted barely a moment or so.

LilthyEtta at once found herself in an odd desert landscape suffused by muted pastel light. In the distance, a narrow line of Italian cypresses on the crest of a verdant hill seemed to march off into thin air. Nearby, a sign, like an ersatz icon of this strange ambient, said “Surreal estate for Sale” – some of the yellow text protruding spookily beyond its edges.

“Where the hell am I?” shouted LilthyEtta. “Am I dead? All I really wanted was a quick dip before dinner.” (Apropos this last, the discerning reader might be excused for a little skepticism.)

“Hiya, LilthyEtta – and welcome!” said a voice behind her. “You’ve landed in THERE. I’ll be your guide, cicerone, docent, and companion for the next little while.”

LilthyEtta turned to see a squat, rotund little demon with (the obligatory) stubby horns, stringy musculature, pointed pig’s ears, pug nose, and large bloodshot eyes. Bare-chested, he was otherwise outfitted in glossy black-and-white checkered trousers and outsize, pointed, black patent leather shoes that looked like pods of sweet peas. As he stared unblinking at LilthyEtta, his full, voluptuous lips curled into an egregious, faintly demonic, gap-toothed grin.

"Checkered Demon, at your service,” he continued expansively. “You can call me Checker. But befo' yo axe me, lemme just ‘splain that I gots ‘dis name of mine ‘cause’a my somewhat check’red past!”

So saying, the demon burst out in a shrill giggle, vastly amused by his own corny humor and faux patois.

LilthyEtta was less amused. “Not a swimmingly good start for the checkered one,” she thought grimly, “but perhaps he’ll improve. I doubt anything stays the same for long around here.”

“How did I end up with you for a guide, anyway?” she asked a little peevishly, as though her trip might’ve been planned all along. “Are you by yourself here in – what did you call this place? 'THERE'?

Oh, and my friends call me Lil.”

“Well, who’d ya expect, Lil? Virgil? Beelzebub?” returned Checker.

“To be sure, someone of your talent and character would’ve normally gotten, say, Lilith as an escort. Lilith’s been around way longer’n me and relates better to poets and womens in general, not to mention being better lookin’. But since she be on leave for the next couple centuries, you just gotta make do with what you got: I.”

Checker let out another unsettling giggle, this time betraying a degree of unease.

“Where is this THERE, by the way?” LilthyEtta persisted. “Is it, like, the afterlife or something? Can there really be a THERE here – or there, as some might say?”

THERE is right here – where everything starts and ends,” explained Checker. “Here (THERE) is the source of all energy – well, most of it – what you'd call the EMS or electromagnetic spectrum.  You start out in the spectrum and sooner or later you return to it in the form of EM vibes or waves. The section of the bandwidth you return to depends on your personal wavelength and energy – that's right, man, your aura!
Empyrean Magnificum Supremus

Take'a look at this diagram,” he continued, showing her a chart of the spectrum. “Notice that, ‘cept fo’ the ‘old school’ inferno, it looks a lot like the scheme cooked up by Dante Alighieri, the I-talian poet. Remember him?"

“Sure, but 'electromagnetic spectrum' sounds so dry and scientific,” objected LilthyEtta, “as though you need physics to appreciate the hereafter.

Whatever became of Dante, anyway? Where did he fetch up on your so-called spectrum when he ‘returned’? Or did he end up in that hell of his own?”

Dante Alighieri understood as a particle/wave 
“Dante had an unfortunate proclivity,” mused Checker. “In his writings, he blithely consigned folks, both real and made-up, to his inferno with such vindictiveness and frequency you'd have thought him a literary critic. Upon reuniting with the spectrum, he found himself trapped in a high frequency gamma wave propagating toward null infinity – an example, perhaps, of what he himself called contrapasso, or poetic justice.

By the way, for your information, before this demon gig, I was head strobe light in a Soho disco!”

Checker interjected this latter a bit bumptiously as though it were some sort of achievement.

Unimpressed but a little apprehensive, LilthyEtta said nothing.  Poets, it seemed, might be at some particular risk in the spectrum. On the brighter side, Checker’s diction seemed to be improving.

"Abandon all credulity, ye who wouldst believe"
By now they’d crossed into a section of desert where the sand was unaccountably moist as though part of a littoral. Ahead, sketched on the ground in large letters, LilthyEtta could vaguely make out some words. As they drew closer, the text became more legible: ‘Abandon all credulity, ye who wouldst believe.’

“How on earth does that make sense?” she asked. “How can you believe something – anything – if you abandon all credulity?”

“The message just encourages you to empty your mind of preconceptions,” Checker explained. “Encounters here in THERE can end up changing you in unforeseen ways. But if you wish to roll with that possibility, you must start afresh from square one. That’s why I wear these checkered pants! Get it? Square one? Checkers?”

The demon's ridiculous non sequitur was followed by yet another earsplitting giggle.

“Or contrariwise, on your way out,” he went on, “you could simply retrieve all the information you came in with and be done with it. Black holes, you see, have a lush infinite head of supertranslation ‘hair.’ You can think of this ‘hair’ as the information you sort of placed in escrow near the event horizon as you came in.”

LilthyEtta, a little confused, looked askance. “Seems a bit racy, if you ask me,” she replied wryly. “You make black holes sound like cosmic vaginas. Are you sure about all this?”

Checker, sucking on his third can of Tree Frog beer, made no reply.

“So is that it for the spectral, um, spectrum tour?” LilthyEtta wondered out loud.

“Not quite,” said Checker enigmatically as he tossed away the Tree Frog empty and booted up an iPad Pro. “Since you’re a poet, there’s a special zone of the visible spectrum you really ought to see. It’s known as – hold on to your seat! – Poets in Hell!”

The scene that emerged on the computer display, a tableau of appalling carnage and debauchery, took LilthyEtta completely aback.

“How could a poet end up in there, uh, there?!” she exclaimed in agitation. “And what does it mean? Was Dante right all along?”

“Many of the hapless poetasters you see there were simply not well-versed in their craft,” explained Checker. “Others might've been counted among, say, the wickedly virtuous or virtuously wicked – like Ezra Pound. That’s him, impaled with pencils and fountain pens.

e e cummings was consumed with the idea of the lower case, and for a poet there’s no case lower than this.

So you see, they deserved it.

Actually, Lil, you yourself could be at risk,” Checker continued (a little too seamlessly), “but luckily, today only, I can offer you a discount broadband insurance policy that…”

“Never mind, I'd prefer not to,” interrupted LilthyEtta, fixing him with a critical gaze. “I know digital manipulation when I see it. Mother always warned me Photoshop® was an instrument of the devil.

Besides, its time I was getting back. Please call me a cab.”

Checker looked sheepish and a little deflated.

Charon will run you up to the cosmic shortcut,” he said. “He drives an Indian motorcycle these days instead of the boat. And don’t be put off by his Cheyenne war bonnet — he’s been sporting it ever since white folks colonized North America.”

Enigma of Departure
“Well, thanks very much for the tour,” said LilthyEtta. “It’s certainly been enlightening.”

“My pleasure,” replied Checker, reprising his devilish grin. “Here in THERE it’s always a nice day for somethin’.”

With that, up roared Charon – vroom! vroom! – and LilthyEtta shortly found herself back at the hacienda next to the writing chair.

Neatly stacked on the tablet arm was the completed draft of the chapbook she’s been working on.

“Not bad!” she said to herself. “How many writers can stay put and write, yet at the same time be somewhere else altogether? Maybe one of these days I’ll figure out how to be even more places at once – it’d be sheer poetry!”

Disheveled spirits

And don’t miss this rad bonus film coming to  the theater right in the front of you!