Thursday, March 31, 2016

March poem

Over the lip of the lawn -- what spills?
Thrust from the thick of the thicket  -- what thrills?

Yellow and tall, with petals small --
O wilt thou be  my all-in-all ?

Later, come time,  other blossoms may bloom
in their turn,  to their measure of praise and acclaim.

But for now, ‘tis thou --
thou art our flower, now !

Another sky-glimpse (from “Brideshead Revisited”)

   the colour had died   in the woods and sky
   and the house seemed painted   in grisaille

[from Evelyn Waugh’s novel  of 1945.  In the French pronunciation of that final word, the couplet  basically rhymes.]

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Glimpse from “The Green Hat”

There is not much sky in London;
but that little   smiled on us
                                           with a faint load of stars,
and  somewhere behind the roofs
                           there might be hanging       a moon . . .

[from Michael Arlen’s novel of 1924;  re-typeset for effect.]

Later in the book,
 an even dimmer glimpse --
 this time, a monostich :]

 the unclouded darkness   pinned with faint stars

Monday, March 28, 2016

Fixed That For You

This wonderful new Internet catchphrase  allows us at last  to rectify the most egregious of widely-quoted inanities.

"There are no second acts in American lives."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

“America has ever been, since its very origins, the land  par excellence  of second acts.”

“Mission Accomplished.”
--  W.

“Mission Demolished.”

“nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands”
-- e e cummings

… with the possible exception of Donald Trump

Thomas Hardy pep cheer / rebel yell

Far from the Madding
Far from the Madding
Far from the Madding
Crowd !

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Locked Room Mystery (redivivus)

The caterpillar   with shrivelled skin
in a tent of silk    was laid therein.

This crumpled thing,   shrunk like a shroud,
was laid in silk   white as a cloud.

The sons of men   stood round about
warding the worm   should not get out.

Three days they stood   with solemn face,
never eyes wavering   from that place.

Then did they open   that mute cocoon,
and stood amazed:   the worm was gone !

Then some believed   and some did doubt
how that the worm   could have got out.

Yet to the sky   in spiral rings
the new flew forth   on crystal wings.


[ For a tale of Paschal miracle:
Murphy Makes a Mitzvah ]


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tullimonstrum gregarium

The past couple of years have seen a remarkable series of fossil discoveries, from Yutyrannus huali, through Pinguinus ingens, down to Protungulatum donnae.

This next creature does not represent a new fossil find -- that dates back almost half a century -- but rather a brand-new (and quite surprising) taxonomic determination.    Let the New York Times tell it:

Some thought the 300-million-year-old creature was a mollusk, like a snail. Others assumed it was an arthropod like an insect or crab. And others believed it was some sort of worm.
Now, a team of researchers from Yale University say they have figured out the monster’s identity:  It’s a vertebrate most closely related to the lamprey.

Scale model of the “Tully monster”
(actual length:  fifty feet)

Etymology of the Latin designator:
Tullimonstrum:  meaning, ‘monster found by Mr Tully’ (in Illinois)
gregarium: meaning, ungainly though it may have been, this creature liked to hang out with his homeys.

For a scientific summing-up of recent paleontological triumphs, click here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

SCOOP! WDJ reveals Trump’s cabinet appointments !!

Those tiresome comparisons of The Donald to Hitler (or, somewhat more plausibly, to Mussolini;  even more plausibly, to Berlusconi)  quite fail to capture the rotundity of his appeal.   A substantial number of even quite well-educated and relatively liberal people, very far from the MSM stereotype of his supporters as merely ignorant haters, find him at the very least amusing, and even -- by comparison with the two-faced, scripted, often groveling other candidates (e.g. Hillary at AIPAC this morning) -- at times refreshing.   To grasp this, we need to evoke a different character from history:  Sir John Falstaff.

Sir Donald,  merry at his mead

Falstaff is totally unapologetic:  he revels in his lechery and chicanery, lies without scruple, and when caught in a lie, unabashedly seeks to turn everything to his own advantage.  But his knavery is so engaging  and his lust for life so keen, that he has become one of the favorite characters of the Bard.

Sir Donald, rebuking a Democrat

Owing to a mole inside the Trump campaign, the World of Dr Justice  -- renowned for xxx-clusive scoops -- has obtained an advance copy of the cabinet appointments contemplated by President-to-be Trump (inflect “to be” for the subjunctive, here):

Secretary of War: Ralph Mouldy
Secretary of Gaming: Thomas Wart
Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Miscellaneous:  Simon Shadow
Secretary of Free Enterprise : Peter Bull-calf.
 Secretary of This, That, and the Other Thing: Francis Feeble

Sir Donald, bidding defiance to the Islamic State

U heard it here first.

~  The World of Dr Justice™ ~
~ “RUMINT U can trust”© ~

[Update 26 March 2016]  Another plausible comparison:  Trump as "the white man's Marion Barry":

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kipling monostich

~ … by all things  merry,  musical,  and meet .. ~

That fragment (from a humorous and forgettable early poem, “The Plea of the Simla Dancers”, by Rudyard Kipling) here appears, merely because we are reminded, by a slight, defensive, apologetic piece  that appeared this morning at the tail-end of the (now much diminished) New York Times Book Review,
that Kipling,   when he is recalled at all,
is obnoxious to pot-shots from the politicocorrectati. 

As it happens, I am no particular fan of Kipling, one way or the other.  The title of his children’s-book, Just-So Stories, is immortal, at least among the community of science-philosophers (in particular, as regards Darwinism);  the contents of those charming tales (which I imbibed at my mother’s knee, from the very volume which she preserved from her nursery) are now less well-known;  and if known, generally not credited.  -- True, the reason that fragment is in my mind, is that I’ve been dipping into a volume on my night-table:  Rudyard Kipling: The Complete Verse.   Yet thát, for no special literary (let alone ideological) reason, but simply because (a) a copy turned up for a couple of dollars, at the neighborhood outlet for remaindered books, and (b) the poems mostly tell stories, and are fun, and are a good antidote to the rhymeless pointless drivel that has infected The New Yorker and the little-magazines, lo now  for many decades.


Borne on merely by the inertia of this,  I read the very next poem  in the collection (“As the Bell Clinks” -- again, funny  and forgettable), and notice an odd rhyme-scheme.  Long lines composed of hemistichs, chiming thus:

A     A
A     B
C     C
D     B
(repeat final line with variation, but retaining the rhyme-word, “tonga-bar”)

E     E
E     B
F     F
G     B
(repeat final line with variation, but retaining the rhyme-word, “bar”)

H     H
H     B
I     I
J     B
(repeat final line with variation, but retaining the rhyme-word, “tonga-bar”)

and so forth.

The poem goes on for quite a while;  to show the lengths to which the poet must go, to observe the

X     X
X     B

motif, consider this couplet:

Yet a further stage my goal on -- we were whirling down to Solon,
With a double lurch and roll on, best foot foremost, ganz und gar--

(and no, it doesn’t make much more sense in context.  -- That final phrase is German;  passe encore, only, it is merely metri causâ, and doesn’t otherwise especially fit.)

The point I’m sort of getting at, is:  What an incredibly impoverished literary experience would be that of anyone who approached Kipling  simply with a clip-board of Correctness Check-list Infractions (check all that apply).

To keep it in perspective -- Upon that night-table  lies one other book of verse: the Library of America edition, American Poetry: The Twentieth Century.  I purchased this some years ago, but became bogged-down in Volume One -- stuck in the mire of Ezra Pound.   Such muck as this:

Aquinas head down in a vacuum,
               Aristotle which way in a vacuum?
Sacrum, sacrum, inluminatio coitu.
Lo Sordels si fo di Mantovana
                of a castle named Goito.
“Five castles!
“Five castles!”
                (king giv’ him five castles)
“And what the hell do I know about dye-works?!”

Now, Pound (it is said) was a fascist;  but that is not why I disrelish his verse.  Kipling, it may be, “was an Imperialist” (in the words of the unthinking thoughtless), or:  dwelt at some depth, upon the upswing of History into which he was willy-nilly born;  but judge his verse  on its merits.


One thing I do appreciate in Kipling (though it surfaces but rarely)  is any echo of the old Scottish/English border ballads, with their “incremental repetition” (basic to my blood) --

  Long was the morn of slaughter,
      Long was the list of slain,
  Five score heads were taken,
       Five score heads and twain;

(compare “We hadna sailed a league, a league, A league but only three”).

Meaning:  100 slain -- nay, 102.

[To Be Continued, as time permits.]

Friday, March 18, 2016

Twinned Eternities

In the poem portion of Nabokov's Pale Fire (1962), we read:

Outstare the stars. Infinite foretime and infinite aftertime.

The basic lexicon of Classical Arabic, as it happens (with its wealth of words), distinguishes these two, with a brief, monomorphemic word for each:

أبد  [abad] prospective eternity (with a terminus post quem but no end)
أزل [azal] retrospective eternity (with a terminus ante quem but no beginning)

Reflecting separately on these  raises interesting philosophical questions, e.g., regarding the indestructibility of the soul.  But as a merely intellectual matter, the picture will be clear to anyone who has got as far as geometry or calculus -- "half-infinite" directed intervals (such as the non-negative reals).

In Laughter in the Dark (English version 1938), Nabokov plays with the twinned hemi-eternities, in a passage full of satire:

“Haven’t I met your sister once?” queried Dorianna in her lovely bass voice.
“My sister is in Heaven,” answered Rex gravely.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Dorianna.
“Never was born,” he added.

Much is rustling beneath the sheen of this. First, Rex, po-faced, lays a logical snare for Dorianna, knowing that she would automatically assume that the now-absent soul is residing in the after-eternity (Arabic abad), which is all that most people ever think about, or even conceive to exist. An extra twist is provided by Dorianna’s automatic, flustered response at the unexpected reply – the conveyed sense is meant to be, “I’m sorry for your loss,” but simply stringing bits of syntax together yields, “I’m sorry that your sister is in Heaven.” (**) Rex then, indirectly pointing out the ambiguity in his initial statement, and implicitly rebuking Dorianna for failure to perceive ambiguity (again, in whatever sphere, most people don’t), reveals that this sororal Arlésienne is in fact at present domiciled in the ante-eternity (Arabic azal).

That passage, incidentally, rests as well on the paradox alluded to last time, that of the indestructibility of the soul. Intuitively, we think of a soul as the sort of thing (being brewed, after all, from the aethers of the Eternal One) that doesn’t simply wink out of existence. But by the same token, it shouldn’t be the sort of thing that simply winks in – in which case it must, as in the Platonic conception, be “stored up” somewhere (Rex specifies Paradise as the ‘green room’ or on-deck circle, though probably more from a faux-polite convenance than from any committed Platonism).

That observation does not exhaust the (depthless!) well of paradox subtending such insight. Follow it out, and you’ll encounter a retrospective version of the quantum-mechanical “many-worlds” scenario.

(**) P.G. Wodehouse plays on the same effect. In his world, earls are crotchety and idiosyncratic, and butlers are perforce imperturbable in the face of all.

            “Dash it, Beach, this egg is undercooked!”
            “Yes, sir.”
            “What – is the cook out sick again?”
            “Yes, sir.”
            “Well, I’ll be damned!”
            “Yes, sir.”

(Picture an infinitesimal lengthening of the glide initial: “Yyyes, sir.” The joke is, the double-meaning will be completely lost on the earl.)


It was the contention of “The Stokes Conjecture” (a chapter in my book, The Semantics of Form in Arabic)  that possession of such a neatly twinned pair of monomorphemes as azal and abad, as opposed to such roundabout (and nonce) phrasal confections as “infinite aftertime”, should track with a greater tendency of speakers of the language so outfitted, to be clear on the subject, for it to be cognitively relatively accessible, and thus to accrete around it  further developments both morphological (derivata) and semantic (metaphors).   Whether this be the case for Arabic letters and Islamic theology, I leave to my learnèd readers to make out.


The casual reference above, to the isomorphism of azal and abad, as constituents of infinite Time, to the half-rays  as subsets of the real line, conceals a textural disparity, in point of richness.   Not, as you might imagine, in favor of the human/experiential conception of Eternity, but the mathematical/intellectual science of the Real Line.

We really don’t know what to do with Eternity -- and literally, wouldn’t know what to do in it.    Like the silence of the infinite spatial reaches that so dismayed Pascal, we stand aghast at the prospect of doing anything “forever”, be it strumming harps or standing around on clouds swapping New Yorker captions.   The prospect of an infinite afterlife, for which we are supposed to yearn, is strictly baffling.
(Note that there is nothing heretical in that observation of human psychology;  notably, C.S. Lewis was converted to Christianity  before any sort of belief in or appreciation for  an infinite afterlife  was granted him.)
(For a mathematician's take on how the afterlife shall be spent, try this.
For an equine perspective,  this.)
(I riff upon the bafflement in the azal case, here.)

The Real Line, by contrast, is … infinitely diverting.   To begin with, even in a low-focus broad view (abstracting from the  so to speak  “quantum foam” of the infinitessimally inspected continuum), it harbors a great many other infinities within itself.  Thus, that infinite ray or half-line,  [0, ∞ ), is topologically equivalent to a mere half-open interval,  [0, 1):  in both cases, you can cover the space with a countably infinite sequence of disjoint intervals, no finite subset of which can do the job.  Thus, for the ray: [0,1), [1,2), [2,3) …. etc;  for the interval, [0, ½) [½,¾), [¾, 7/8) …
Further, the infinitude lies not only in thus stretching out forever, but in drilling down.   Any interval (even one that is closed, and thus compact) harbors infinitely many intervals as subsets;  and any such patch contains an uncountably infinite collection of points.  (We recall Dyson’s title, “Infinite in All Directions”, but with ‘directions’ differing qualitatively rather than simply like a compass needle.)
And those are just the appetizers.  The continuum is a regular zoo of exotic creatures -- the Cantor set, the Borel sets, projective sets, and a host of others studied in the discipline of “Descriptive Set Theory”.


As for those specifically twinned infinities, staring at each other from opposite sides of a mirror, they have a counterpart in modern physics, which takes reversibility of Charge, Parity, and Time (separately for some processes, in combination for others) as a kind of credo, like Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.   Traditionally, time-reversed solutions were usually dismissed out of hand as unphysical;  other, more venturesome theorists, embraced them, telling fables of antiparticles as simply particles moving backwards in time, among other scenarios that chill the blood.

[ShoutOut:  Many thanks to Djinn ibn Sayârah  for help in formatting this for posting here.]

[Afternote]  My friend the Arabian theologian writes in :

Mark Twain wrote, regarding death:

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

That's kinda funny for as far as it goes, but no one who has experienced consciousness can be seriously flippant about it being snuffed out.


“Conquest of Mexico” monostich

~ his eldest son,  the heir to the crown,  a prince of great promise ~

[quarried from Prescott’s  masterwork]

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Arabia deserta -- resarta

Poking around  among the poems of Kipling,  I was astonished to stumble upon this:

Azrael's Count

Lo! The Wild Cow of the Desert, her yeanling estrayed from her --
Lost in the wind-plaited sand-dunes -- athirst in the maze of them.
Hot-foot she follows those foot-prints -- the thrice-tangled ways of them.
Her soul is shut save to one thing -- the love-quest consuming her
Fearless she lows past the camp, our fires affright her not.
Ranges she close to the to the tethered ones -- the mares by the lances held.
Noses she softly apart the veil in the women's tent.

Kipling is the bard of the British lands  from India through Afghanistan;  and peppers his poems with Hindi-isms, and slang from the pukkah-sahib.  But now this seems a straight translation -- nay, almost a calque -- from the pre-Islamic Arabic.

I have, in this age, tried my hand at much the same thing.  Sample here:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Grim winter chilled the spirit, fog has bound the mind,
till Spring with his swift fingers  loose the bonds that bind,
and Cupid, shooting love-shafts,  couples  kind to kind,
--thén will I mend, thén will I wend, thén will I

Springtime creams to summer,  the sap is in the trees,
so golden as the honey  of the dreaming bees,
all lost within the buzzing  of the brimming breeze,
--when summer's sped, then would I wed, be wedded

Daylight Savings threnody

Ask Not  for whom  the alarm-clock shrills:
It shrills  for THEE.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Timurlengia’s failed proof of the Urysohn Metrization Theorem

The scientific world is abuzz with this late-breaking discovery, of a small but “brainy” ancestor of the giant, feared  Tyrannosaurus rex:

Fossil Hints T. Rex Got Smart Before It Got Big

Seasoned readers of popular science news -- which often contains much speculation and puffery -- will be rightly skeptical, as to how in heaven’s name  paleontologists could deduce that some crumpled heap of fossil bones corresponded to a creature with superior intelligence -- after all, none of the soft cerebral material has survived, let alone its noetic capabilities.   Even the sheer size of the brain cavity -- a highly imperfect indicator -- can hardly be in play here, since the creature, Timurlengia euotica,  was far smaller than its T. rex descendents, with a cranium to scale.

The answer -- not surprising once you think of it -- lies not in the conformation of the bones themselves, which tell us virtually nothing about intellectual capacity, but rather in what was found with those bones -- just as Cro-magnon or Neanderthal skeletons buried with particular styles of flint tools, provide a window into their industry.

In the case of Timurlengia,  the bones are rather ill-preserved, except for the right forepaw, which, holding a fragment of carbon, is stretched towards a stone tablet, on which is sketched the outline of a proof of the Urysohn Metrization Theorem.  Tragically, the creature never lived to the Q.E.D.
(Additionally, some tefillin found near the body  indicate the creature may have been Jewish.)

Scientists point out that this achievement, which will doubtless impress the peanut gallery, is not quite as impressive as it looks:  since, in the case of Timurlengia, the form of the proposed theorem ran:  “Every space that is regular and first-countable  is metrizable.”   We ourselves, better instructed, sadly shake our heads.  In that guise, the theorem does not go through:  second-countability is required.
Nice try, though, Tim.

At all events, this intellectual career, however impressive or otherwise, was destined to be short-lived.  The hormones kicked in, the youngster shot up, and quickly evolved into that massive Jurassic bully we all know and loathe, the aptly named Tyrannosaur.  From then on, intellectual endeavors fell by the wayside, as T. rex was able to make a living much more simply  by stealing lunch-money from the other dinosaurs.

~  The World of Dr Justice ~
~~  Science U Can Trust  ™ ~~

For additional, extraordinarily reliable paleontological reporting, try this:

Washington Irving quatrain

Her ladyship  rang for her page;
the captain   smiled  assent.
And thus did they  their pains assuage
in innocent merr-  i  -  ment…

[cobbled together from fragments of “Student of Salamanca”, et alicunde]

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Chill Wind

[With the sudden return  of chill and wintry weather,  we post this;
 for Spring has not yet won her definitive victory.]

In winter time when the north winds blow
     and the winter winds  blow keenly
Two ravens sat amidst the snow
     and the winter winds  blow cold

"In yonder cottage lives a lad"
     and the winter winds  blow keenly
"He's dying of the love he had"
and the winter winds  blow cold

Then it's Ho for the western ocean,
and Ho  for rovers bold
God grant us space and peace and place
for the winter wind blows cold

'Tis winter and the winds blow hard
and the winter winds  blow keenly
Two ravens sat without the yard
     and the winter winds  blow cold

"He pines and moans  upon the thorn"
and the winter winds  blow keenly
"And sighs for the maid who did him scorn"
     and the winter winds  blow cold

Then it's Ho for the western ocean,
and Ho  for rovers bold
God grant us space and peace and place
for the winter wind blows cold

When embers died within the grate
and the winter winds  blow keenly
two ravens sat upon the gate
     and the winter winds  blow cold

"In all the lands that Christ doth rule
and the winter winds  blow keenly
was there e'er a maiden half so cruel?"
     and the winter winds  blow cold

Then it's Ho for the western ocean,
and Ho  for rovers bold
God grant us space and peace and place
for the winter wind blows cold

Two ravens lingered, black as night
     and the winter winds  blow keenly
and all amid the snow so white.
     and the winter winds  blow cold

"In all the lands where the wind blows loud"
     and the winter winds  blow keenly
"there never was  a maid so proud."
     and the winter winds  blow cold

Then it's Ho for the western ocean,
and Ho  for rovers bold
God grant us space and peace and place
for the winter wind blows cold

The first bird to the second said
and the winter winds  blow keenly
"What may we do to rest his head?"
     and the winter winds  blow cold

The second to the first intones
and the winter winds  blow keenly
"What might we try, t' avenge his bones?"
     and the winter winds  blow cold

Then it's Ho for the western ocean,
and Ho  for rovers bold
God grant us space and peace and place
for the winter wind blows cold

"We'll pluck her eyes out from her head
and the winter winds  blow keenly
and shade her grave when she lies dead."
     and the winter winds  blow cold

"We'll soothe him with a mournful sound
     and the winter winds  blow keenly
and croak a dirge when she's in the ground."
     and the winter winds  blow cold

Then it's Ho for the western ocean,
and Ho  for rovers bold
God grant us space and peace and place
for the winter wind blows cold

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fifty shades of tan

   [early March, mid-Atlantic]

Nothing yet budding;
a few dry leaves  from autumn last 
(papyrus-yellow  and paper-thin)
still clinging to their beech trees.

Leaf-litter, windthrow,
straw-stalks,  hay-mow:
all -- tan ochre beige wheat hazel 
fulvous fawn or tawny -- 
-- all as yet  the color of canvas,
for Spring  to paint upon.


Thine the sun, at stroke of noon;
thine the stars at night.
Thine the mystery of the moon;
thine the flame of flight.

Thine the moss amid the wood;
thine the earth and sky.
Thine the flower  and the bud
thou fluttering butterfly!