Friday, December 30, 2005

God calling, timed release

via Godlorica:
Physics, abstract

From: Stephen D. H. Hsu [view email]
Date (v1): Tue, 11 Oct 2005 20:15:52 GMT (5kb)
Date (revised v2): Tue, 6 Dec 2005 06:20:04 GMT (7kb)

Message in the Sky

Authors: S. Hsu, A. Zee
Comments: 3 pages, revtex
Subj-class: Popular Physics

We argue that the cosmic microwave background (CMB) provides a stupendous opportunity for the Creator of universe our (assuming one exists) to have sent a message to its occupants, using known physics. Our work does not support the Intelligent Design movement in any way whatsoever, but asks, and attempts to answer, the entirely scientific question of what the medium and message might be IF there was actually a message. The medium for the message is unique. We elaborate on this observation, noting that it requires only careful adjustment of the fundamental Lagrangian, but no direct intervention in the subsequent evolution of the universe.

Full-text: PostScript, PDF, or Other formats

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 4]
"You didn't really believe you'd be saved. Come, we all know who we are by now. No one was ever going to take the trouble to save you old fellow.... "

Friday, December 23, 2005

the Portuguese word for "fool"

Scientists find 'mass dodo grave'
The dodo was mocked by Portuguese and Dutch colonialists for its size and apparent lack of fear of armed, hungry hunters. It took its name from the Portuguese word for "fool", and was hunted to extinction within 200 years of Europeans landing on Mauritius.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

you lookin at me?

Psychologists at the University of Liverpool have found that people still find it difficult to understand how mirrors work.

...from: Humans Do Not Understand Mirror Reflections, Say Researchers

....more than enough mirrors in Pynchon's work to confuse readers; in the opening of Mason & Dixon is one good place to start.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2005

headline of the day:

We pee on things and call it art

"Roger has unbuttoned his fly..."

Gravity's Rainbow p. 636

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

comic books map response to a dangerous world

from EurekAlert!

Contact: Jill Yablonski
Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Comic books shadow how we react to threats

In times of social danger and economic turmoil, many psychologists believe that people become more aggressive, more conventional, and less interested in feelings and emotions. A new study published in the latest issue of Political Psychology finds that comic book characters do these things as well. In times of higher threat, i.e. the events of 1979 which included the Iran hostage crisis, comic books contained more aggressive imagery, focused on male characters, and were less introspective. The authors reviewed comic books published between 1978 -1992 frame by frame to judge the amount of violence and conventionalism drawn, the number of women and minorities in speaking or subordinate roles, portrayal of wrongdoing by the authorities, and the amount of reflection (thought in balloons rather than dialogue). In general, the authors found that women spoke less and a significantly greater number of panels were devoted to aggression during high threat periods.

The authors reviewed eight Marvel comic books that are still published today. These titles included four titles that featured more conventional heroes that represent American virtues like U.S. patriotism (Captain America) and the everyman (Spider-Man). The other four heroes were less conventional with themes such as persecution by society (X-men) and a vigilante who lives in an "amoral urban hell" (Daredevil). When compared against their own sales, the unconventional titles sold more copies during the low-threat times compared to the high-threat times; whereas the conventional hero sales remained flat. "As an aspect of popular culture, comic books have always reflected the historical time period in which they were produced," author Bill Peterson explains.


This study is published in the December issue of Political Psychology. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact

Political Psychology, the journal of the International Society of Political Psychology, is dedicated to the analysis of the interrelationships between psychological and political processes.

Bill Peterson is a professor at Smith College. He is a personality psychologist who has published many peer reviewed articles on topics related to political psychology. Dr. Peterson is available for media questions and interviews.

Blackwell Publishing is the world's leading society publisher, partnering with more than 600 academic and professional societies. Blackwell publishes over 750 journals annually and, to date, has published close to 6,000 text and reference books, across a wide range of academic, medical, and professional subjects.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Benny Profane, porno star

A fellow pynchonoid writes:
From: [XXX]
Subject: Benito Sfacimento indeed...
Date: November 3, 2005 4:06:25 PM PST

Greetings and salutations!

I feel so proud right now that I just caught a wierd piece of Pynchon news before anyone else. I just watched a new porn DVD entitled "Kill Girl Kill", and during the opening credits I saw that I was about to be treated to a porn performance by none other than one Mr. BENNY PROFANE! In the last scene of the movie, here was a sex scene between a cute young goth girl and Benny... and this porn actor pretty much looked just like his namesake out of "V", sans spectacles. Benny Profane the porn actor looks to be in his early twenties, very pasty complexion with acne, kinda chubby, crewcut, and the most disturbing body modification below the belt that I have ever seen in a porn (this guy's choice of body piercing is not for the squeamish). According to the IMDB, Benny has starred in and directed other dirty movies, which I am curious enough to track down now. I will get back to you on whether or not his other movies involved titanium dentures. So that's it in a nutshell. We have seen Thoms Pynchon references in movies, music, and on television, and now even even good-old pornography is not safe from Pynchon's paranoid grasp on the imagination.

My obssesive viewing of hardcore porn has finally paid off,

here's proof:

Editor's Note
: In addition to Kill Girl Kill, Mr. Profane has apparently also appeared in Psychocandy, Psychocandy 2, and Psychocandy 3, distributed by a company called Pirate Booty. "Benny Profane" and video poster images from Freddy and Eddy's Psychocandy Video Review:

Saturday, September 10, 2005

the Khirghiz Light

Rapoon's "The Khirghiz Light" makes tolerable background music:

[...] A founding member of pioneering post-industrial/experimental band :zoviet*france: (AMG), Rapoon (AMG), aka Robin Storey, has produced a large body of solo work that is influenced by Can, Neu!, Stockhausen, Cage, and especially Eno and Hassell. Rapoon is one of the most musically important non-classical artists I will ever be privledged to post about on this blog. He has released 7 of his magnificent, groundbreaking albums through Magnatune. [...] The Kirghiz Light is a 2-CD epic ambient poem that pushes percussion to the background in favor of sound texture manipulation and loop mixing. The human voice is often invoked. Several tracks “We Fell Like Rain”, “Frostling Merge”, and “Into Light”) introduce entirely new ideas to the genre, however minute. The album is monumental. [...]

Monday, September 05, 2005

remembering Pynchon Park

City's last game is remembered
Sunday, September 04, 2005

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, with 1,788 people in the grandstand at Pynchon Park, a big ballyard near Springfield's North End bridge.

The visiting Pittsfield Red Sox were shooting for the Eastern League pennant. They had George Scott at third base, Reggie Smith at second. Two years later, Scott and Smith would be playing different positions for a Boston Red Sox club on its way to an "Impossible Dream" pennant.

The home team, the Springfield Giants, had Tommy Arruda of Fall River, a 17-game winner and an Eastern League All-Star for the second straight year. Springfield also had Denny Sommers, a scrap-iron kind of catcher who prided himself on never missing a game.

Those ballclubs met Sept. 5, 1965 - making this the 40th anniversary Sunday of that game. Springfield has never had a professional baseball game since, and shows no initiative toward ever having one again.

It was sadly fitting that Springfield's last game turned out to be a resounding defeat. Pittsfield scored a 9-0 victory, punctuated by a seven-run splurge in the ninth. Pittsfield ace Billy McLeod threw a two-hitter, putting his record at 18-0. McLeod never made it to the major leagues, but it's doubtful that any other minor league pitcher ever had a better year.

Writing in The Springfield Union of Sept. 5, 1965, the late Ray Fitzgerald noted, "There was much chatter throughout the park that this could be the last year the Giants have a team in Springfield."

Ray Fitz of Westfield covered the Giants during their eight years in Springfield. He went on to become an award-winning sports columnist for the Boston Globe.

His foreshadowing proved to be correct. In early November, 1965, general manager Chick O'Malley announced that the Springfield franchise would relocate to Waterbury, Conn., for the 1966 Eastern League season. Springfield's loss of professional baseball was followed by the loss of Pynchon Park itself. In August 1966, the old stadium burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.

Springfield's first pro team, the Ponies, played in the original Eastern League from 1893-1900. Later in the 20th century, Springfield had teams in the Connecticut State League, Eastern Association, Colonial League, the Eastern League again (1939-43), the New England League and the Triple A International League.

Springfield lost its Triple A team in 1953, but baseball was revived here in 1957 when the San Francisco Giants placed their Class A farm club at Pynchon Park.

The return of baseball was met with a flush of success. Although the team finished last, Springfield led the league with an attendance total of 133,140. In 1958 and '59, San Francisco graced Springfield clubs with talent that produced back-to-back championships. Many of the players from those two teams would go on to become part of San Francisco's pennant-winning club of 1962.

Springfield drew 110,499 in 1959, when the team featured a future Hall of Famer - pitcher Juan Marichal.

After those two big years, attendance gradually diminished. The 1965 team, which went 63-77 and finished 22 games behind Pittsfield, hit the franchise low in attendance - 61,545.

Springfield's franchise became a victim of a general decline of interest in minor league baseball in the mid-'60s. It was not until the mid-'90s that a minor league baseball revival began. Today, the minors thrive, setting attendance records and establishing a revenue stream through effective marketing of team logos, caps and other merchandise.

When the Giants played here, they produced several Eastern League All-Stars and a large group of players who would make it to the major leagues. Felipe Alou, a 17-year major league player who now manages the San Francisco Giants, was Springfield's first star of the 1957-65 era. Felipe's younger brother, Matty, played with Marichal and catcher Tom Haller on the 1959 championship club.

Springfield also had its "career minor leaguers" - good players who just never got the opportunity to move up - like Arruda, Sommers and shortstop Eddie Herstek.

The last game played by the Springfield Giants took place Labor Day at Pittsfield's Wahconah Park. Pittsfield won 3-1 to take the pennant by one game over an Elmira club which had Pittsfield's Mark Belanger at shortstop and future Hall of Famer Earl Weaver as its manager. Scott homered to clinch the victory and the Eastern League's Triple Crown. The losing pitcher? Arruda, who worked the last three innings.

Tony Eichelberger, a second baseman who never got to the big leagues, gained his place in local history as the player to make the last out in Springfield's last game. He grounded to shortstop.

JOHNNY'S QUEST: Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon doesn't like to talk about the batting race, because he puts top priority on winning the American League East title. However, it certainly would be nice to have a batting championship to add to his resume when free-agency time comes around at the end of the season. Damon is looking for a five-year deal, but may have to settle for four. With the Red Sox? That will be one of the big offseason questions.

Damon had the American League batting lead for most of the season, but has slipped a bit lately, thus allowing Texas shortstop Michael Young to move ahead of him. That particular race could go right to the wire.

Young offers an interesting comparison to the rest of his ballclub. While he shoots for the batting title, the rest of the Texas lineup shoots for the American League lead in strikeouts. The Rangers went into the weekend with 913 strikeouts, most in the AL.

WELL-ARMED: When Kevin Millar hit a two-run, game-clinching home run for the Red Sox Wednesday night against Tampa Bay, he did so by getting ahead on the count and taking advantage of it.

As Millar explained his at-bat, he dropped a bit of information that the average baseball fan might not realize.

"That guy has a great arm. I mean, a really great arm. You can't fall behind against a pitcher like that. I was lucky to get ahead, and lucky to get a pitch on the plate," he said.

Millar was talking about Jesus Colome, a 27-year-old right-hander from that baseball hotbed, San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.

The average baseball fan (present company included) probably knows little of Colome, because he pitches for a last-place team and as a result, doesn't put up eye-catching numbers.

Ah, but the hitters know who can throw. Millar made that clear in his praise of Colome and his fearsome fastball.

OFF WITH THEIR SOX: A friend sent this e-mail: "I can't look at Mark Bellhorn and Alan Embree in Yankee uniforms. It's just not right."

Hey, both players needed a job after being let go by the Red Sox. They were fortunate to land with a good team, so get used to it. We'll be seeing them up close this month - and we'll even get to see how Bellhorn looks without his scraggly beard and hairdo.

Remember the words of Terry Francona: "We love Mark Bellhorn, but we hope he never gets a hit against us."

©2005 The Republican© 2005 All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

the "real" Kenosha Kid?

wiki: The Kenosha Kid by Forbes Parkhill.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

"the walking machine"

Bearing and recording degradation: In 1945, an astute German woman faces hunger, rape and chaos
review by Edie Meidav, San Francisco Chronicle, 7 August 2005

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City
by Anonymous; translation by Philip Boehm
[...] destined to be a classic, given its depiction of one woman's candid response to an unambiguously horrible season, the vanquishing of Berlin by the Soviets over eight life-changing weeks in the spring and early summer of 1945.

In contrast to many Holocaust diaries, its author was a woman lacking Jewish ties, a German journalist in her 30s who had traveled abroad and who spoke a bit of Russian, her relative fluency becoming both a burden and a privilege once the "Ivans" entered Berlin. "An orphan," she says of herself at one point, "a pale-faced blonde always dressed in the same winter coat." Written often in a basement air raid shelter or in an apartment sacked daily, on scraps and shreds, it was issued in Germany in the '50s, only to be met with a shaming reception, given the book's frank account of rape in war. Hence the author, who died in 2001, chose to remain Anonymous.

Because some of the author's most complex thoughts concern the nexus of gender and war, including the weakening of prewar ideas of German masculinity, the published diary was no naif's tale. The intelligent introduction by Anthony Beevor makes the useful point that rapes by Stalin's army were less often a terror tactic, as was the case in the Spanish Civil War and Bosnia, and more pertinently arose from what Russian psychiatrists have called barrack eroticism, "created by Stalinist sexual repression during the 1930s (which may also explain why Soviet soldiers seemed to need to get drunk before attacking their victims)."

[...] Several sorts of archetypal scenes take place frequently, including the piecing together of a meal out of nothing, running down stairs to the shelter or volunteering in some useless, well-meaning effort. The most socially dense moments are those when Anonymous considers which of the conquering soldiers she should entertain at night: Who among them will act as a "single wolf to keep away the pack"? How can she prevent more of the gang rape she encountered early on? She is clever and survives, and later, after a calm settles in, wonders if she might not have been more clever and survived with greater feeling intact. "To the rest of the world we're nothing but rubble women and trash," she says later on. When she chokes on her own words, we understand that she feels more than she can write, and such moments sing out, among the most moving in an already gripping testament. When her long-lost soldier boyfriend returns, when she shows him her diary, she feels she has lost her connection to him. "For him I've been spoiled," she mourns. Early on, she has begun to dissociate, referring to her depleted self in the third person as "the walking machine." [...]

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Monday, July 25, 2005

a screaming comes across the sky

.... In 1953, Tanaka Tomoyuki, a young film producer working for the Toho Film Studio, was assigned to produce a film entitled In the Shadow of Honor, a Japanese –Indonesian co-production. It was a story about a former Japanese soldier who stayed on following Japan's surrender and participated in the Indonesian independence movement. However, rising diplomatic tensions between the Japanese and Indonesian governments forced the canceling of the project before filming began. With a substantial sum of money allocated for the project, Tanaka had to find a quick alternative project to utilize this budget to make an attractive popular film. Tanaka was a visionary who later produced some of Kurosawa Akira’s best films such as Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Aka-hige (Red Beard). Facing this crisis, he decided to take advantage of a recent incident that was had captured the popular imagination. That was the hydrogen bomb test Bravo shot that the U.S. conducted on Rongelap (or Bikini) Atoll in the Marshall Islands in March 1954. The radioactive fallout from the test enveloped a Japanese fishing boat called the 5th Lucky Dragon with deadly effects. Influenced by the popular success in 1952 of the re-release of the 1933 classic film King Kong, Tanaka set out to film a giant monster film like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the 1953 American film. [...]

Godzilla's preference for darkness and intense dislike of light evokes the behavior B-29 bombers, which flew at night and sought to evade searchlight beams. From the raid on Tokyo on March 10, 1945, Brigadier General Curtis LeMay, the Commander of the XXI Bomber Command, changed U.S. bombing strategy from precision bombing during the day to carpet bombing with recently developed napalm bombs at night. The U.S. carried out “saturation bombing” until the end of the war in August 1945, repeatedly attacking cities from Hokkaido to Okinawa, including Tokyo, Kawasaki, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Fukuoka and Naha. More than 100 cities were destroyed, causing one million casualties, including more than half a million deaths, the majority being civilians, many of them women and children. Indiscriminate bombing reached its peak with the use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Truman's claim to the contrary notwithstanding. Of course, many Japanese who saw the original Godzilla film had first hand experience of aerial bombing and had lost relatives and friends as a result.

In one scene, a boy cries “Chikusho (“You brute”), watching Godzilla stalking away towards the ocean from Tokyo Bay after a rampage. This scene vividly reminded the audience of B-29 bombers flying off after dropping tens of thousands of bombs on their urban target. The film includes scenes of people trying to escape carrying household goods, of a burning city, of injured people being brought into a safe shelter, and of screaming children. These pictures evoked the horror of napalm attacks in cities throughout Japan. [...] it all: Godzilla and the Bravo Shot: Who Created and Killed the Monster?, History News Network, 25 July 2005

Thursday, July 07, 2005

shit money word

New York, where else?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

gravity's rainbow

Rainbow over church
Originally uploaded by Matthäus.

Church or ICBM? Which do you want it to be?

Monday, June 27, 2005


"The Kenosha Kid"
by Forbes Parkhill
Western Rangers, August 1931

"Hatred and dread hung over the town like a pall. Pard turned against pard; every man suspected his neighbor. And to solve that mystery, The Kenosha Kid--Robinhood of straights and flushes--plays his most thrilling game for a desperation jackpot."

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sunday, June 12, 2005



Gravity's Rainbow, p. 644:
And we go to Happyville, instead of to Pain City.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

with Pynchon on the Dark Side

Commencement Address
Cornell University
President Jeffrey S. Lehman
May 29, 2005

Members of the Class of 2005, candidates for advanced degrees, families and friends of the graduates, Chairman Meinig and other members of the Board of Trustees, honored guests.

On behalf of my colleagues on the faculty, it is my privilege to welcome you to Schoellkopf Field for this morning’s celebration of those students who are completing their degree requirements here at Cornell University. Twenty-eight years ago, I was sitting where today’s graduates are seated for my own Commencement ceremony. You cannot imagine how thrilling it is for me to be here today, as Cornell’s President, addressing today’s graduating students.

At the outset, I think it is important for us all to recognize that none of these graduates made it to this day alone. Others provided the emotional, intellectual, and financial support that was necessary to make their education possible. So let us take a moment to ask those who are not wearing caps and gowns — the parents, grandparents, spouses, partners, siblings, sponsors and friends, all of whom have sustained these graduates — to stand now so that we may acknowledge you and your contribution to their success.

Graduating students, I want you to appreciate just how carefully your beloved Cornell has prepared you to enjoy this moment. It is the moment of your commencement. And we have placed you on Schoellkopf Field, facing west.

West. The direction of the sun as it traverses the sky. By day it is the destination of the celestial body that energizes our planet. By night it is the destination of the other stars that illuminate our sky.

When we look out towards the western horizon, it is natural to ponder our own destinies as well. For the horizon marks the limit of our capacity to see, the boundary between what we know with confidence and what we can only imagine.

Your time at Cornell was always oriented towards the horizon of this graduation day. Today marks the boundary that separates your student life, a life which – at least by your final year – you more or less understood, from life after graduation, a life which lives in the domain of imagination, of aspiration, of hopes, and of dreams.

When we, your teachers, contemplate the boundary that you are now crossing, we know some important things. We know that during your time here at Cornell you have learned much. You have developed expertise in at least one field of study and gained comfortable familiarity with others. You have proven your ability to swim – at least a little. And you have nurtured qualities of mind and heart that transcend any particular body of knowledge or academic discipline. Members of the Class of 2005, the Force is strong with you.

It is clear that "special powers you have." You have the power to do good in the world. You have the power to create the magic that will make our lives better, to make constructive contributions to all humanity. We celebrate you and all that you can accomplish.

But we also know that at this moment you might also be feeling a wee bit anxious. You might be wondering, "What if I fail? What if I don’t live up to the expectations that others have for me, or that I hold for myself?"

Think of the Star Wars movies. We know that, just as the Force is strong with you, it was also strong with Anakin Skywalker.

He too had special powers. But he ended up as Darth Vader. How could that have happened?

So let me begin by reassuring you. None of you will become Darth Vader. Really.

But perhaps your anxiety might present itself in a slightly milder form: how can you be sure that you do not go over to the Dark Side?

And here I think that I can be of some service to you. This morning I will take a little bit of poetic license and extend the metaphor of the Dark Side to explore some of life’s moral complexities – the traps, if you will – that await you on the other side of graduation. These traps might not be so serious as to put you on the road to becoming Sith Lords, but they might nonetheless make it harder for you to realize your full potential.

Let me begin by discussing what I mean, and what I do not mean, by "the Dark Side."

First, when I speak of the Dark Side I am not talking about anything like “unwavering devotion to the cause of evil.” That narrow a view doesn’t work even in the world of George Lucas. Lucas takes great care to indicate that, as Anakin Skywalker turns into Darth Vader, he does not believe that he is embracing evil. He believes that the Jedi are the ones who have been corrupted; he is committed only to knowing the truth and to saving the life of someone he loves.

Nor can we say that the difference between the Sith and the Jedi is that one pursues its ends through intolerable means and the other restricts itself to benign means. Each side is equally willing to be violent to promote its cause.

The Dark Side I am interested in is more subtle. Think of it not as evil, but as good people run amok. Yielding to a certain kind of wholly understandable temptation, in a way that ends up being counterproductive for the individual or damaging to the larger community.

In your lives after graduation, what forms might that Dark Side take? How might they tempt you? How can you successfully resist them, so that your lives are maximally successful, fulfilling, and beneficial?

Rather than approaching those questions head-on, I would like to examine them indirectly, as they are refracted through the lens of fiction. To do so, I will make use of two different works by one of the great writers of our time, Thomas Pynchon.

Pynchon came to Cornell to study engineering physics in 1953. He was a talented science student, but he was also good in other subjects, and in his sophomore year he decided to major in English.

Pynchon had some wonderful teachers in the English department – people like M.H. Abrams, Baxter Hathaway, James McConkey, Arthur Mizener, and Walter Slatoff. They recognized his prodigious talent early on. One of them saw the potential in a paper that Pynchon wrote for class, entitled, "Mortality and Mercy in Vienna." The literary journal Epoch was edited by Baxter Hathaway at the time, and he decided to publish "Mortality and Mercy in Vienna" in the Spring 1959 issue, just before Pynchon graduated. According to a letter from Pynchon 25 years later, having that story published in Epoch was a major factor in his decision to try to make a living as a writer.

The story concerns a man named Cleanth Siegel who attends a party in Washington, D.C. Siegel finds himself cornered, one at a time, by two different members of an extended, interdependent social group, both of whom regale him with details of their lives, from the petty to the bizarre. As they drone on and on, Siegel feels himself getting fed up with them, and with the entire lot of partygoers. He comes to see himself as a kind of father-confessor to this self-styled “Group.” And then, oddly, he comes to see himself as their savior.

Late in the story, Siegel meets one of the newer, more marginal entrants into the Group, a man named Irving Loon. And Siegel develops a hunch that Loon suffers from a mental illness called Windigo psychosis. A person suffering from Windigo psychosis has a deep identification with the Windigo, a mythical Canadian ice monster that craves human flesh. This identification can often lead the psychotic to become homicidal as well. Pynchon writes, "[I]f this hunch were true, Siegel had the power to work for these parishioners a kind of miracle, to bring them a very tangible salvation."

Now the salvation that Siegel has in mind for them is horrifying. He goes up to Loon and says the word "Windigo," hoping that it might trigger a psychotic break and prompt him to violence. And it works. Loon flips out. While Siegel watches, Loon takes a Browning Automatic Rifle down from the wall, and loads it with ammunition. Siegel casually leaves the party and walks downstairs, whistling as he goes. He hears screams. He shrugs. And as the story ends he hears the first burst of gunfire.

All of us would say that Cleanth Siegel went over to the Dark Side. He would presumably argue that the damage he caused was in some sense necessary to promote a larger good, the overall good of his flock. But this is nothing more than the familiar claim of a fanatic.

Unfortunately, the daily news reminds us that fanatics remain all too present in our world today. In pursuit of what they consider a greater good, they do horrible things. Even murder feels warranted to them, they are so obsessed with achieving their objective.

But in speaking of what I will call the Windigo Dark Side I do not want to limit our attention to this kind of fanaticism. That feels too remote, too distant from our lives. I want to make the challenge more relevant, more difficult, by having the Windigo Dark Side also encompass fanaticism’s much milder cousin: tunnel vision.

People afflicted with moral tunnel vision recognize a good, something that carries a positive benefit for the world. They see a path to that good. And they become so committed to pursuing that path that they lose sight of the costs to other values that might be associated with going down that path. These are the kinds of blind spots that can undermine communal life and collective progress.

The temptations of moral tunnel vision are everywhere we look. Think, for example, of the soldiers who, in their efforts to defeat a dangerous enemy, are tempted to slip into torture. Think of the campaign workers who want to help their candidate, and are tempted to caricature the opponent unfairly. Think of the advocates for a cause who are tempted to use tactics that are disproportionate to the goal they champion. Think of the business leaders who are tempted to be stingy about workplace safety in order to improve their price position in a competitive marketplace. Think of the university leaders who are tempted to deform their institutions in hopes of rising in the magazine rankings.

In the world of action you will find that it is surprisingly easy to become convinced of the paramount importance of your cause. It is a short step to see those who oppose you as evil or immoral, or maybe just stupid or naive. And another short step to tell yourself that the harm you inflict on them is necessary to promote a greater good, or might even be, in some way, for their own good.

When you leave Cornell, I know that you will use your Jedi powers to promote noble ends. And I know that most of the time, you will not find it difficult to remain clear-eyed about the relationship between the goals you are pursuing and the means that are appropriate to them. But you should also be prepared to face the temptations of the Windigo Dark Side.

The second Pynchon work that I would like to discuss is his second novel, The Crying of Lot 49, published in 1965. It tells the story of Oedipa Maas and her struggle to make sense of a world in which nothing can be known with certainty.

The book begins when Maas receives a letter informing her that she has been named co-executor of the estate of her ex-boyfriend, Pierce Inverarity. Her efforts to sort out the estate lead her to meet a series of alienated young people, one of whom directs her to attend a play entitled, The Courier’s Tragedy. The play feels like a bad imitation of Shakespeare, a senseless mixture of sex, betrayal, torture, and killing. In Pynchon’s words, it is "like a Road Runner cartoon in blank verse." Late in the performance, Maas is struck by an obscure reference to "Trystero."

Maas sets off to understand this reference. She traces the evolution of the play’s text through different publications, finding many changes associated with the Trystero line, but none that offer any realistic account of why the changes were made. Her odyssey leads her into an increasingly bizarre world. To take just one example, she encounters a man who claims to have built a machine incorporating Maxwell’s Demon. Those of you who, like Pynchon, studied physics, know that Maxwell’s Demon is an imaginary creature who was invented to get around the second law of thermodynamics. And part of Maas’s growing frustration in The Crying of Lot 49 derives from her inability to get the machine to work.

She comes to believe that a conspiracy has created an underground postal system in California, going by the acronym W.A.S.T.E., "We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire." As her obsession with the putative conspiracy deepens, Maas finds herself more and more isolated, cut off from her husband, from her psychiatrist, and even from the lawyer she thought was helping her.

Towards the end of the book, Maas is led to an obscure historical source which suggests that Tristero [sic] really existed – as a man who, in 1577, set up an underground postal system to challenge the existing postal monopoly in sixteenth century Europe.

And then, just when the reader is tempted to believe that the puzzle has been neatly sorted out, Pynchon shows how W.A.S.T.E. and the entire Tristero postal conspiracy might have been an elaborate hoax, constructed by Inverarity himself in order to torment his ex-girlfriend. But we really cannot be sure. Because this is, after all, a world in which nothing can be known with certainty.

In The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon has again given us characters who do not feel quite like us. Cleanth Siegel was a fanatic. And Oedipa Maas seems to be a bit too easily drawn into the world of conspiracies.

But in speaking now of what I will call the Tristero Dark Side I again want to broaden our view. Rather than restricting our focus to conspiracy theorists, I would like to define the Tristero Dark Side by reference to a related but more familiar idea, the rush to judgment. This is the temptation to see too quickly a pattern emerging, to infer too soon an organizing principle, and then to become unable to assimilate contrary evidence into your worldview.

After you leave Cornell, you will have the opportunity to take positions of authority and responsibility. In those roles you will be required to act under conditions of uncertainty, to use your best judgment about what is going on when you have little information. These will be wonderful opportunities for you to do good in the world. They will invite you to draw on your very best qualities – your compassion, your intelligence, your intuition.

And at these moments you will also have the opportunity to negotiate the temptations of the Tristero Dark Side. It will be surprisingly easy to believe that you know more than you do, to see more order in the universe than is really there, to see less entropy, to see conspiracies where there is only coincidence. It will take hard work to remind yourself of the limits of your own knowledge, to stay receptive to new evidence, to keep an open mind, especially when you feel very real time pressures weighing on your decision.

Think, for example, of the national leaders who must assess the danger posed by other countries. The journalists who must decide how much credence to give an anonymous tip. The labor negotiators who must decide whether to trust the latest representations that management has made to them. In these contexts, people are naturally tempted to connect the dots. It is more satisfying to know the answer than to live with ambiguity. And often it is easiest to have that answer take the form of malevolence, or conspiracy. It is so tempting to rush to judgment.

And yet, you can defeat the temptations of the Windigo Dark Side and the Tristero Dark Side. You do not have to develop moral tunnel vision. You do not have to rush to judgment. I am happy to provide you with five strategies for staying true to your best selves. Think of them, if you will, as the five virtues of a Jedi Master: a love for complexity, a patient spirit, a will to communicate, a sense of humor, and an optimistic heart.

First, a love for complexity. Fanaticism is anchored in the belief that one has discovered The Truth, a master key that explains the world. That same kind of belief can generate both tunnel vision and a rush to judgment.

When you feel yourself developing that kind of certainty that you have access to a master key, push back. Use all of your intellectual and sympathetic powers to seek out multiple perspectives. See the world through your critics’ eyes. Feel your adversaries’ pain. When it seems as though you’ve got it all figured out, ask yourself whether Pierce Inverarity might have led you astray, and whether you might be missing something important.

Second, a patient spirit. When the stakes seem highest, it is natural to believe that only swift and decisive action will do. When you feel that impulse, wait. Take a walk around the block. Review in your mind the foreseeable consequences of your decision – the outcome you hope for and the collateral damage that might be avoidable. Remember how much you do not know. Then you will be able to act, and to do so in ways that enable you to keep on learning.

Third, a will to communicate. Pynchon’s writings are filled with the communicative failures of his protagonists. Characters have insights, but they fail to share them with others in a way that is intelligible, in a way that can be helpful. And those failures make it easy for the Dark Side to move in. In these circumstances your rule of thumb should be that responsibility lies with the speaker. It is up to the person with the insight to find a way to convey it so that the audience understands.

As you assume greater leadership roles, having acquired special learning, knowledge, or expertise, that rule of thumb will become more and more important. It is not enough to have such learning. And it is not enough to bombard your listeners with data. You must come to understand what the linguist George Lakoff has called "frames" – the ways in which your listeners structure their perceptions of the world. And you must help them to develop frames that will allow them to appreciate the importance of the learning you have to share.

Fourth, a sense of humor. Humor is the great enemy of the Dark Side, and the most powerful form of humor is self-deprecation. And here Thomas Pynchon has offered us a priceless example.

After graduating from Cornell, Pynchon emerged as one of the great writers of the twentieth century. His five novels have each won wide acclaim. But he decided early on that he would not accept the celebrity that success can bring. He chose instead to do what he could to preserve normalcy in his life by preserving his privacy. In particular, he avoided cameras. He would not allow his photo to be taken. He declined to give interviews.

But then, to the shock and amusement of a literary world that had become somewhat obsessed with finding Thomas Pynchon, along came the January 25, 2004, episode of the television show, The Simpsons.

In that show, Marge Simpson writes her first novel, The Harpooned Heart. Eager to promote sales of the book, the publisher seeks blurbs from Thomas Pynchon and Tom Clancy.

So picture, in your mind, the following scene. Imagine a Simpsons character. A man wearing a paper bag over his head, with a question mark painted on the bag, above the eyes. He’s standing in front of a house, near a big neon sign that reads, "Thomas Pynchon’s House. Come On In." The Pynchon character makes a call on his cell phone to Marge’s publisher.

And here is what the Pynchon character says. (By the way, this really is the voice of Thomas Pynchon):

["Here’s your quote. Thomas Pynchon loved this book. Almost as much as he loves cameras." ]

The Pynchon character ends the call and hangs a big sign around his neck that says "Thomas Pynchon," with an arrow pointing at his head, still covered by a paper bag. He starts shouting at passing cars:

["Hey, over here. Have your picture taken with a reclusive author. Today only, we’ll throw in a free autograph. But wait! There’s more!"]

A self-deprecating sense of humor will take you far indeed, perhaps all the way to the Simpsons.

And finally, an optimistic heart. When we reflect on Anakin’s fall, we recognize that the Dark Side’s greatest allies are fear and despair. Those are the emotions that fuel tunnel vision and a rush to judgment. To fight them you must arm yourself with realistic optimism. Not Panglossian denial of the problems in our world. But a kind of working faith that, on balance, over the long haul, things will work out, justice will be served, progress will occur, success will be achieved. That kind of attitude seems to be a predicate for most forms of collective achievement. Think of it, if you will, as the spirit that underlies Episode IV: A New Hope.

* * *

New graduates of Cornell University, as you face the western horizon of your lives, I ask you to think about this moment in the way that Pynchon had Oedipa Maas think of a critical moment in her own life. "She thought ... of a sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west."

This is your sunrise. You are about to embark on lives of service to a society that desperately needs you. And as you go, let me conclude by sharing a few hopes that we, your teachers, hold for you:

May you enjoy the special pleasures of craft — the private satisfaction of doing a task as well as it can be done.

May you enjoy the special pleasures of profession — the added satisfaction of knowing that your efforts promote a larger public good.

May you be blessed with good luck, and also with the wisdom to appreciate when you have been lucky rather than skillful.

May you find ways to help others under circumstances where they cannot possibly know that you have done so.

May you be patient, and gentle, and tolerant, without becoming smug, self-satisfied, and arrogant.

May you know enough bad weather that you never take today's sunshine for granted, and enough good weather that your faith in the coming of spring is never shaken.

May you always be able to confess ignorance, doubt, vulnerability, and uncertainty.

May the Force be with you.

May you frequently travel beyond the places that are comfortable and familiar, the better to appreciate the miraculous diversity of life.

And may your steps lead you often back to Ithaca. Back to East Hill. For you will always be Cornellians. And we will always be happy to welcome you home.

Congratulations, one and all.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

a one-shot flash-in-the-pan amateur?

Pynchon, for example, wrote in 1983 to apologize for not responding to Barthelme's invitation to a "Postmodernist Dinner"in New York. The notoriously reclusive author of Gravity's Rainbow said he couldn't have attended anyway, as he was "between coasts, Arkansas or Lubbock or someplace like 'at." (Doing what? one wonders.)

Pynchon also moans about suffering from writer's block and feeling "like a one-shot flash-in-the-pan amateur." He jokes that he thought he saw Barthelme in Greenwich Village but didn't approach him "on the off-chance it was Solzhenitsyn" ? a reference to Barthelme's distinctive facial hair. For a return address, Pynchon listed his literary agent.

...from: University of Houston gives insight into writer Donald Barthelme through exhibition of his papers
By Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle, May 27, 2005

Thursday, May 26, 2005

new book: Handbook of Narrative

...looks good:

HERMAN, Luc and Bart VERVAECK, Handbook of Narrative
, University of Nebraska Press, 2005, 232 p. ISBN: 0-8032-7349-5
The study of narrative has been a continuous concern from antiquity to the present day because stories are everywhere—from fiction across media to nation
building and personal identity. Handbook of Narrative Analysis sorts out both traditional and recent narrative theories, providing the necessary skills to interpret any story that comes along.

In addition to discussing classical theorists such as Gérard Genette, Mieke Bal, and Seymour Chatman, Handbook of Narrative Analysis presents precursors (such as E. M. Forster), related theorists (Franz Stanzel, Dorrit Cohn), and a large variety of
postclassical critics. Among the latter, particular attention is paid to the ethics of reading, gender theory, and "possible worlds."

Not content to consider theory as an end in itself, Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck use two stories by contemporary authors as a touchstone to illustrate each narrative approach, thereby illuminating the practical implications of theoretical preferences and ideological leanings. Marginal glosses guide the reader through discussions of theoretical issues, and an extensive bibliography points readers to the most
current publications in the field. Written in an accessible style, this handbook combines a comprehensive treatment of its subject with a user-friendly format appropriate for specialists and nonspecialists alike.

Luc Herman is a professor of American literature and literary theory at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. He is a Pynchon specialist and the author of
Concepts of Realism. Bart Vervaeck is a professor of Dutch literature and literary theory at the Free University Brussels. He is the author of a study on postmodern Dutch literature.

Friday, May 20, 2005

cooking up the urban crocodile story

Croc hunters tracking a myth
by Ed O'Loughlin, 21 May 2005

The Yarkon and Ayalon rivers meet in Tel Aviv's concrete underworld of highway overpasses and grimy storm drains, and it is here that a strange drama is played out each night.

Outnumbered by journalists, two reluctant rangers from Israel's Nature and National Parks Protection Authority launch their small boat on to the toxic waters and putter upstream into the darkness, torch beams probing for eyes gleaming from the scum.

In recent days, Tel Aviv has been gripped by an outbreak of one of the world's most enduring mind viruses - the legend of the urban crocodile.

Despite its own scepticism, the parks authority says it feels obliged to ease public fears following a number of reported sightings in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

Hillel Glaffman, head of stream monitoring, says Tel Aviv winters are too cold for crocodiles, "but we can't take any chances, so we have to go out and search the banks. I think if nothing is found in the next few days there will be no further searches."

The Nile crocodile, its salt water cousin and the North American alligator are among the very few animals that will readily hunt people for food; little wonder that they haunt the imagination.

This urban crocodile story was cooked up by the elusive American author Thomas Pynchon (himself something of an urban legend) for his 1963 debut novel, V.

Despite having "fiction" stamped all over it, the story took a life of its own and has since been misapplied to scores of cities around the world.

In fact, there is nothing particularly far-fetched about the Tel Aviv sightings. Crocodiles lived wild in the region's coastal swamps as recently as a century ago and two years ago a large feral crocodile was pulled out of the River Jordan, where once they were plentiful.

Last year a number of hatchlings were stolen from a crocodile ranch and handed out as presents to Israel's thriving gangster fraternity; some of these young crocodiles have since turned up in streams.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Friday, May 06, 2005

My Other Car is a Pynchon Novel a bumper sticker (scroll down) from this comic strip:

Thursday, April 28, 2005

reinserting "the biographical author Thomas Pynchon into the critical equation"

from Pynchon-l, where the notion encapsulated in the headline-quote above has, freqently, been castigated as sacrilege:
Reading Pynchon Rewriting
Luc Herman

The canonization of Thomas Pynchon as the American postmodernist author of the 1960s and 70s has been partially enhanced by his perceived invisibility, which functioned as one of the main proofs of Foucault’s and Barthes’s suggestion that a writer was by no means in control of his own writing. While the paradoxical notion of perceived invisibility doesn’t mean at all that Pynchon is a total mystery—the author can be reached fairly easily through his wife, the literary agent Melanie Jackson, and a few years ago he even consented to a fax interview for a biography on one of his friends (Hajdu 2001)—he has been toying with this image up to the present day. In January 2004, he lent his voice to an episode of The Simpsons in which he appeared as a “famous reclusive author” with a brown paper bag over his head. However, Pynchon has definitely been quite serious in trying to cover up certain aspects of his personal and professional life. In the early 1990s, his lawyers managed to block access to an application he had submitted with the Ford Foundation in 1959 (Weisenburger 1991), and in 1998 they successfully took on the Pierpont Morgan Library, which had acquired a cache of letters to his former agent, Candida Donadio. It was hardly surprising then that genetic criticism on Pynchon, apart from two articles (Fowler 1984; Patteson 1984) about the transformation of his early short story, “Under the Rose” (1962) into chapter three of his first novel, V. (1963), did not amount to much. The typescript of V. acquired by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas (Austin) in 2000 radically changed this critical impasse. The 685 page typescript is a first version of the novel and contains more than a 100 pages eventually removed from the text. Pynchon cannot prevent people from seeing this remarkable object since it is the property of the Ransom Center.

As a long-standing Pynchon critic I took a natural interest in this typescript and am currently working on a series of articles about it. My purpose in this paper is to take a step back from my own research practice so as to consider the politics of genetic criticism dealing with an author who has been eager to cover up all his traces apart from his publications. The typescript obviously reinserts the biographical author Thomas Pynchon into the critical equation. “Should” this lead to a more profound understanding of certain ideological issues related to his first novel, and allow us to “correct” already existing interpretations, or “should” it rather, in an effort to avoid the pitfalls of critical arrogance, be seen as merely one approach among many? In my answer to this question, I will focus on how the character of the black jazz musician in V., McClintic Sphere, is stripped in the novel’s final version of various characteristics indicative of Pynchon’s stand on race at the beginning of his literary career.

Thanks, Rich!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

GR pictures on the Web

Zak Smith:
My entire set of Gravity's Rainbow pictures is now up at this site:

it is, i believe, the largest piece of art on the web--in terms of the raw amount of visual information available--each of the 755 pictures is more than life size.

Monday, April 11, 2005

"the loudest yelps for liberty"

Re: Samuel Johnson, this from the Times:
Slavery repelled him. He took a freed slave, Francis Barber, into his house, and bequeathed him the bulk of his estate. His opinion of Americans ("I am willing to love all mankind," he confessed, "except an American") stemmed partly from the colonists' doublethink about freedom and slavery: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?"

From Mason & Dixon, p. 696:
The Driver's Whip is an evil thing, an expression of ill feeling worse than any between Master and Slave,- the contempt of the monger of perishable goods for his Merchandise,-- in its tatter'd braiding, darken'd to its Lash-Tips with the sweat and blood of Drove after Drove of human targets, the metal Wires work'd in to each Lash, its purpose purely to express hate with, and Hate's Corollary,-- to beg for the same denial of Mercy, should, one day, the roles be revers'd. Gambling that they may not be, Or, that they may."

Saturday, April 09, 2005

"clogged with belated thought"

Dave Monroe quoting the Guardian re the late, great Saul Bellow, @ pynchon-l:
And he was always concerned with the modern self, the American self. It is usual to give writers like DeLillo and Pynchon credit for what seems the essentially postmodern insight that we are colonised, mediated, and finally oppressed by modern forms of knowledge - by television, film, advertising, the newspapers - and that this mediation has the effect of making our own mental activity somewhat self-conscious. But Bellow believed that public life drives out private life, and that this pressure on the private was a unique contemporary invention. His modern heroes are clogged with belated thought - they arrive so late in history, when there is too much too know, too much to bear, and no one speaks the same language....

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

violent prose

via Heikki @pynchon-l:
"[...] Four years and a series of catastrophic world events later, the new production, Saturday, is here. It begins with its hero, the successful neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, gazing through the window of his house at what might well be another major calamity: A plane is flying over London, on fire. Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow also famously opens with a burning projectile over London, and whether or not McEwan is alluding to it, the comparison is instructive. Pynchon: "A screaming comes across the sky." McEwan: "Above the usual deep and airy roar is a straining, choking, banshee sound growing in volume-both a scream and a sustained shout, an impure, dirty noise that suggests unsustainable mechanical effort," etc., etc. Pynchon's sentence contains no adjectives; McEwan's two clauses contain ten. The desired effect is vividness, proximity; the result is the opposite, with the adjectives muffling the screaming, so that it is no longer screaming but only screaming-that-is-being-written-about. Few contemporary writers are as fixated as McEwan on physical violence; yet no one's prose is less violent than his. [...]."

Monday, March 21, 2005

"my Tithable"

From: George Washington’s Slave Child? by Ed Pompeian, History News Network, 21 March 2005:
“Volumes tell how he fathered a nation. Only iUniverse let me tell how he fathered a slave,” proclaimed a two-page advertisement that appeared in the New York Times Book Review, on Sunday, February 20. The advertisement promoted Linda Allen Bryant’s I Cannot Tell A Lie. Published in 2004, Bryant’s book tells the story of how George Washington, the nation’s first president, fathered his one and only child through a slave. The headline was certainly eye-catching, as intended. But was the claim off the wall?

According to Linda Allen Bryant, Washington initiated a sexual relationship with a female slave named Venus around 1784. Her claim is based on her family’s two hundred year old oral history and on conspicuous evidence showing that the Washington family afforded special treatment to West Ford. Bryant, a direct descendent of West Ford, points to correspondence between George and his brother, John Augustine, to argue that George Washington visited his brother’s plantation in 1784, and that a gap in Washington’s personal diary that year could account for a sexual liaison during this visit.

Mason & Dixon
, p. 572:
"Eeh!" Washington grabbing Mason.
"Colonel, Sir," twitching away, "'twould be far preferable,- "
"That voice, Mason! 'tis my Tithable, Gershom!"

[photo source]

the war complex

...from a University of Chicago Press new book email alert:
The War Complex by Marianna Torgovnick

Marianna Torgovnick argues that we have lived, since the end of World War II, under the power of a war complex--a set of repressed ideas and impulses that stems from our unresolved attitudes toward the technological acceleration of mass death. This complex has led to gaps and hesitations in public discourse about atrocities committed during
the war itself. And it remains an enduring wartime consciousness, one most recently animated on September 11.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 645:
The Germans-and-Japs story was only one, rather surrealistic version of the real War. The real War is always there. The dying tapers off now and then, but the War is still killing lots and lots of people. Only right now it is killing them in more subtle ways. Often in ways that are too complicated, even for us, at this level, to trace.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

red herring or highbrow beard?

But the joke's on Hemingway. According to Lethem, men without women employ comic books to compensate for their absence. When his characters aren't listening to Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads, or dreaming up scenarios for interactive video games, or hiring out as "advertising robots" at the local Undermall, or destroying the world with air bags made of cabbages, they are thinking about Stan Lee and R. Crumb, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Dr. Doom, and Captain America. If Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, Walt Whitman, and Carl Jung show up in "Super Goat Man," the most ambitious of these stories, they are really only red herrings or highbrow beards in an epic tale of an Electric Comics superhero from the Sixties who is reduced in the Eighties to teaching a college seminar on "Dissidence and Desire: Marginal Heroics in American Life 1955–1975." it all: Welcome to New Dork, by John Leonard, New York Review of Books, 7 April 2005

Monday, March 14, 2005

swans sacred for V

Swans were sacred to the goddess...because the V-formation of their flight was a female symbol, and because, at mid-summer, they flew north to unknown breeding grounds, supposedly taking the dead king's soul with them.
"Tyche and Nemesis"
Robert Graves
The Greek Myths: 1
, p. 126

Leda and the Swan (16th century)
Paolo Veronese [CORBIS/Bettman source]

Friday, March 11, 2005

the pig as technology transmission vector

The wild origins of the domestic pig:
The new findings show that domestication must have taken place in several different geographical regions in both Europe and Asia. Moreover, it is highly probable that domestication took place in many places within each respective region. This means that it was the technology for domesticating the wild boar that spread across the world, not domesticated wild boar as such.

The new study also clearly demonstrates that the DNA profile of European domesticated pigs is very similar to that found among today's European wild boar and is distinct from that found by scientists in Turkey and Iran. This contradicts earlier theories that the wild boar was never domesticated in Europe and that domestication took place in the Middle East.

V. | 16:
Yibble, yibble, Muslim pig.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

that duck!

Vaucanson's Duck

Necrophilia among ducks ruffles research feathers
by Donald MacLeod, Guardian, 8 March, 2005
The strange case of the homosexual necrophiliac duck pushed out the boundaries of knowledge in a rather improbable way when it was recorded by Dutch researcher Kees Moeliker.

It may have ruffled a few feathers, but it earned him the coveted Ig Nobel prize for biology awarded for improbable research, and next week he will be recounting his findings to UK audiences on the Ig Nobel tour.

Ducks behave pretty badly, it seems. It is not so much that up to one in 10 of mallard couples are homosexual - no one would raise an eyebrow in the liberal Netherlands - but they regularly indulge in "attempted rape flights" when they pursue other ducks with a view to forcible mating. "Rape is a normal reproductive strategy in mallards," explains Mr Moeliker.

As he recounts in his seminal paper, The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard anas platyrhynchos, he was in his office in the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, when he was alerted by a bang to the fact a bird had crashed into the glass facade of the building. "I went downstairs immediately to see if the window was damaged, and saw a drake mallard (anas platyrhynchos) lying motionless on its belly in the sand, two metres outside the facade. The unfortunate duck apparently had hit the building in full flight at a height of about three metres from the ground. Next to the obviously dead duck, another male mallard (in full adult plumage without any visible traces of moult) was present. He forcibly picked into the back, the base of the bill and mostly into the back of the head of the dead mallard for about two minutes, then mounted the corpse and started to copulate, with great force, almost continuously picking the side of the head.

"Rather startled, I watched this scene from close quarters behind the window until 19.10 hours during which time (75 minutes) I made some photographs and the mallard almost continuously copulated his dead congener. He dismounted only twice, stayed near the dead duck and picked the neck and the side of the head before mounting again. The first break (at 18.29 hours) lasted three minutes and the second break (at 18.45 hours) lasted less than a minute. At 19.12 hours, I disturbed this cruel scene. The necrophilic mallard only reluctantly left his 'mate': when I had approached him to about five metres, he did not fly away but simply walked off a few metres, weakly uttering a series of two-note 'raeb-raeb' calls (the 'conversation-call' of Lorentz 1953). I secured the dead duck and left the museum at 19.25 hours. The mallard was still present at the site, calling 'raeb-raeb' and apparently looking for his victim (who, by then, was in the freezer)."

Mr Moeliker suggests the pair were engaged in a rape flight attempt. "When one died the other one just went for it and didn't get any negative feedback - well, didn't get any feedback," he said.

His findings have provoked a lot of interest - especially in Britain for some reason - but no other recorded cases of duck necrophilia. However, Mr Moeliker was informed of an American case involving a squirrel and a dead partner, although in this case it is not known whether the necrophilia observed was homosexual or not as the victim had been run over by a truck shortly before the incident.

Mason & Dixon, p. 374:374:
"Agreed, you must consider how best to defend yourself,-- wear clothing it cannot bite through, leather, or what's even more secure, chain-mail,-- its Beak being of the finest Swedish Steel, did I mention that, yes quite qable, when the Duck, in its homicidal Frenzy, is flying at high speed, to penetrate all known Fortification, solid walls being as paper to this Juggernaut.… One may cower within, but one cannot avoid,-- le Bec de la Mort, the…'Beak of Death.'"

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

"together they are a long skin interface"

New Technology to Use Human Body As Digital Transmission Path,, 22 February 2005:
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) is pursuing research and development of an innovative Human Area Networking technology called RedTacton that safely turns the surface of the human body into a data transmission path at speeds up to 10 Mbps between any two points on the body. Using a novel electro-optic sensor, NTT has already developed a small PCMCIA card-sized prototype RedTacton transceiver. RedTacton enables the first practical Human Area Network between body-centered electronic devices and PCs or other network devices embedded in the environment via a new generation of user interface based on totally natural human actions such as touching, holding, sitting, walking, or stepping on a particular spot.

Gravity's Rainbow
, p. 121
Together they are a long skin interface, flowing sweat, close as muscles and bones can press, hardly a word beyond her name, or his.

"I'd rather be a pig than a fascist"

Porco Rosso

Totoro and the culture of fear, Orcinus, 1 March 2005:
The past week or so, I've been enjoying the recent American releases of two of anime master Hayao Miyazaki's earlier films, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Porco Rosso. Like all of his work, they're both wonders to watch. Nausicaa, his first film, is a worthy variation on Dune as a kind of biological fable, while Porco Rosso is an amazing piece of work for those (like me) who have a love of well-crafted flying sequences. It also has a line for the ages: "I'd rather be a pig than a fascist."

Gravity's Rainbow p. 555:
William must have been waiting for the one pig that wouldn't die, that would validate all the ones who'd had to, all his Gadarene swine who'd rushed into extinction like lemmings, possessed not by demons but by trust for men, which the men kept betraying … possessed by innocence they couldn't lose … by faith in William as another variety of pig, at home with the Earth, sharing the same gift of life.…

Monday, February 28, 2005

a sewer rat in love

Molls Who Have It Their Way With a Gang of New York by Janet Maslin, New York Times, 28 February 2005:
"Metropolis" follows an upward trajectory, literally rising from the sewers to the Brooklyn Bridge's towers. And it manages to be carnal and scatological at any height. "Generally, sewage runs thin and gray, not half as bad as you'd think," Ms. Gaffney explains, as the sewer system becomes central to a Whyo heist scheme. And as for Frank, an expert on these underground tunnels, after he is smitten by Beanie: "When he saw a rat in the sewer now, he thought of it as a happy rat, as a sewer rat in love."

V., p. 120, 124:
They were entering Fairing's Parish, named after a priest who'd lived topside years ago. During the Depression of the '30's, in an hour of apocalyptic well-being, he had decided that the rats were going, to take over after New York died. Lasting eighteen hours a day, his feat had covered the breadlines and missions, where he gave comfort, stitched up raggedy souls. He foresaw nothing but a city of starved corpses, covering the sidewalks and the grass of the parks, lying belly up in the fountains, hanging wrynecked from the streetlamps. The city - maybe America, his horizons didn't extend that far - would belong, to the rats before the year was out. This being the case, father Fairing thought it best for the rats to be given a head start - which meant conversion to the Roman Church. One night early in Roosevelt's first term, he climbed downstairs through the nearest manhole, bringing a Baltimore Catechism, his breviary and, for reasons nobody found out, a copy of Knight's Modern Seamanship. The first thing he did according to his journals (discovered months after he died was to put an eternal blessing and a few exorcisms on the water flowing through the sewers between Lexington and the East River and between 86th and 79th Streets. This as the area which became Fairing's Parish. These benisons made sure of an adequate supply of holy water; also eliminated the trouble of individual baptisms when he finally converted all the rats in the parish. Too, he expected other rats to hear what was going on under the upper East Side, and come likewise to be converted. Before long he would be spiritual leader of the inheritors of the earth. He considered it small enough sacrifice on their part to provide three of their own per day for physical sustenance, in return for the spiritual nourishment he was giving them. [....] one of the apocrypha dealt with an unnatural relationship between the priest and this female rat, who was described as a kind of voluptuous Magdalen. From everything Profane had heard, Veronica was the only member of his flock Father Fairing felt to have a soul worth saving. She would come to him at night not as a succubus but seeking instruction, perhaps to carry back to her nest - wherever in the Parish it was - something of his desire to bring her to Christ: a scapular medal, a memorized verse from the New Testament, a partial indulgence, a penance.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Kirghiz Light

Ink helps drive democracy in Asia, BBC, 19 February 2005:
The Kyrgyz Republic, a small, mountainous state of the former Soviet republic, is using invisible ink and ultraviolet readers in the country's elections as part of a drive to prevent multiple voting.

....The ink is sprayed on a person's left thumb. It dries and is not visible under normal light. However, the presence of ultraviolet light (of the kind used to verify money) causes the ink to glow with a neon yellow light.

At the entrance to each polling station, one election official will scan voter's fingers with UV lamp before allowing them to enter, and every voter will have his/her left thumb sprayed with ink before receiving the ballot. If the ink shows under the UV light the voter will not be allowed to enter the polling station. Likewise, any voter who refuses to be inked will not receive the ballot.

....see "Kirghiz Light" in Gravity's Rainbow@ index

Sunday, January 23, 2005

"this octopus was not in good mental health"

A huge octopus emerges from the ocean, wraps an oversized tentacle around the waist of a young woman, and proceeds to drag her into the sea. This memorable episode from Thomas Pynchon's vast and surreal novel, Gravity's Rainbow, has a happy ending, however, owing to the intervention of Mr. Tyrone Slothrop, who first unavailingly beats the molluscan monster over the head with an empty wine bottle. Then, in a stroke of zoologically informed genius, he offers the briny behemoth something even more alluring than a fair maiden: a crab. It works, suggesting that this particular octopus conforms, at least in its dietary preference, to the norm for its species. We learn, nonetheless, that "In their brief time together, Slothrop formed the impression that this octopus was not in good mental health."

It isn't entirely clear where the creature's mental derangement lies. After all, it behaved with a reasonable degree of healthy, enlightened self-interest in seeking first to consume the young lady, and then forgoing her for the even more delectable crab. Yet nature writer David Quammen may have been onto something when he pointed out that octopi generally - not just Pynchon's fictional creation - might be especially vulnerable to mental disequilibrium, if only because one of their distinguishing characteristics is having immense brains. Mental strain is probably not unknown among animals, but there seems little doubt that it is particularly well-developed in the species Homo sapiens, whose brains - like Pynchon's octopus - are especially large, and whose strain, is correspondingly (and regrettably) great.

This essay will argue that one of the major themes of evolutionary biology - the conflict between individual selfishness and group altruism - is paralleled by a comparable theme in literature, and that each usefully illuminates the other.

The tension between individual and group may also shed light on another longstanding evolutionary conundrum: Why do people have such big brains, bigger even than our hungry octopus? There has been no shortage of possible answers, including the possibility that humanity's oversized intellect has evolved as a means of facilitating communication, tool use, making war on our enemies and/or defending our friends, attracting and keeping mates, or dealing with predators as well as prey. There is even the prospect that the human intellect might be a by-product of sexual selection, comparable to the peacock's flamboyant tail feathers. Here is yet another possibility, suggested by the self/group tension: Maybe human beings owe their mental adroitness to the peculiar pressures of keeping a very complex social life in adaptive equilibrium. This possibly hare-brained schema for explaining our human-brained selves has at least one virtue: It speaks to a long-standing question in ethics, which is also illuminated - at least in part - by evolutionary biology: How to navigate the conflicting demands of personal selfishness and social obligation?

Moreover, the question of individual versus group generates a useful way of looking at one of the most pervasive yet elusive themes in literature: the dilemma of self-assertion in a world that often calls for precisely the personal abnegation that our genes are generally primed to reject. This conflict between self and others, selfishness and altruism, the needs of the individual and those of society, has a long pedigree in the world of stories, as well as an equally potent basis in the world of life. Homo sapiens is a social creature. So, when people battle to make their way, as individuals, within a larger social group, they are doing something that all social species do (often in remarkably similar ways). Human beings are simply more aware of it than is the average prairie dog or pumpkinseed sunfish. And so, people not only live through these dilemmas, they write about them.

This essay, accordingly, suggests that when writers explore one of their favorite themes - the ever-present struggle between the individual and the larger group - they are recreating a parallel, and fundamental theme of biology.

As difficult as it must be for any creature to balance its various competing demands (to eat or sleep, attack or retreat, eat a damsel or a crab, etc.) such choices are probably most confusing in the social domain. For as hard as it may be to predict the vagaries of weather, for example, the vagaries of one's fellow creatures have to be even more complex, confusing, and stressful. And when it comes to negotiating a complicated and difficult social life, human beings are in a class by themselves. Clearly, our remarkably over-sized brains do not satisfy themselves with simply meeting the contingencies of daily life. Human neurons are obsessed with confronting all sorts of difficult issues, mostly of their own making. Small wonder that so many people, like Pynchon's octopus, are stressed.

And small wonder, as well, that so much fiction revolves around the conflicting demands of self versus group, selfishness versus altruism, callow youth versus responsible adulthood, individual needs versus society's expectation: it is a conflict that may well reside, literally, in our genes.... it all: Biology Lurks Beneath: Bioliterary Explorations of the Individual versus Society by David P. Barash, Department of Psychology, University of Washington.


From Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies:
On Wednesday at 12 noon EST, MAPS offered its first live internet audio broadcast of our celebration of Albert Hofmann's 99th birthday. Dr. Rick Doblin, president of MAPS, and a panel of prominent scientists spoke to Albert live in Switzerland about the renewal of psychedelic research and their work....To listen to the conference call, go to:

The Crying of Lot 49, p. 111:
There is me, there are the others. You know, with the LSD, we're finding, the distinction begins to vanish. Egos lose their sharp edges.

The structure of lysergic acid diethylamide. The diethylamide group is shown in red and the indole ring in blue.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

oneirine lives

Gumpelmann. A Psychiatric Novel

Publisher's information

In this brilliant comic novel Karl Koehler paints a nightmarish picture of his former psychiatric colleagues and their drug studies.

Gumpelmann, an alter ego of the author, confronts an all-powerful psychiatric establishment intent on pushing through its agenda at all costs. In this instance it is the drug oneirine - first described in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow—that psychiatrists believe holds the key to developing the ultimate paranoid mouse.

Who then could better describe the sexual humiliations and numerous forms of never-ending dependency originating in a clinic with an academic dog-eat-dog mentality primarily geared to doing the bidding of the drug companies than a psychiatric insider?

A funny, corrosive and entirely absorbing novel written in the subversive tradition of American postmodern literature, which could just as well have been entitled "Sex, Drugs and Doo Wop."

About the Author

Karl Koehler was born in Manhattan in 1935, grew up in the Bronx and, after studying at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts, completed his medical studies in Innsbruck. After finishing his psychiatric residency in Cornell, Heidelberg and the State Hospital in Marburg, he became a Privatdozent in Heidelberg; later he accepted an appointment as head of Social Psychiatry at the University Psychiatric Clinic in Bonn. He is presently living in retirement with his wife in the Bonn-Cologne area.

Published in German. Thanks to p-list Otto for the heads-up.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Beethoven, Hansel & Gretel, V-2, paedophilia

Israeli opera signs up Buchenwald production:
ERFURT - The New Israeli Opera Tel Aviv will participate in the controversial staging of Beethoven's prison-based opera "Fidelio" at the site of Buchenwald concentration camp, German organisers of the production announced on Tuesday.

The 14-year-old opera company, under the general direction of Hanna Munitz, will provide musicians and singers for the production, scheduled for 2007 at the Nazi death camp site near Weimar in eastern Germany.

The controversial production is the brainchild of Giancarlo del Monaco, guest artistic director of the new Erfurt Opera House.

Del Monaco, 61, son of famed tenors Mario del Monaco, currently is embroiled in another controversy involving a production of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck's much-loved 1893 opera "Hansel And Gretel".

The Erfurt production, which premiere's next weekend, shifts the story from a fairy tale forest witch's cottage made of candy to a sinister metropolitan red-light district where children are abducted and held as sex slaves for paedophiles.

The sandman of the original libretto is transformed into a cocaine-sniffing procurer who hands over child abductees to the "witch" who, in del Monaco's production, is a seemingly respectable clergyman.

As he has with the "Fidelio" production, del Monaco has defended his "Hansel And Gretel" production, saying the original story by the Brothers Grimm was designed to make children wary of strangers promising them sweets.

"Underlying the libretto is a tacit comment on paedophilia, violence and sexual abuse of children," del Monaco said in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"I am not attacking the church, but only attacking the church's continued denial that such things have gone on and continue to go on," he told dpa.

"Fidelio", Ludwig van Beethoven's only opera, is a story of political repression, unjust imprisonment and eventual dramatic liberation.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 50:
How Pointsman lusts after them, pretty children. Those drab undershorts of his are full to bursting with need humorlessly, worldly to use their innocence

see also:

Beethoven in Gravity's Rainbow index

Hansel and Gretel in Gravity's Rainbow index

Saturday, January 08, 2005


The Gravity's Rainbow Deathmarch: Our First Few Steps..., a group reading of the novel, underway at cecil vortex. "All are welcome."

Friday, January 07, 2005

a madman dreams of space conquest

Download be damned, can't resist the Rocket. Image from Comic Book Bondage Cover of the Day, "the web's foremost reference site for bondage covers on mainstream comic books."

urban gorilla

Through the use of posters, stencils, stickers and apparel, we aim to rally skateboarders and artists alike to "Reclaim The Streets!"

... read it all: The Urban Guerilla Projekt - An Explanation, at the always-interesting Wooster Collective.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 368:
Well, what it is--is? what's "is"?--is that King Kong, or some creature closely allied, squatting down, evidently just, taqking a shit, right in the street! and everything! a-and being ignored, by truckload after truckload of Russian enlisted men in pisscutter caps and dazed smiles, grinding right on by--"Hey!" Slothrop wants to shout, "hey lookit that giant ape? or whatever it is. You guys? Hey . . ." But he doesn't, luckily. On closer inspection, the crouching monster turns out to be the Reichstag building, shelled out, airbrushed, fire-brushed powdery black on all blastward curves and projections, chalked over its hard-echoing carbon insides with Cyrillic initials, and many names of comrades killed in May.

Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?
There is a long folk history of this figure, the Badass. He is usually male, and while sometimes earning the quizzical tolerance of women, is almost universally admired by men for two basic virtues: he Is Bad, and he is Big. Bad meaning not morally evil, necessarily, more like able to work mischief on a large scale. What is important here is the amplifying of scale, the multiplication of effect.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

consider the miserable life of the pig, update

Consider Pig City:
Three years ago, Rotterdam-based architects bureau MVRDV imagined a pig city to change farming production and solve problems such as swine fever and foot and mouth disease. Their idea was to give more space to pigs, letting them live in huge and comfy skyscrapers. Balconies allow the animals to rummage around under trees, an abattoir is housed in the plinth, and animals for slaughter are moved in lifts. There's even a fish farm that supplies some of the food needed. If pigs are kept in stacked "apartments" in such a way that they enjoy better conditions, the meat tastes better, livestock transport becomes unnecessary, diseases are eliminated, and the Netherlands (European Union's leading exporter) acquires more space, according to the architects.

The We Make Money Not Art blog entry includes link to MVRDV's interesting pig movie.

Gravity's Rainbow p. 555:
William must have been waiting for the one pig that wouldn't die, that would validate all the ones who'd had to, all his Gadarene swine who'd rushed into extinction like lemmings, possessed not by demons but by trust for men, which the men kept betraying … possessed by innocence they couldn't lose … by faith in William as another variety of pig, at home with the Earth, sharing the same gift of life.…