Loops and Bounds

Intent on going nowhere, fast. History's notorious predilection for returning to the scene of the crime, over and over, has caused me plenty of grief and anxiety. Small wonder, then, that I would spend the bulk of my waking hours searching for loopholes and exceptionsevents and situations to derail and confound historic precedentso that I might go back to bed, finally, and get some sleep.

This morning, as I sat dredging the annals of memory, a small bird fluttered to a stop alongside my right ear. Addressing me in a quavering falsetto, the bird expounded at some length. I'll summarize.

Bird: "I say! It seems to me you're in a bit of a pickle. May I offer advice?"

Jeff: "Go for it."

Bird: "Very well. Your apprehension at being trapped in an endlessly repeating sequence of events is understandable, but proceeds from an assumption. History is not linear, statistical analysis cannot quantify the immeasurable, and every mundane incident is constructed of the same raw materials that also allowed the events of 1962."

Jeff: "You're losing me."

Bird: "I use allowed deliberately. The intent of the few is no match for the intent of many, but ambivalence is not intent."

Jeff: "You're saying history only repeats itself because we allow it?"

Bird: "Quite. Majority indifference, so to speak."

Jeff: "Dude!"

Bird: "Just so."

With that, the little bird launched itself into the blue. As I watched, an eagle dropped from the sky above. I shook my head, and went inside to watch TV.


Two Rails Toward the Coast

No loco motives no mo West of Nova Scotia, the Atlantic shoreline is a suitable destination for a young man's inaugural voyage. From there dreams are launched, eighteen years in the making, and fully realized today.

This journey begins at the station, two rails toward the coast. But it continues beyond the trackstwo thousand miles behind you thenand into the salty air that reminds you not a bit of home.

But it is home, and the stars above are proof enough of that. It has always been this way.


The Lifeblood of America

Farming in a different vein. Farming, I suppose, is in the blood. Passed from fathers to sons through the generations, it's a hard life, but it has its rewards. And now, thanks to technology's relentless march, it seems blood is in the farming, too.

Say goodbye to endless rows of yellow corn, and so long to wheat fields. See you around, cows. Farmer Jones needs the space for a crop of a different color.

Embryonic stem cells can be used to grow vats of red blood cells, which could lead to the creation of "farms" that could provide limitless sources of blood, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

Say hello to the new Farmer Jones, and don't let those blood-stained overalls keep you from asking him what's for dinner.


Dancing with Birds

No strings attached. The traditional flamenco style is characterized by ferocious boot heels and roses, which are held in place by the dancer's clenched teeth. It also requires the use of stringed guitars, which are beaten at high speed. Castanetssometimes referred to as clappersare a big part of traditional flamenco, too.

One of the key elements of traditional flamenco is the long skirt worn by the dancer. Most of the time the female dancer wears the skirt, while the male half of the team wears the pants and works the guitar. This is done to avoid legal trouble, because in some places it isn't okay to operate a guitar when you aren't wearing any pants.

In recent years the flamenco style has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts, resulting in two entirely new musical genres. While the firstthe so-called New Flamencoenjoys a certain popularity, it's the second that has turned the music world on its ear. Referred to by adherents as Nuevo Flamingoor Neoflam in certain parts of the worldthis modernized style does away with many of the shortcomings that plagued the more traditional form. Where the old flamenco relied on musical instruments and roses, Nuevo Flamingo requires only strings, and pink plastic birds.

Thus liberated from the distractions of guitars and thorn-tattered gums, Nuevo Flamingo performers are free to focus on their music, and the flaming pink plastic in their mouths.


Falling Down, Again

Grinding away at grammar As an art form, writing ought to allow as much freedom as paint, sculpture, or music. But regardless of the medium, creative license shouldn't be a license to kill. Ketchup on a canvas can be creative, and nitric acid on a canvas can be creative, but ketchup is less likely to result in smoke, headache, and a response from the local HAZMAT team.

Words generally don't result in smoke, but sometimes they cause headaches. There's a time for creative freedomgrinding away at the rules of grammar for art's sakebut writing a letter to the local newspaper ain't it. The sentence below is a good example of why certain words aren't simply interchangeable at will. The wayward comma only adds to the confusion.

Many who consider themselves "peace activists" across the globe engage in tactics, which fail to engender peace.

As written, this sentence tells me that tacticsany tacticsfail to bring about peace. Had the writer chosen that instead of which and left the comma for another time, the sentence would have reflected the intended meaning instead of stalling the reader with ambiguity.

Many who consider themselves "peace activists" across the globe engage in tactics that fail to engender peace.

An alternative would be to illuminate the nature of the tactics in question. Add one word, and the whole problem goes away.

Many who consider themselves "peace activists" across the globe engage in confrontational tactics, which fail to engender peace.

Passive construction aside, the sentence now communicates what was surely the writer's intent in the first place. But whether this problem resulted from simple oversightaccidentally omitting a crucial wordor a wild disregard for grammar, one result is a malfunctioning sentence that doesn't do what the writer wanted it to do.

The other result has more to do with falling off the Grammarians Anonymous wagon, again. But I'm not giving up.


Subverting the Nail

from oneletterwords.com/weblog/
Driving the fractal spike home
From the ER
The critical point becomes
A bit of a problem, medically speaking
Soccer cleats spell danger
And a neck fracture leaves him
On the brink of death
Yet he perseveres
To ride the leapfrog into battle
And returns
Wearing the hero's crown.

Invisible Things

Something is here, but you can't see it because it's invisible. At the bottom of Chris Matyszczyk's recent blog post about the brave new invisibilitysomething I'm sure we all look forward tois a brief list of things he'd make invisible, if it were up to him.

My list would include Buckingham Palace, the Hotel Gansevoort in New York, the whole of Washington Avenue in Miami Beach, most of Warsaw (especially the sky), La Guardia Airport and perhaps even Michael Jackson and Newt Gingrich.

I've seen photos of the first, sixth, and seventh items in the list, and although I understand his point, I think there are a few important considerations that ought to be addressed before these cloaking devices become readily available. I don't want to feel the guilt that comes from knowing I could have done something, but didn't because I was afraid of public ridicule.

I saw Predator, so I have a pretty fair idea of how a person would look after flipping the power switch. The problem with light-bending technology is that . . . well, it bends light. This means whatever you're standing in front of is what someone looking at you will see. That's fine as long as you're in front of, say, a tree. But what if you're standing in front of someone who just happens to be on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, and the person staring at you is an FBI agent? What if, instead of putting his hands in the air when the FBI agent yells, "Freeze, perp!" the wanted guy just laughs and says, "You'll never take me alive, copper!" and the FBI agent starts shooting, except you're standing in front of the perp, so you're filled with lead instead of the guy on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List?

Maybe these cloaking contraptions are made of ballistic nylon already. If so, my concerns are obviously groundless, my imagination just ran away with me, and I'm sorry I brought it up in the first place. Still, when these things start showing up on the shelves of my local hardware store, the first thing I'm going to look for is the little tag that tells me it's bulletproof. Better safe than sorry.


Little Things

This horse doesn't need shoes. My grandmother was fond of nursery rhymes, which may account for the fear I carried with me when I was a child. Very young minds have difficulty grasping the sophisticated logic of many nursery rhymes, and the underlying messagegenerally a lesson of colossal importis just as likely to soar over the youngster's head.

Early this morning, as I sat pondering the absurdity of the minutiae responsible for the catastrophic failure of complex systems, my grandmother's voice burst into my consciousness. One of my earliest memories sprang again to life, bringing a nursery rhyme I haven't heard since I was a child. At the time, the verse held for me no discernable meaning; I only knew it was ominous in some implicit way. My legendary fear of horses hadn't yet manifested at that age, so that didn't figure into it.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
For want of the rider, the battle was lost;
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost;
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The concept of cause and effect is a valuable lesson indeed, but the devil is in the details and sufficient detail is something the average nursery rhyme lacks. Certainly, every systemic failure has its causes, and any genius can stand and point at the smoldering pile of goo afterward. Really, what's important isn't so much that the system failed, but what might have been done to prevent it. Who was in charge of inspecting the nails to make sure they were suitable for use in horseshoes? Was the nail faulty, or was it the shoe itself? Where was the pit crew when the time came to swap those old shoes for fresh ones? What did the veterinarian do to get the horse back on its feet? And how much did the rider weigh?

In fact, everything is a system, and sometimes the cause of the failure is nothing more than the lack of a nail. But other times, the problem has more to do with a tragic lack of understanding on the part of those who make the crucial decisions. The rider may look okay, but that doesn't necessarily mean the horse has eaten lately. Sending the pair into battle, then expressing surprise when the horse drops deadkilling the rider in the processisn't a very good excuse for losing an entire kingdom.

And in the end it's the king who loses his head, even when it was one of his generals who decided that horses can function perfectly well with no shoes at all.


Dream-triggered Dreaming

I always see funny saucer shapes in my dreams, too.

Sometimes one dream triggers another. Most of the time such phenomena take place in the same head; the same person who has the second dream also had the first. But every once in a while, the dream-triggered dream is dreamt by another, which is exactly what seems to have happened in this case.

I dreamed I participated in a cakewalk with a spastic colon. (My dream was no doubt inspired by Jeff at Omegaword.)

Naturally, Craig's dream-triggered dream triggered the Leapfrog Effect, resulting in yet another dream, this time in my head of heads.

Last night I dreamed I was in an idiosynchronous orbit (Craig's invention, not mine) around the schoolhouse in which I experienced my firstand lastcakewalk. As you might expect, that's where I ran into my first spastic colon, too, but some things are best left in those shadowed halls of academia.


The Spastic Colon

Spastic colons are easily mistaken for semicolons, especially at lunchtime. Spastic colon may not be the worst of all possible maladies, but it's no cakewalk, either. For the past few days I've been plagued with the symptoms you'd expect from this sort of thing, along with a few that seem to belong to a different ailment altogether. And therein, as my pappy used to say, lies the rub.

Okay, my pappy never actually said that. It isn't the sort of thing he would have said, because it would have made him seem linguistically incompetent, and if there's one thing my pappy hated, it's linguistic incompetence. Now that I think about it, we never called him "pappy," either. But none of that matters, because this is supposed to be about spastic colons, not pappies.

The thing I hate most about spastic colons is their similarity to semicolons, which can be make it tough to figure out what the writer was trying to get across. I mean, it isn't like you can substitute one for the other just because you feel like it. When you're trying to zip through some text because it's almost lunchtime, the last thing you want is a colon flopping around like a fish. Fish aren't semicolons, but they sure aren't colons, either.

I don't think my pappy would have gone fishing if he didn't like the taste of fish.


Punctuating Food

If you can't stand the typos, get out of the kitchen. For me, restaurant menus have always been an exercise in frustration. I've avoided fistfights with wait staff and management by blaming myselfpoor reading skills, or the inferior quality of my reading glasseswhen in fact it's the punctuation. I mean, how am I supposed to cope with the ambiguity of fries versus fry's?

This morning, I read Christian Lander's blog post on the subject, which went straight to the heart of the matter. The problem, it seems, is that I'm white.

The presence of an improper apostrophe on a menu can ruin an otherwise delicious meal for a white person.

Then, as if this news were not sufficiently painful already, he delivers the final confounding blow.

It is the duty of every white person to correct typos. It is worth the risk of banishment to deliver proper grammar to those who need it.

It's a paradox. I'm expected to eat whatever's put in front of me, regardless of punctuation. On the other hand, I can't eat with all those typos buzzing around my head.

It's enough to make me want to dye.


Bucking the Clothes Horse

This horse has a coat, but no jacket. Horses hate me and want to hurt me. The awful truth first dawned on me when I was but a wee lad on one of those pony rides you see in supermarket parking lots. The little pony wasn't supposed to be able to spit out his bit, and rear up, and throw me to the pavement. But he did it anyway, and every subsequent encounter with one of those malicious beasts has been similarly distressing.

Of course, Craig couldn't have known this when he attached that comment to one of my recent monologues. He couldn't have known it would cause me to shake and cry, and vomit in my lap. But then, fear is a peculiar thing, especially when it's given free reign on the dappled pastures of my dreams.

Anyway, the resulting nightmare galloped and snorted her way through my subconscious mind until dawn, when the first rays of sunlight brought my nocturnal howling to a stop. I'm still a little hoarse, so I'm planning to spend the rest of the day coating my throat, and suppressing any lingering desire to emit inexcusable puns.

That is all.