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Saturday, December 24, 2016


It is Christmas Eve and this year Santa brought us all a stick and a lump of coal and a great big pile of horseshit without a pony in sight.  I was idly wondering how long it would take Santa to visit every household in the world.  I figure one minute to slip down the chimney, distribute presents, wink, place his finger next to his nose, and disappear up the flue again [I mean, he has been doing this a long time, so he is pretty good at it.]  Seven billion people in the world, maybe 1.5 billion households, that makes 25,000,000 hours, not counting travel time [of course, the 1.5 billion Muslims would be rather startled by his appearance, but he is an equal opportunity elf.]   Call it 2700 years plus or minus.  It went faster when homo sapiens was just a couple of thousands hominids gathered around their fires.

Look at it this way.  It has got to get better, right?  Maybe Donald J. will become so fixated on the morning of January 20th looking at himself in the mirror that he will miss the ceremony.  Besides, in three days I will be eighty-three.  I figure I can’t last more than another seventeen years.  A man can stand anything for seventeen years.

Well, that is about as much Christmas cheer as I can muster.  Happy holidays, folks.


s. wallerstein said...

Happy holidays!!

I'm not big on Christmas or Hannukkah, but since it seems that one is fated to celebrate some date in December, I've decided to celebrate Beethoven's birthday.

They think that it is December 16, since he was baptized on December 17. Beethoven contributed more to humanity and certainly more to my flourishing than Jesus, although Jesus did get off a great one-liner with the comment about throwing the first stone.

Jerry Fresia said...

s. wallerstein....according to Bart Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus), who is a pretty good scholar on the history of the bible, the "throwing the first stone" line was added in by a copyist. Good idea, though, about celebrating Beethoven's birthday. He had a few good one liners too: "I am the unhappiest of all God's creatures....ah, but for art, I would live a thousand times."

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

Next you're going to tell me that Woody Allen doesn't write his own jokes.....

Have a great holiday!

levinebar said...

tomorrow, I celebrate sir Isaac Newton's birthday

past Winter solstice comes the natal day
when commerce pauses, and the hearthfires glow
and kindred gather whereever they've strayed
and no on has an urgent place to go
we celebrate the birthday of a son
defying length'ning shadows of the Dark
and heap our aspirations on the One
who in maturity will leave his mark
the interim lapsed in obscurity
careers embarked but eftsoon laid aside
the tale resumes when he's near thirty-three
and neighbors wonder if he'll take a bride
just when the dwindling days had seemed to stall
sir Isaac Newton cast light on us all

and the passing of solstice

at perihelion, clenched in Winter's grip
the sun--'though close--is impotent to warm
our axis of rotation has a tip
it doesn't meet the sun's plane at the norm
this solstice, photons graze our planet's face
where energy and matter get to meet
the solar flux skids mostly into space
without delivering a lot of heat
but pause to think of the Antarctic night
when we're admiring bodies at the beach
unbuffered by a sea, devoid of light
our orbit's at its unenlightened reach
this week, we pass the bottom of the trend
as calendars denote the Autumn's end

Barry Haskell Levine (levinebar)

David Palmeter said...

Barry Haskell Levine

Superb! Give us some more.

Tom Cathcart said...

This Christmas carol seems right this year: "

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone

Happy holidays, everyone. And happy birthday, Bob.

levinebar said...

I hesitate to guess what might amuse such august company. Dare I dabble in philosophy on prof. Wolff's own 'blog? Here's a smattering on epistemology.
Happy Holidays to all!

I dreamed that you could understand the code that I'd devised
devoid of ambiguity as plain as broad daylight
and anyone who heard or read could look out through my eyes
a sweet, seductive fantasy that helped me sleep at night
I rushed to put it down in ink the moment I awoke
but trains of baggage came along with every word I chose
the clarity was the mirage, and all I clutched was smoke
that through my fingers oozed away and to the stars arose
Retreat!Retrench! at least in math, we share communion pure
that isn't just conventional, transparent to us all
but Gödel interjects to say I must not be so sure
an edifice on such a base in time may also fall
I hammer language 'til it fits in heptametric verse
then launch it on its Viking pyre into the universe

what's known's a glowing island in the night
around it, unillumined, laps the sea
enticing us to build a bridge of light
establishing what is, from fantasy
that second galaxy was huge to find
horizons fled away ten billion-fold
Ed Hubble blew the world's collective mind
our Earth's the same; what's bigger is the Cold
a gleaming pebble on the shore of Time
proud edifice of centuries of thought
the product of our faculty sublime
within the greater Whole is scarcely aught
the intellect gropes out in Time and Space
compulsively, like puppies love the chase

levinebar said...

each mind's an island, girt by the unknown
induction can't construct a causeway thence
unable to disprove it's not alone
behind deduction's awesome, perfect, fence
Descartes gets us as far as "cogito"
that sets the furthest uncontested mark
but one step further, if one wants to go
is treading on the water, in the dark
a bridge stands on conjecture, step by step
unbuttressed save by fallible eyes, ears...
increasingly uncertain with each rep-
etition, massive castles built on air
philosophizing's fun 'til it goes bad
the wisest cede they may be seen as mad

each mind's alone, at sea on the wide world
conjecturing what might exist "out there"
displaying, beyond hope, its flag unfurled
'cause perfect solitude's too much to bear
is there another, somewhere in the Blue
perhaps displaying such a flag for me
or will I merely fantasize a "you"
that can't be know except inductively
for Deutsch, like Keats, aesthetics are the test
equating Truth with Beauty on a dare
a slim foundation on which worlds should rest
but infinitely better than despair
deductively, we're stuck with "cogito"
beyond that, naught's demonstrably just so

levinebar said...

one Porlock merchant rapping on the door
destroyed the fabled walls of Xanadu
mere shards of what the poet know was more
when dream's retold on paper, still gleam through
the metaphor of language dimly hints
inchoate wonders that were clear in dreams
Escheric forms in Maxfield Parrish tints
and eyes with super-lapidary gleams
who knows what words evoke in other minds
your qualia are just hearsay to me
I seize the closest referent I fnd
as if I knew your inner glossary
if Coleridge's verse still resonate
there's no objective test that deems it great

communication's hopeless from the start
if I can't prove that you exist at all
and our most elevated heart-to-heart
might just as well be murmured to a wall
deductively, I only know "je suis"
there may be no reality "out there"
if universe could end with "I", not "we"
we're solipsists adrift on unseen air
or each of us Narcissus at his pond
enamored of the visage we project
desiring someone else with whom to bond
or--minimally--someone to reject
to function, we become willfully blind
and tell ourselves we know another's mind

levinebar said...

the mystery is we might understand
with minds designed for finding fish and fruits
a universe constructed without plan
inhabited by beings whom it suits
anthropic principles toss what can't be
within our corner of the multiverse
not knowing which parameters are free
and which can change (but only for the worse)
invoking "God" concedes the mind's defeat
hypotheses are made to falsify
the Standard Model--'though it's not complete--
still outperforms old scripture's pious lie
like Goldilocks, we ponder day and night
why it should be this cosmos is just right

between two minds we'll never close the gap
with language that's comprised of metaphor
each pointing to its own internal map
alluding to what we hope's common lore
no glossary can ever be complete
to keep half-conversations well aligned
no words can guarantee the twain should meet
'though they be written, vocalized, or signed
compulsively, like chickadee or lark
we cast our hopeful message to the breeze
aspiring to a hook-up in the dark
who'll warm to our intentions by degrees
the mind that clearest sees its bounding wall
may be the only one that's free at all

levinebar said...

the world of bats must be obscure to Man
who builds reality from cues of sight
while they construct from auditory scans
a 4-D map to navigate the night
two minds describing what they know's out there
can harbor doubt that they communicate
of just which traits is it that we're aware
that best define the thing we contemplate
does "yellow" echo diff'rently from "red"
can bouncing photons tell what's soft or firm
why should you understand a thing I've said
when no one gives each qualium its term
a metaphoric code is all we've got
but who's to say a metaphor for what

stray noises in the night elicit fears
when mind's deprived of input from our sight
we're ill-equipped to navigate by ears
scenarios abound that might be right
bats conjure up reality from sound
as tangible to them as light to us
their construct rests on just as solid ground
despite a wholly different stimulus
if Yoda learned to read gravity waves
his information stream cannot be blocked
abroad by day or in stygian caves
his data keep on coming 'round the clock
if all converge on one ontology
it's more than anyone's equipped to see

levinebar said...

distributive computing works for ants
of whom none bears the cost of a big brain
from individuals as dumb as plants
emergent traits are dev'lish to explain
just as each neuron is determinate
as surely as a gate for 'and' or 'or'
it's only testing them in aggregate
that we're confronted with something that's more
just what's a "mind" and what's it mean to "know"
persists as a conundrum of our age
epistemologists push to and fro
but can't agree on what defines a sage
"what's consciousness?" consumed sir Francis Crick
to build a mind from neurons' a neat trick

the stuff a science studies is out there
beyond what strict deduction lets us know
and colleagues with whom we would like to share
may not exist except that we think so
hypotheses must be built in my mind
external prompts can just hint at the way
in all the Babel I still have to find
what's right when I'm told both 'A' and 'not A'
beyond "I am" uncertainty's the cost
our arguments are never set and hard
without epistemology we're lost
our stoutest edifice a house of cards
aesthetics are the only metric left
when all that's sensible leaves us bereft

levinebar said...

the stuff a science studies is out there
beyond what strict deduction lets us know
and colleagues with whom we would like to share
may only exist because we think so
hypotheses must be built in my mind
external prompts can't even show the way
in all the Babel I still have to find
what's right when it say both 'A' and 'not A'
beyond "I am" uncertainty's the cost
our arguments are never set and hard
without epistemology, we're lost
our stoutest edifice a house of cards
and so I sit and contemplate my thought
all else--for all I know--might not be aught

ephemera that flit on LCDs
transmit a poet's thoughts no worse than ink
whether by pen or pounding on the keys
pretend to tell another what I think
it's more than I can prove that you exist
deductively, at best I know I've thought
but can I doubt the woman I have kissed
could be--ontologically--a naught?
we're each alone, sov'reigns in our own minds
constructing what we call reality
as much as what's in our caves gets refined
the world beyond could be crude fantasy
and so I cast my verse into the Black
not knowing if there's someone to write back

levinebar said...

he Past is known, our tracks are plain to see
the Future's dark to any mortal eyes
each branch point's rich in possibility
among which we get to extemporize
forever gazing into the unknown
extrapolating from what's been before
each mind's a helmsman on dark seas, alone
far out of sight from any friendly shore
the Present's all we've ever really got
what's gone before permits us now no role
what's yet to be may come to pass, or not
and only fools believe they're in control
yet all of it--from horror to sublime--
is bounded in the days of one lifetime

to reify the wave, you break the sea
and ask each part to make sense on its own
as if it's somehow possible to be
an insular phenomenon, alone
a language conjures objects up by name
imposing bound'ries on our mental maps
but why two minds should divvy it the same
one must fall back on faith to fill the gaps
emergent qualities defy Descartes
and chief among them is this thing called "mind"
that isn't found in any smaller part
(some argue that there is no "thing" to find)
there may not be a bottom to this well
as bootstrap problems go, this one's from Hell