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"First Essays, Full of the Heat of Youth"
THREE WEEKS, VOLUME 1 ISSUE 7 - MARCH 2, 2002

"The shallow murmur, while the deep are dumb."

Cover
The Body Against the Mind, by Henry William Brownejohns
Notices
Paramecia and the Olympic Athlete, by Alexander Swartwout
An Erotic Excerpt
A Scenario on Free Goods, by Ephrain Underhill
Miscellany
The Eavesdropper
Items
The Weather, by Eliza Anne Bonney

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THE BODY AGAINST THE MIND

  

PHILOSOPHICAL AND POLITICAL REFLECTIONS ENABLED BY THE REVOLT OF THE AUTHOR’S PHYSIC, IMMOBILIZING HIM

 

How We Are Designed to Fail 

 

And a Forthright Explanation for the Delay in the Publication of this Paper

 

by Henry William Brownejohns

 

It is hardly worthwhile to try and deceive the keener wits among the readership by pretending that nothing at THREE WEEKS is amiss, and by concocting some yarn by way of excusing the delay in the appearance of this issue.  We may not generally grant the power of the public mind too much credit, but in this case, we concede that just one reader with a calendar would be enough to expose the breach in our publication cycle; so I shall come straight out with the facts - that is, this noble pamphlet has been belated because I, its founder and editor, have been afflicted by a mysterious illness for two whole, weeks, a condition which subsequently rendered my mind useless.

All this is admitted without shame or liability, of course, because the masthead of this paper has always stated that our publication schedule would be maintained only as my ability to do so was unhindered, and I can firmly testify that I have been in no condition to inform the public or to instruct their reason for some time now.  I will not trouble anyone with the details of my infirmity, as to do so would be to step precariously close to the muck-pile of gossip, which is a pile these dignified pages prefer to avoid.  Only be certain that my person was so incapacitated that many unpleasant nights were passed without the least interruption by sleep, let alone intellectual inspiration, and my thoughts became so engrossed with the nuances of discomfort that the whole world seemed to dissolve, and be replaced by considerations of pain and unease.

My colleagues, Mr. Swartwout, Mr. Underhill, and Ms. Bonney, for a few days went about their business, as it is not unheard of for me to occasionally vanish, for work or for my own reasons; until at last I contacted Mr. Underhill in the office, and told him how I was gripped by such a disproportionate ague.  Mr. Underhill lent his sympathies, for which I thanked him, and offered at first his practical assistance - the delivery of soups and medications, the scheduling of appointments with respected physicians, the transport of my person to their offices - all of which I gratefully declined, having already secured such services from my own people.  From there we began more professional considerations, including how to go about readying the paper and remaining on our self-imposed triweekly timetable, while I lay immobile and largely incoherent.  At the time, I was unaware of the extent of my ailment, and I simply suggested everybody go about their work, and in time I would be capable of resuming my editorial duties, with ample time for the printer.

Yet one at a time, and unbeknownst to one another, each of my associates came forth and offered to assume the duties of editor-in-chief while I recuperated.  And one at a time, beginning with Mr. Underhill, followed by Ms. Bonney and Mr. Swartwout, I gently and foolishly declined each of their offers, perfectly convinced that my health would recover itself enough to think straight and execute the immense task of shaping an issue of this paper, to the standard to which it has been already measured.  Such fortitude, however, eluded me for ten more days, and thus you hold this paper in your hands a week later than you rightfully should.

And with that I touch upon the subject that has lately fascinated me, and for which I have bothered to disclose so much of my unfortunate private experience to the slack-jawed reader.  That a failure of my body’s health should have such a profound effect upon my ability to perform mental work is a proposition that at first runs against the humanist’s faith in the strength and potential of the human will.  But properly examined, the shortcomings of the human physiology may instead suggest the most honest depiction of the human condition - that for all the grandeur inherent in the workings of a capable mind, a strict limit is placed upon its accomplishments by the frailty of the body to which it is attached.

Among the founding principles of philosophy, both Eastern and Western, as I have been able to examine them over these past weeks, is that the human mind can accomplish anything, properly applied.  The Greeks set to solving every problem of ethics and nature, and believed that their failures were only due to constraints on time and resources - a fertile enough imagination, given unlimited time, will resolve any problem.  Meanwhile, the roots of Eastern philosophy, such as Confucianism and Taoism, were nourished by the slightly more esoteric faith that the mind in fact generated, or localized, forces which could discreetly interact with the physical world, and alter it to the individual’s favor.  Perhaps neither of these concepts is so far-fetched, but my own late bout with bodily weakness, though hardly a mortal one, has demonstrated that each of these ancient, optimistic philosophies contains its own fatal flaw.

The Western humanist idea that the mind can, given time and nourishment, conclude any problem, is fallible on the grounds that no mind is granted unlimited time.  Obsolescence is designed in to the human organism, so that even the best mind, encased by the most durable of persons, will still shortly run out of time, and leave its most profound business unfinished.  And while I may not boast the most ideal of physiques, I am also far from the common hypochondriac that has historically taken up my occupation - and it took only a fortnight of discomfort and illness to render my ample problem-solving abilities and capacity for abstract conceptualization nil.  Certainly a humbling realization, though one I mustn’t take credit for. 

Rather it was the good M. Montaigne, in the sixteenth century - who was as graced with wealth and leisure as any philosophe should ever hope to be - who nevertheless became convinced that a human being (to that point the object of the most universal admiration) was in fact hardly an improvement on a farm animal.  The thrust of M. Montaigne’s argument was that the mind, more often than not, presented conflicts and torments to the body (and to itself) that no other organism was subject to.  Montaigne calculated that the benefits of a conscious mind only barely outweighed its shortcomings; a far cry from the prevailing philosophical opinion that the mind was the grandest creation of the universe, and bound only by its mortality.

We owe M. Montaigne much of what we consider our modern self-conception, including the necessary coupling of the body with the mind, as opposed to their separate consideration.  For a gentleman of imperial France, Montaigne was remarkably frank about the time he spent contemplating his bowels, his members, and the incessant functioning of same.  If a modern man concedes his allegiance at sixteen to his baser instincts and his digestive schedule, he owes it to dear M. Montaigne that he may do so before he is sixty, if at all. 

As for a thoughtful person’s susceptibility to sickness, and its effect upon their thoughtfulness, an extrusion may easily be made from Montaigne’s picture of humanity.  He was able to compose a library’s worth of essays on every subject from cannibals to his preferences in the water closet, and he did so while enjoying generally consistent health.  Still, he acknowledged that any departure from his bodily routine, namely his morning movements or his occasional animal satisfaction, and his ability to sit contemplatively in his library and inscribe his musings would be ruined.  If the body succumbed to outright illness, then, the work of the mind would be transposed entirely; all the faculties of philosophy suddenly become preoccupied with savoring the sensations of sickness.  This seems to be an insurmountable symptom of humanity, to which no one is immune - even the most potent mind is designed to lavish its entire attention, in futility, upon any pain and disease affecting its body.

This is indeed what I most unwillingly experienced these past two weeks, and I was duly reminded that in spite of my strong belief in that founding principle - the inherent ability of the mind to conceive truth and create solutions to problems - I was still more persuaded to Montaigne’s corollary, that an ailing body will compromise the capacity of the mind to ascend to those heights it might, in health, seek.  If Socrates had suffered a splinter in his foot, the loftiest thought would be dissipated the moment he puts his weight back on that sole, regardless that a splinter is no mortal condition. 

Indeed, many of the problems our minds are necessarily set against are the result of the frailty of our persons, and still others, I contend, are the result of previous operations of the mind which were performed when the body perhaps was diminishing the mind’s effectiveness.  By this, I mean that a good many problems brought upon humanity are the result of impaired minds, which, though inborn with the same potential as any other’s, became degraded by corruptions of the body and subsequently worked at a lessened capacity.

It does not escape me, although I may not yet be enjoying the full bloom of my health, that I could be implicating myself and the very essay I am presenting.  For if I am still ill, and my mind is still at all preoccupied by my condition, than by the logic of my own argument, the argument may be defective.  On such a paradoxical occasion, I merely ask the reader to use his own judgement - though this may be a rash measure considering the poor public health - and decide if I am arguing sensibly enough, or if the recent failures of my immune system have made their way onto the pages of our distinguished almanac.

As for the flaw inherent in the Eastern conception, that the mind is not only capable of resolving problems presented to it, but in fact participates wholly with nature, and even alters, by its presence, the circumstances of the problem under consideration - I have suffered from this as well.  Consider that the action of such an involved consciousness, if it is not constantly controlled and nurtured, may well be more likely to act against its own well-being as in its favor.  It has been my own experience that my thoughts, once they were at the mercy of my body’s suffering, augmented my symptoms, and deepened my illness.  Of course, the potential for ill effects cast upon one’s self is not unknown to the modern Eastern philosophies, as these disciplines have been no less graced by their own proverbial Montaignes through the centuries. 

It has obviously struck me that I, though a diligent student of the human condition, should still be so surprised at the tenuousness of that state, in my own person, and that I should still harbor such classicist, out-of-date prejudices regarding the supposedly infallible mind.  I consider myself to have a clear conception of the frailty of the human body, and the gossamery hold of consciousness on the cells of the brain - but until I was felled by dumb pain and the counterproductive misfirings of my own system, I still held too much faith in the sturdiness of thought, as against the tides and strains of physical existence.  Yet I don’t consider myself unique in this, and believe that the lot of us, until we are each similarly confronted with the apparent obsolescence of our body, maintain a conviction that our wit shall ever dominate our carcass.  Perhaps, to follow the initial line of thought, a mind disconnected from its person, and somehow granted unlimited time for its labors, would achieve the very zenith of intellectual potential.  I rather think now, though, that in such a case, the genius that would be achieved by such a disembodied noodle would be indistinguishable from useless madness.

Being as generous with myself as I am, I only hope that I might with these thoughts persuade a few of the aspiring academicians among the readership to consider with equal gravity the vitality of their persons, and not obsess over their minds to their body’s detriment - though my slowly recovering intuition suggests that the vast majority of you are hardly grave about either.

In the future, I shall not trouble myself so deeply, and I will let Mr. Swartwout or Ms. Bonney shoulder the burden of my ambitions, until my mind can recover itself from the occasional suffocation imposed on it by its cursed, inseparable corpus.

--- 

To be sick is as much a political proposition in this era as it is a mortal one.  Health cannot be measured anymore with thermometers discreetly inserted and the knowing back of a mother’s hand upon the forehead, but must also be gauged economically and socially.  The influenza combined with a solvent insurance plan is a different disease entirely than an influenza running rampant through an uninsured immune system.  Even the relatively benign - if agonizing - ordeal my own system has just suffered required a considerable sum to be dispatched.  The solemn proclamations of a few doctors and the specialists they refer to, and the expense of some litmus paper and plastic vials in a far-off laboratory add up quickly, so that the fear of destitution acts as strongly to prevent more serious disease in the uninsured as any white blood cells.

Our own Mr. Underhill has in these pages elucidated the plight of the uninsured, of which there are forty five million in this country, all tiptoeing through the hazards of every day, braced against financial ruin by falling pianos or malarial mosquitoes.  My own recent travails have reinforced my faith in the warnings Mr. Underhill put forth, about a nation engaged on an international crusade against perceived immorality, and yet which is unwilling to guarantee its own citizens medical treatment, either preventive or necessary. 

During the course of my illness, in fact, Mr. Bush issued an order to revise what federal health protections there still are, and extend them to cover fetuses in utero.  Mr. Bush, who remains vehemently opposed to offering his general citizenry the basic human right of medical care, in favor of an extreme adherence to the market economy, is nevertheless so in thrall to the fetuses of America that he prefers their well-being to that of any person capable of breathing their own air.  It is a case of political logic so murky that to truly peer at all its implications gives one the same sort of swoony feeling as when one tries to contemplate this ten-dimensional universe the physicists keep lecturing about, without having any of the mathematical training.

Mr. Bush’s order presents, for one, a situation in which women who have no right (rights, in this case, meaning financial resources) to medical care, might nevertheless be carrying a fetus in their womb which is privileged to all the nurturing of the federal government.  Likewise, it remains unclear at exactly what point in the life of a human being Mr. Bush feels those prenatal protections are to be stripped away, and the person will be left to ‘make it on their own,’ in the idiom of the plutocrats.  Perhaps at birth, the fetus shall be thrust into the world and taught its lesson early: that we are each entitled to only what we can seize, even with chubby newborn fingers and undeveloped motor cortices. 

Besides the biological contradiction of protecting fetuses at the expense of their mothers - or as they might otherwise be denominated, their hosts - Mr. Bush’s proposal is also a considerable insult to those forty five million persons who have already made the mistake of being born, and have fallen short of the free market’s standard for success.  There are as many reasons for a person to lack health insurance as there are persons who lack it, although it is hard not to detect an inclination towards divisions along class lines.  Mr. Underhill, for example, is simply not the sort of fellow who likes to join clubs, or associate himself too dearly with unaccountable organizations, which the medical industry is filthy with.  Millions of others have misinterpreted the market’s commandment of ‘every man for himself’ by becoming self-employed, which might be personally fulfilling for them, but is a wrongful corruption of the free market’s more fundamental suggestion, which is ‘assimilate.’  That health insurance is almost exclusively affordable to those who get it as part of a contract for institutional labor, whether in an incorporated body or in a branch of the bureaucracy, is convincing evidence that the meritocracy is a myth.  Mr. Bush, with typical back-country tough love, proposes that Americans be covered by the government in the womb, after their departure from which, it becomes their duty as descendants of the frontiersmen to scrape and save their way to tycoonhood, so that they can once again wrap themselves in the security of insurance.  However, the machinations of the market society tell it more truthfully - between the womb and self-made wealth, the individual is as subject to ill health and rotten luck as any bird in the open, and so his only safety is to take refuge in the shrubbery of salaried indentureship, which is rarely a short-track to fortune. 

Talk of the human right to medical care is, of all the rhetoric in an insurgent’s arsenal, the most revolutionary.  It suggests an unbinding of the fundamental social constraints that sort people into class by birth. These past two weeks, from beneath my bedsheets, I have been witness to the calamitous effect on morale and intellectual effect that a bout with even a common illness can have.  To contemplate an entire nation living without the underlying fear of illness is to contemplate a nation of total social mobility.  Leaving unfulfilling jobs would carry only the risk of professional failure, not bankruptcy by mononucleosis.  Decisions would not be forced between education for Junior and chemotherapy for Grandfather.  And, at the source of Mr. Bush’s crooked logic, mothers of every variety would have access to preventive and prenatal care that might preclude the absurd need for the federal government to announce its unwavering allegiance to the nonvoting population of fetuses.  If crass analogies are all Mr. Bush - or unpersuaded readers - is capable of formulating and comprehending, then I shall stoop to point out that a good pea is had by treating the pod well.

I admit such thoughts do indeed glow a little red, and aren’t likely any time soon to thrust their proponents into the mainstream of American political discourse, but if my mind has cleared enough from its viral torment, and I can remember correctly, I have established this paper to make pronouncements of exactly this unpopular sort, so long as there is humanity and reason behind them.  I cannot discern any flaw in asserting that a basic human right should be the right to be aided when injured or sick, so long as that individual will then go and similarly help another.  Nor can I discern any flaw in my logic, as opposed to Mr. Bush’s, that a fetus, if we must grant it citizenship, cannot possibly have a better claim to protection than its air-breathing carrier, or ‘mother.’  And lastly, I am willing to defend - against accusations of impracticality or amoral political philosophizing - my implication that the relief of the general population’s natural fear of ruin beneath the treads of the medical industry and its political sidecar would create as near to the true meritocracy that Mr. Bush’s compassionate conservatives insist already exists.  If only we would come out of the womb properly grasping for it.        3W

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NOTICES

 

MR. SWARTWOUT TOLD YOU SO

Although nobody, in fact, has come forth and opposed the statements made here in the last number, it still gives us a tingle of pleasure to report that Mr. Swartwout’s outburst against the poor diction of our Mr. Bush has proven prophetic.  Arguing that the President’s critics have become unduly soft on the issue of his lazy tongue, Mr. Swartwout pointed out that the words of such a substantial figure do carry a weight that necessitates, or ought to, a more nuanced thought process, and a more careful eloquence, than that of the current president.

Mr. Bush has just returned from a portentous diplomatic visit to China and Japan, where he rattled off a string of insensate locutions, according to the Times - which is, if lately a little ambivalent in its commentary on Congress’s ongoing shenanigans, at least thorough in reporting Mr. Bush, distressingly verbatim.  Most gratifying to our skepticism, Mr. Bush, in addressing Japan’s economic travails, confused his note cards with his afternoon vocabulary briefing, and announced that the yen ought to undergo ‘devaluation,’ while he meant to optimistically suggest it was due for some ‘deflation.’  The difference, we are told by those who study such things, is enough to have thrown the Asian economic markets into a tailspin, and indeed the yen spent that afternoon plunging in value.  Mr. Bush, with the lapse of only a single neuron, kicked the ailing Japanese economy in the back of the knee.

Later the same day, Mr. Bush had the opportunity to jocularly correct himself, and after that, the White House released a statement confirming his intent to say ‘deflation’ and not ‘ devaluation.’  The yen recovered, and Japan has held off the rampaging monsters for another day.  We can conclude from this episode, though, that the President’s every exhalation is worth more than the Texas chuck that it is scented by. 

That this news came so quietly ashore back here in the U.S. also seems to reinforce Mr. Swartwout’s allegations about the timidity of the American press, and raises the possibility that his complaint was in fact heard on Pennsylvania Avenue.  The readers can be assured that he is going about the office with exactly that conviction, and it has him in a fine state, reminiscent of the one he was in when the Attorney General came calling.

 

A LETTER FROM ABROAD, UNREAD 

Mr. Brownejohns’ illness has had, as one might expect, a rippling effect through the normally tranquil operations of this paper.  Thankfully, he seems recovered, though it’s always a little uncertain with such a fellow, who is inclined anyway to spells of apparent vacancy - though in health, these are reveries, while in illness, they are just spells.  As regards some of the side-effects around the office, one of them concerns our ongoing efforts to publish the reports of our foreign correspondents.  It so happens that an envelope from Berlin has turned up in the pile of mail left unread during Mr. Brownejohns’ sickness, and everybody is hoping that we may have at last a word from our friends abroad in the world.  But as stated, the letter is yet unread, being in the middle of a considerable stack, and so could not be prepared for this issue.  Though it may sound to the jaded like more lies, we will, truly,  present our foreign acquaintance’s remarks in the next issue, if they are of any interest.

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FLUID DYNAMICS

 

PARAMECIA AND THE OLYMPIC ATHLETE

  

AN UNFAVORABLE COMPARISON OF HUMANITY’S BEST WITH NATURE’S MOST COMMON

Human Knowledge Infiltrates Another Cranny of Natural Law; Rates of Acceleration in Coffee Measured

by Alexander Swartwout

 

After ten thousand years of not knowing, it has finally been experimentally confirmed that the rate of acceleration experienced by coffee in a standard mug, after being stirred with an ordinary spoon, is 1,500 times the force of gravity.  For the vast majority of you, who will surely be astonished to find such astronomical forces at play upon your breakfast tables, the scientific community merely advises you to acclimate yourself to the facts of the world, just as your ancestors once did in the wake of Copernicus.

To better comprehend this discovery, consider the plight of a paramecium, only a few microns big, which finds itself afloat in your morning coffee.  With a few swift strokes of your spoon, this microbe experiences a gravitational tug over a thousand times as great as the one you are experiencing sitting there in your bathrobe, and seven hundred times as great as what you might suffer on even our most harrowing roller coaster.  For a being of your unfortunate size to encounter a similar sensation, you would have to be dropped in the vicinity of a black hole, and in such an event, your fate would hardly be an improvement upon that of a coffee ground’s.

There being a lesson in everything, I have made every effort to discover one in this revelation, and at last I think I have.  The Winter Olympics having lately mercifully come to an end, I have examined my distaste for this event, and find it stems from the relative mediocrity of the accomplishments involved.  Human athletic competition is at its heart a compromise, because humans are nonathletic organisms.  It is fair enough to marvel at the fastest downhill skier, to a degree, but for those of us who demand spectacle, we would rather see an avalanche or a mudslide - both of which involve objects moving downhill at much faster speeds.  The same can be said of most athletic endeavors: the fastest human is hardly the pinnacle of running speed, for which  I would prefer to see a cheetah perform; or the labors of the strongest man are fairly pale in comparison to those of an elephant, or for that matter, a volcano.  And so it has been with the late Olympics.  Much was accomplished by human standards, but in the grander scheme of Nature, it has been so much thumb-twiddling.  Downhill skiers, unrestrained, achieve perhaps three times the force of gravity (‘G’s, to the lingoist), and now I find out that an amoeba in my coffee is better than that by whole orders of magnitude.  If I desire a sample of the true heights of human achievement, I will still go and read something Mr. Shakespeare has written, or try and wrap my strained mind around general relativity.

Indeed, our species most highly trained and abnormally resilient individuals, the astronauts, spend their careers trying to withstand gravitational stresses of eight or nine Gs.  And even the most able of these standouts admits straightaway that no human being is able to keep conscious at anything higher, thus the acceleration of manned spacecraft must be constrained in order to keep the pilots awake.  All the while, our cappuccinos are the arenas of true resilience, with microbes regularly going on joyrides of thousands of times the Earth’s gravitational pull - not to mention the veritable maelstrom that a paramecium must weather in a gurgling mountain stream.  Beyond the extraordinary centrifugal forces at play, also consider the extremes of temperature suffered gladly by these monocellular achievers.  Between a lukewarm cup of Colombian Supremo and a chilly mountain stream, the paramecium detects virtually no difference, whereas you have surely been forced to flee from the tub for nothing more than the drop of a pair of degrees Fahrenheit in the water temperature.  While you must wait for the water heater to retrieve your precious degrees of warmth, the paramecium is already washed and dried, unscathed by vertiginous plunges a thousand times that of anything Disneyland would be willing to accept liability for, and is off to work before you have even got your conditioner in.

The fact is that Homo Sapiens has merely had the good fortune to emerge into the universe at a relatively tranquil time in the evolution of the cosmos.  But the universe is a harsh environment, and it becomes all too clear who it is exactly that is likely to inherit it from us.  It shall not be we doughy, fearful, oversensitive monsters of ungainly size; it shall rather be the tiny fellows in your coffee, whirling about at mind-bending speeds, immune to enormous fluctuations in temperature, unimpressed by the speculative elegance of figure skaters, or the overdeveloped machismo of astronauts.  While we have this placid epoch to enjoy for ourselves and to harp on the presumed heights of achievement, we must realize that, as with anything left lying about for too long, it is due to be stirred up again, and when it happens, only our microscopic colleagues should expect to ride out such truly astronomical turbulence.

I do not intend to degrade too greatly the experience of being human - indeed at the moment there is hardly anything better to be.  For Thanksgiving dinner, the revelations of the intellect, sledding down snowy hillsides, caramel apples, fireworks on July evenings, and pleated skirts with knee-socks, it is truly a grace to be a member of Homo Sapiens.  But it seems more certain today than ever that for most everything else, it would have been more practical to be an amoeba.

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ROMANCE

 

AN EROTIC EXCERPT

 THE EDITORS HERE INCLUDE A LUSTFUL PASSAGE FROM THE “1,001 NIGHTS,” AND THEIR REASONS FOR DOING SO

 

Introduction.
Shortly after my recuperation from the delirium that has been discussed already in this paper,  Mr. Swartwout and I reluctantly had lunch with one of those ‘literary agents’ so often spotted in the periphery of society-page photographs, and we only did it at the insistence of our accountant, Peckinpaugh, who whines.  He thought we ought to begin considering the professional implications of this endeavor, and hear some advice from a seasoned expert.  Mr. Peckinpaugh’s pragmatism held all the more weight in light of the intimation of my mortality lately overcome, and the far-fetched prospect of my death occurring before the vast debt that is this publication has been paid off.

So while we sat stiff and silent in some unconscionable bistro, this agent skimmed our work, and dissected it in the manner of her occupation, while she picked at a twelve dollar chef’s salad.  The conclusions she came to were exactly the sort of mild-minded, impresarious concessions to marketeering and averageness that we dreaded, but that isn’t to say that we weren’t at once also intrigued.  For starters, she leaned over her lettuce and hissed at us that our work didn’t “have any sex.”  Mr. Swartwout and I didn’t need to confer in order to find ourselves at the same conclusion; we had never intended for THREE WEEKS to include much in the way of sex, other than in whatever ways that topic was relevant to the news of the times, and the vigor of our democracy.

Yet while this pimpstress of letters continued to heave hot air and mildew across the table at us, we two honorable gentlemen gave further consideration to this primary, if adolescent, criticism.

In truth, it seemed a reasonable concern for us not to be misinterpreted by our readers as any sort of cold fish, which simply isn’t the case.  To be humanists we must first be human - and humans, ever a breath away from our animal origins, are not infrequently persuaded to behaviors concupiscent.

And while we do not plan on any bawdy full-color high-gloss triple-fold special inserts, or a regular bathing-suit girl in place of our voluptuous political salvos and our scandalous cultural commentary - as Ms. Cooper-Levine, the agent, would have it - for the easy debauchery of the public and the continued vulgarity of the media and American letters in general, we do think our readership and our own credibility would forebear, and possibly even benefit, by the presentation of something less topical, and more generally saucy.

Racking our brains and our libraries in order to satiate the easy desires of the public without stooping to their intellectual nadir, we sought the most magnificent flourish of rhetorical skill that was also dirty, and we discovered, in the two hundred and sixty-second night of the Thousand and One Nights, a passage of the “Tale of Ala Al-Din Abu-Shamat” that satisfied our criteria.  So we offer our readers, alone or contentedly paired, this excerpt of literary prurience, to be read aloud or in silence, for the deliverance, for once, of the body in league with the mind, as opposed to one at the expense of the other.

--- 

We will here briefly summarize the action, to make the fornication at its core less gratuitous: 

Abu Shamat is a young man of unparalleled beauty, the son of a wealthy Cairo merchant, who has been sheltered at home until his adolescence.  At last he has asked to be allowed to take a journey and see the world, and his father has consented, giving him fifty camels loaded with goods to sell on his way.  Now, as we join our handsome, virile hero, he has just had his whole caravan stolen by bandits outside the walls of Baghdad, and Abu Shamat has made it into the city in only the rags he escaped with.  He finds himself far from home and without any evidence of his good birth or his identity:

 

“He wandered about the city in the falling night and, being a stranger ignorant of Baghdad, determined to pass the night in a mosque which he found.  He entered the court and was about to take his sandals off before going further, when he saw two men coming towards him attended by slaves with lighted lanterns.  He stepped to one side to let them pass, but the elder paused before him and looked at him closely, saying: ‘Peace be with you!’  Abu Shamat returned his greeting, and the other continued: ‘Are you a stranger to the city, my child?’ ‘I come from Cairo,’ answered Abu Shamat, ‘my father is Shams al-Din, syndic of merchants in that place.’

The old man turned to his companion, saying: ‘Allah has prospered our research!  We did not think to find our stranger so quickly.’

The old man took Abu Shamat aside saying: ‘I thank Allah who has placed you in our way!  We wish to ask you a favor for which we will pay you five thousand dinars, with goods for a thousand, and a horse worth another thousand.

‘You must know, my son, that our law decrees the following: when a Mussulman puts away his wife once, he may take her back at the end of three months and ten days without any formality; if he puts her a way a second time, he may again take her back after the legal interval; but if he puts her away a third time, or if, without ever having put her away before, he says: “I put you away three times,” or “I swear by the third divorce that you are none of mine,” he may not take her back until another man has legally married her, lain with her one night, and himself divorced her.

‘Now a few days ago this young man who is with me lost his temper with my daughter, his wife, and shouted at her: “Get out of my house!  I know  you not!  I put you away by the Three!”  My daughter covered her face with her veil in the presence of her husband, who was then a stranger, took back her dowry, and returned to my house.  But now her husband is very anxious to have her again; he has begged me to undertake the reconciliation.  In brief, I offer you the position of Unbinder; you are a stranger, therefore no one need know anything about the matter, except the parties concerned and the kadi.’

Poverty compelled Abu Shamat to accept this offer.  ‘I shall have five thousand dinars, goods for a thousand, a horse worth a thousand, and a whole  night of coupling,’ he said to himself, and then turned to the two men, crying: ‘I accept the office of Unbinder.’

‘You are helping us out of a great difficulty,’ said the husband, who had not yet spoken.  ‘I love my wife to  distraction.  My one fear is that to-morrow you may find her to your liking and not wish to give her back; in that case the law would be on your side; therefore I shall require you to make an engagement before the kadi to forfeit ten thousand dinars to me if you do not consent to the divorce when to-morrow comes.’  Abu Shamat accepted this condition, as he had quite made up his mind only  to lie with the woman for one night.

When the contracts had been signed, the father of the divorced woman led Abu Shamat to his house and begged him to wait in the vestibule, while  he himself hurried to his daughter, saying: ‘My dear child, I have found and excellently well-built youth, whom I hope will please you.  I recommend him to you with all my heart; have a fine night with him, and deny yourself nothing!  It is not every night that one can have so delicious a boy within one’s arms.’  This good parent then returned to Abu Shamat and made him much the same recommendation, begging him to wait a short time until his daughter should be ready to receive him.

Now the original husband was very jealous, so he lost no time in seeking out a very cunning old woman who had brought him up.  ‘Good mother,’ he said to her, ‘I beg you to find some means to prevent this Unbinder from lying with my wife.’  ‘On your life, that is easy enough,’ answered the old woman.

Wrapping herself in her veil, she went to the house of the divorced woman and sidled up to the youth, whom she found in the vestibule, saying: ‘Can you tell me where I can find the girl who was recently divorced?  I come here every day to rub her body with my pomades, although I hardly expect to cure her leprosy, poor thing.’  ‘Allah preserve me!’ exclaimed Abu Shamat, ‘is she a leper, good mother?  I have to lie with her to-night; I am the Unbinder chosen by her husband.’  ‘Allah keep whole your youth, my son!’ she answered.  ‘You had better not lie with a person like that.’  She left him in a state of the uttermost confusion and, going to the bride, told her the same tale about the Unbinder, advising her not to risk the contamination of his body.

Abu Shamat waited for a long time for the girl to call him, but he saw no one except the slave who brought him food and drink.  When he had finished his supper, he recited from the Koran to pass the time, and then he began to gently sing over some lyric verses in a voice more beautiful than that of David before Saul.

The young woman heard his voice and said to herself: ‘What did that wicked old woman mean?  A leper could not have so beautiful voice!  As Allah lives, I will call him and see for myself that the old trot has lied.’  She took an Indian lute and sang in a voice to draw birds from the sky:

I love a fawn with eyes of languishment;

If you would know the forest way he went,

Watch what young branches still are practicing

Their just-learned lesson of the way he bent.

 

As soon as Abu Shamat heard the first notes of this song, he ceased his own and listened with charmed attention.  ‘By Allah, that old salve-concocter lied!  A leper could not have so beautiful a voice.’  Taking his key from the last note of the song, he answered in tones which would have made a rock dance:

I send my voice to catch the quick gazelle

Who still eludes the chase,

That it may wanton where the roses dwell

In the garden of her face.

 

     The accent of this improvisation was so ravishing that the young woman ran to lift the curtains which separated her from the singer, and showed herself to him suddenly, like a moon unrobing from her clouds.  Signing to him to enter her own apartment, she showed him the way with such a movement of the hips as would have set upright any impotent old man.  As Abu Shamat hesitated between rapture at her beautiful youth and fear of leprous contagion, the girl took off her chemise and drawers and, throwing them far from her, appeared as naked and clean as virgin silver, as firm and slim as a palm branch.

Abu Shamat felt the heritage of his fathers move within him, the charming child he bore between his thighs.  Feeding the infant’s need to be pressing, he wished to give him to the woman, who surely would know what to do with him, but she cried out: ‘Do not come near!  I am afraid that I will catch your leprosy!’

Abu Shamat answered this by taking off all his clothes and appearing in his fair nakedness, as pure as a spring of water among rocks, as virgin as a baby’s eye.

The girl saw in a flash her husband’s villainy and, running to the Unbinder, dragged him to the bed and rolled upon it with him.  Panting with desire, she said: ‘Prove yourself, old Zacharias, prove yourself, sinewy father!’

At this explicit appeal, Abu Shamat seized the girl by the thighs and aimed a great stick of conserve in the direction of the gate of triumphs; then, riding towards the crystal corridor, he halted at the gate of victories.  After that he left the main road and spurred vigorously by a short cut to the mounter’s door; but, as the nerve failed a little before the narrowness of this wicket, he turned then and, staving the lid, found himself as much at home as if the architect had built on the actual measures of both.  He continued his pleasant expedition, slowly visiting Monday market, the shops about Tuesday, Wednesday counter, and the stall of Thursday; then, when he had loosened all there was to loosen, he halted, like a good Mussulman, at the beginning of Friday.  Such was the voyage of discovery which Abu Shamat and his little boy made in the garden of girlhood.

Feeling that his child was safely cradled in delight among the girl’s pillaged flower beds, he clasped her tenderly, and all three slept together till morning.

At dawn Abu Shamat asked his transitory wife her name.”

--- 

And so we conclude this excerpt, with reassurances to any readers still somehow preoccupied with purely narrative concerns that the young lady’s name is Zubaidah, and she and Abu Shamat, after much misadventure and convolution, and a flight upon a magical bed, do wind up happily and legally betrothed, to do with each other what they might.  A contingent of this paper’s interns have taken up the project of analyzing this delectable piece of prose, curious to figure out just exactly what did happen; but we like it as we have it, and think it proves us flesh and blood, and as attuned to the base moods of the culture as anyone ought to expect of us.

Mr. Swartwout and I have been reticent to make any more contact with the likes of Ms. Cooper-Levine, our penitence to commerce, as it were, being done here.  Peckinpaugh, though he shakes his head a lot around the office, knows that he has cashed in his influence until April, and then we’ll see what he tries to get us to do next.  Until then, we hope to adhere to our previous, more staid standard of content, so as to continually improve our reputation.  It is well-known, after all, that pornography is without a shelf-life, and so we are confident that this exercise in literary salacity will tide us over indefinitely.           H.W. Brownejohns

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SOCIOLOGY

A SCENARIO ON FREE GOODS

A DISSECTION OF AN ENCOUNTER BETWEEN A COMMON SERVICE EMPLOYEE AND A STRANGER SEEKING SOMETHING FOR FREE

 

The Dynamics of a Real-Life Situation

 

by Ephrain Underhill

Employed as I am in the study of humanity, it is either my misfortune or my boon that I am never granted a moment’s rest.  At all times, I am surrounded by people, and their behaviors are thrust upon my senses, so that revelations are ever imminent, and theories always percolating.  In this spirit, I present an examination of a confrontation which I have discovered to be fairly common, though which has gone largely unexamined, and which contains conflicts well worth scrutinizing.

It is a scenario the reader might be especially familiar with, if they are either a patron of small businesses or are employed by one:

An individual of no particular account enters a shop or café from the street, wearing an expression of misdirection and earnestness.  They look around vaguely for someone they think might “work there.”  Finding a figure they suspect is an employee, they approach, with an expression quite different from one they would wear if they were deciding what to order from a menu, or what they want to buy.  The employee - tired, overworked, underpaid - knows something is afoot.  They are careful not to be too welcoming - their guard is up.  The stranger makes his or her request: “Do you have a plastic bag, or something I could use?”  (The actual item asked for sometimes varies, between a straw, a lid, a napkin, a cup, etc.  I chose a bag for my example because an incident like this is freshest in my memory, from a trip to a café I took yesterday, and witnessed a stranger come in from the street and ask just that.  The defining characteristic of these items is that they are something considered both practical and without monetary value.  That’s the crux - the stranger asks for a bag, but as a favor; they don’t intend to pay for it, certainly, and they don’t actually intend to buy any of what the establishment in question sells, either.)

So let’s examine the dynamics of such a situation, and see if there is an ideal resolution.  To begin, let’s take the point of view of the stranger in sudden need of a plastic bag:

Yes, they are disheveled and shiftless; but what do we know of the circumstances that have brought them to this point?  One must sympathize with whatever desperate situation these folks have found themselves in, to make them come groveling like this to total strangers.  To be in sudden dire need of something so pedestrian as a plastic bag means that possibly their dog has unexpectedly befouled the curb, and they want nothing more than to carry their civic weight (without touching it directly).  Or their purse, from years of frugal use, has come apart at the seams, and they require an emergency replacement, so that their change and their breathmints are not scattered to the four winds.  It’s even possible that the weather is turning to rain, and this person, hatless and prone to pneumonia, wants only a cheap and practical means to keep their hair dry until they can reach shelter.  Their logic tells them that such an object as a disposable bag is so ubiquitous in this world that naturally they should be handed out for free to people who need them, and in fact, by taking one from a place of business, they are helping that establishment to get rid of something they have too many of already.  Therefore, they are translating their neediness into a service, and this rationalizes their decision not to buy anything from that place as compensation.  For the use of a restroom or a place to sit for a few minutes, the stranger would not be so presumptuous, because even they realize that neither of those occupations work to the favor of the establishment.  But the removal of excess bags, especially plastic ones (which seem to be the favorites among these gypsies), is seen, by them, as a benevolent service.  Such items are less than free of charge -  they are in fact superfluous and anyone who could use one and take it away should be welcome to do so.  No need to placate the entrepreneur who has such detritus on hand, by purchasing a token cup of tea or celery stick or butane lighter.  This is the rationale of the stranger, and perhaps you yourself, dear reader, have at one time or another played the part of this needy drifter, asking for a free bag, and if so you can easily sympathize.

But what does the service employee experience?  Here comes a straggler off the street, asking for a plastic bag, or its trivial equivalent, and with no intention of paying for anything.  The employee has spent their workday, just one in an endless string of them, bowing and scraping to the whims of every sort of numb-skulled consumer.  But the absence of satisfaction in most of their labor is not absolute: at least those folks forked over a sum of money in exchange for their goods and services; the employee handled this money, stuffed it away in a cash register; and they know in the recesses of their mind that at least a tiny tiny portion of that sum would, come Friday, belong to them.  This is the faint glimmer of reconciliation at the heart of service work.

Now along comes this shiftless scoundrel needing a plastic bag or some such trifle and not intending to buy anything, extinguishing the engine of commerce which gives such minimal satisfaction to the employee.  Even if the wanderer were in fact a crudely dressed doctor collecting rudimentary implements for an emergency sidewalk appendectomy, the employee has every inclination to resent his request.  The employee is not in the business of doling handouts, however trivial.  And their place of employment, for all the heartache it breeds, is still a source of pride, and the most disgruntled employee still thinks that the very garbage of the place ought not to be just given away to passersby without some fair exchange of money.  (Often, the more daring of these workers will hold up the worthless item requested, wrinkle his or her features, and decide to ask for a dime or a quarter in exchange.  This most frequently occurs upon the request of a cup of tap water, but plastic bags have been spontaneously priced like this, too.  Such a maneuver always produces a momentary stalemate between the needy stranger and the irritated, unfriendly employee.  Usually the fee is reluctantly assented to, as the stranger ultimately has no recourse or leverage.  But is it ethical?)

As in all human interaction, neither party is able to conceive one iota of sympathy for the situation of the other.  Should the employee refuse to hand over the plastic bag?  What if it costs a life, as in the case of a doctor improvising emergency surgical supplies; or promotes the degradation of public sanitary conditions, as in the case of the dog-owner whose pet has soiled the walkway?  And is the stranger obligated to purchase something as a gesture of good intent, or is a bag really worth less than nothing? In this judge’s opinion, the resolution is multifaceted.

To begin with, both parties should make every effort at preventing such a confrontation: the stranger should have with them everything they could possibly need on their excursion, and the employee should hide themselves and thus not allow the stranger to ever find someone who can “help them.” 

But prevention is rarely possible.  The nature of the situation proposed is one of chance and changeable circumstances.  So I feel that both parties must make some concession.  The agitated employee ought to take a deep breath, and assume that the stranger is in the most dire imaginable need of a bag, and that, if their positions were reversed, they would hope to be treated as generously and graciously.  Thus they hand over the item.

The stranger should also consider the employee’s aggravation, and be sensitive to the employee’s need for a feeling of productivity, of minimal commerce.  When asking for the bag, the stranger should, beforehand, offer a dime, or a trinket, or even a promise of future business, as a gesture, and not be expectant of free stuff.  The employee, soothed by the proffering of goods for services, as is their soul’s desire, ought to then refuse the offer courteously, and hand over the bag, gratis.  After all, in the scheme of our trash-rich world, it is worthless, but the continuation of civility among us is priceless, and the day I can’t get a plastic bag to pick up my dog’s excrement, or a cup of tap water to wash down my antidepressants is the day I will renounce humanity.     3W

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 MISCELLANY

We are immeasurably happy to remind readers that Spring is formally due in our city on Wednesday the 20th.  The popular claim of course persists that the equinox is the only time in which an egg can be easily balanced upon its end.  Our friends in more scientific disciplines contend that this is only a popular myth, which we tend to believe, having successfully upended ova without much trouble even in July.  Still, we like to recommend that our readers spend their afternoon balancing eggs anyway, because we have also discovered that it is a surprisingly pleasant and meditative exercise, and in any case, it is what we will be doing -  gladly reprieved for a day from salvaging Reason and Right, to play with our food.

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THE EAVESDROPPER

 

-I’m going to have this.  “Blackened red fish.”

-So are you growing that beard?

-I was going to try it  out for a while.

-It makes you look kind of seedy.

-Seedy?  I don’t look seedy.

-A little.

-Neighborhoods are seedy.  People can’t be seedy.  People are, maybe, shady.

-Well you do.  And your shirt’s all wrinkled.

-I know. It’s this thing I’m doing.  It’s my common man thing.

-And those socks?

-Just plain old white tubes.  Very common man, you know?  It’s my Average Joe look.

-What brings this about?

-Well, all this talk about firefighters and, you know, regular guys.  It’s sort of my tribute to regular guys.

-You weren’t regular enough already?

-I don’t know.  After the whole big thing, it didn’t seem right, somehow, to shave.  And there were all those rugged, hard-working guys, saving lives and everybody was crazy about it...  I just couldn’t go back and make myself all smooth and soft.  So I’m trying out a more regular guy thing.

-What about getting back to normal? 

-I am normal, now.  I’m a regular guy.

-That’s ridiculous.

-I’m just riding the zeitgeist, a little.

-I’m sure you could ride the zeitgeist without looking so seedy.

-Well I don’t want to just pin a flag to my jacket.

 

-I’ve been interested in these television commercials.

-What’s that?

-These new commercials that aren’t selling anything.  You know, it’s just a series of people, like a black guy, an Asian lady, a Hispanic guy - all the kinds of people - and they’re all saying, like, “Dedication,” or “Liberty,” or “Be proud.”  These fascinate me.

-So it’s basically the same thing.  Everybody wants to acknowledge it.  Everybody just doesn’t know how.

-No.  Those are just weird.  They don’t do anything, or mean anything.  But you’re wearing white sweatsocks and Gucci loafers, man. 

-Please.  You know, I think I knew a guy in one of those commercials.  One of the dark-skinned guys, like wearing a lab coat or on an assembly line or something, I think was Wally.  Do you know him?

-Jill’s Wally?

-Yep.  And you know, he’s got a beard.

-Isn’t he a bartender?  He’s already a regular guy.  He doesn’t need to make a big change.  He doesn’t need to present himself, ever.

-I can still present myself.

-But you look like a criminal or something.

-I do not.  I just look regular, rougher.  You’re kind of a snob, you know that?

-I’m just thinking about your job, is all. 

-I’ll be fine.  And besides, sometimes, it’s better to look like this.  I can relate to people, you know?  I’m one of them. 

-But you’re not.  You aren’t a fireman or a construction worker or whatever.  You’ve got to deal with real people, go to meetings, shmooze, present yourself.

-This is how I look.  This is how it is.  I’m not going to shave just cause you think I look seedy.  You just worry about yourself.

-Everybody’s so touchy.

-I’m fine.

-How is that?  That the blackened red fish?

-It’s OK.  Have you had this wine, though?  It’s all wrong. 

-I’m not the one who ordered a Burgundy with fish.

-Listen, just -  It seemed like a good idea at the time.   3W

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ITEMS

 

We here introduce to the ever-demanding reader the Items feature, which shall appear as we choose, and as the intrigues of the world make available. These shall be news items of an anecdotal nature, either offered to us by attentive readers or colleagues, or discovered by our own people.  It shall be our intent to relate these tales in a manner of more literary interest than the typically disappointing quarter-column blurb  your 25-cent tabloid might attempt, even if that requires us to insert atmospheric detail or invent whole passages of speculation, to keep us interested, and to froth up the narrative.  It so happens that fact-checkers, as a symptom of the times, are going for exorbitant fees, and we would like to take a stab at a newly elegant reportage in any case - while of course maintaining the objectivity and dedication to information inherent in any proper news report.  Nothing here shall be earth-shattering, but rather they ought properly to be small stories of disproportionate import; though if it does not hold our interest and inspire in us some glimmer of necessity, then you can be assured we won’t be bothering you with it.  As with everything in this paper, Items will appear as our moods suit us, and as it is dictated by our overriding mission to improve the sensitivity and reason of the public, at our pleasure.        3W

 

A MEDICAL STUDENT'S DEATH

MARYLAND. A young man, Peter Crick, 20, after two years at the State University, was ecstatic upon his acceptance into the renowned medical school at Johns Hopkins.  He arrived there in the fall.

Peter moved into a dormitory and over the first week eagerly attended the initial session of each of his classes, as he became accustomed to the sights and sensations of his new campus.  Soon the leaves had fallen to the ground and the University greens crew had raked them away.  Snow was imminent.

By the time it arrived, Peter Crick’s education had begun in earnest.  He was immersed in the workings of the human body.  Organs, bones, fluids, systems, diseases, and organic disorders filled his time and mind, until his own image in the mirror of his dormitory room made him uneasy, and finally he was repulsed by even his own hands.  He knew too intimately these formerly innocuous, even helpful, extensions of his self.  Every elaborate medical diagram set his own, analogous system spiraling.  Hearing the Latin names of every part and substance within the body roiled and disturbed his own.  Soon, Peter Crick was very ill and could not leave his room.

This further isolation proved to be only more debilitating.  Laying in bed he was possessed by figures he had memorized, alien names, and inhuman diagrams.  Peter broke into sweats and knew all too well what, exactly, it was to sweat.  He found he had to keep his hands out of sight – their all-too-evident anatomy gave him chills.  Then he became aware of his own eyes, the pathway into the brain - the brain itself.  All these pieces of him burned with their own mortal fragility, and dripped with gore.  To escape, Peter tried looking down along his body, covered with bedsheets, yet it too revolted him; it was not his, it seemed to have been made on some other plan.  Everything about himself was alien.  And though he knew that he himself was somewhere within all that, all that organic material, he could not figure out where or how.  Seeing himself, he saw an awful assembly of meaty parts, and it was not too long before Peter Crick determined to kill himself, and did.  Horrified by anatomy, he used poison.      Elza. Anne Bonney

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METEOROLOGY

 

THE WEATHER

STASIS

The jet stream has, if not entirely puttered out, at least degraded into a futile rivulet.  The ordinary daily fluctuations, the very respiration of Nature, have seemingly come to a halt, and full months have passed without so much as a knoll in the line graphs at the weather stations. 

As the temperature has been, give or take a fiver, 48 degrees Fahrenheit ever since 2001 gave way to this its dreary offspring, I have sought the least possible significance for the number, and its relentless consistency.  That the temperature has been so incessantly constant - and mild - at the same time that the atmosphere has been downright miserly with any phenomena of interest, like precipitation, is all the more reason that I have resorted to desperate searches for significance in the weather.  If we were granted even a single day of snow, or a half a week of clouds and rain, simply to remind us of the variety of Nature, then perhaps we would be satisfied and we could resume our preoccupation with ourselves.  But when Nature ceases to make a show of itself, suddenly people notice, and the human psyche is ill-prepared to put any sort of persistent mental effort on a subject other than its own puny dilemma.  Now that Nature has seemingly come to a stop, the fear is tangible, the anxiety is apparent - people aren’t sure if they can preserve their necessary delusions without the external reassuring pressure of a grander, dominant universe.  In the same way we stop ourselves from speaking loudly when there is a sudden lull in the din of a crowded room, each of us, I believe, has shrunk back from the pursuit of our tiny personal satisfactions, in light of the sudden cessation of weather.

I am reminded of a short story, “Entropy,” by the elusive Mr. Pynchon, in which the temperature outside settles at 37 degrees, and the lives of his characters simultaneously seem to run down and peter out.  Mr. Pynchon, like many of his contemporaries, were rightly fascinated by the scientific revelation of an expanding universe, coupled to the para-philosophical implication that the disorder within would increase until there was no heat left, no energy remaining, and the void would essentially reclaim itself.  Endearingly, though, our Mr. Pynchon confessed that in his story, he selected 37 degrees as his ‘heat death of the universe’ merely because it was, if taken in Celsius, the temperature of the human body.  Mr. Pynchon is a human being, after all, and all the efforts of the species, no matter the profundity of their intent, will still be marked by exactly this sort of insistence on patterns and order.  Mr. Pynchon sought to portray the absolute final chaos descending upon the universe, and he, humanly, did it with a subtle gimmick.  A true display of entropy would make no sense to us, it would have no significance, it would madden us with its arbitrariness.  This is why the current meteorological stasis unnerves so deeply.

48 degrees Fahrenheit translates to slightly less than 10 degrees Celsius.  Meaningless numbers.  The temperature has of course, to be accurate, been fluctuating, barely, like a shallow breath, between 40 degrees and 50 degrees, though this tepid complication only throws a search for order and meaning into more obscure depths. 

The winter is coasting along through its maturity perfectly noncommittal, offering neither clouds for shelter, nor especially brilliant sunlight for inspiration.  It has withheld rain to the point of announcing itself at the meetings of state government, where the weather is only admitted as a subject under the most extraordinary circumstances.  And of course it has denied the ground of snow, and the people who would tramp through it to signify the passage of another season, or the cancellation of another day of school.  This column has already remarked how this is a new era, where strange weather is not just shrugged at, but feared.  And I am still frequently privy to the ominous question, “Do you think this is it?” 

Perhaps, what we thought two years ago to be paranoid millennialism was in fact the ascendance of a new paradigm of guilt in the public mind.  Rather than a fear of numerical Armageddon, I think we had already begun to suspect our own culpability in the irreversible corruption of our world.  Whether or not these fears are empirically valid is beside the point; even global warming deniers ask the question, knowing that if what they deny turns out to exist, the validity of their opinion will seem magnificently moot.  The atmosphere, which I know is not capable of such spiteful acts as it is often tempting to believe, nevertheless seems to be teasing us, giving us a taste of that dreaded entropy.  Worse than a global hothouse, Nature is giving us a show of what the world might be like if she simply were to hold her breath.  That people harbor any kind of trepidation about the changes, or lack thereof, in the weather, is really nothing more useful than an anthropology lesson, which suggests our species is at least capable of learning, only very slowly.    Elza. Anne Bonney

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