"In Spite of Every Thing"
THREE WEEKS, VOLUME 1 ISSUE 10 - MAY 4, 2002
"to be free of the pressures of honor, and enjoy the unbounded pleasures of disgrace"
Thirty Weeks, by the Editors
Leadership and Apathy, by Alexander Swartwout
Dispatch from Abroad, by Eliza Anne Bonney
An Afternoon in Outer Space, by Ephrain Underhill
Bitter Greens, by Henry William Brownejohns
Glenn Barker's Leaflet, by Alexander Swartwout
A Defense of Idleness, by H.W. Brownejohns
The Weather, by H.W. Brownejohns
Return to Three Weeks Issues
from the Editors
Only in the course of constructing the top margin of this page did we notice such a simple marker was upon us. Ten issues, or thirty weeks of effort - a metric milestone if anything, and one we only reluctantly choose to acknowledge, as it means we must neglect for the moment the pitiful wails of the wider world in favor of attending to our own meager decimal achievement.
But we do acknowledge it, as an opportunity to reiterate our purpose and our dedication, now that we are ten leagues - and well past - the point of no return.
We have frankly accomplished far less than we had hoped to by now, for the majority of you remain impeded by badly coagulated senses, where we had hoped by now to have Reason coursing through the American bloodstream like spring water. If you are reading this, we suspect you lack enlightenment; and if you are not, we know so. Yet by our tenth pamphlet, we had expected to be able to differentiate.
We remain hip-deep between two lethal tides: the most disengaged, apolitical, and disinterested generation since Babylon; and the critical, unprecedented consequence of this particular era of human history. These years are the adolescence of civilization, an irrevocably defining age, and yet the wider we open our eyes, the more we see what a troubled adulthood we are bound for.
Our contemporaries remain obsessed with themselves and convinced that history has come to an end, and they are thus free to pursue entertainment and little else. The literature wallows in cloistered cleverness and sentimentality, the arts in institutional commercialism. Politics is a Hydra’s head come full off the body of society - unregulated, unaccountable, offering nothing but venom, fire, and trouble to all who come too close. When taken to task about the state of the world, everyone from painters to presidents offer shrugs, where either industry or indignation would do better. And so, ten issues into our endeavor, we offer that we have done little more than irritate a few booksellers, and improve the eloquence of the litter in our city.
But we are as stubborn as we are foolhardy, and your slow learning curve shall not scare us into silence. Rather, we offer this tenth issue, as we shall offer an eleventh and a twelfth (though we know better than to make promises any greater). We shall continue to pursue Reason and Knowledge down their rabbit-holes, and worry not that they might both be skinned and made to soup by the time we find them. We shall tell our readers what they do not know, and some of what they do, only with finer sentences. We shall be frank about our sensitivities, and we shall be verbose about arcana, if it interests us enough. We shall, in short, continue to please ourselves, and allow that by setting our pleasure down on paper and parsing it out to the inhabitants of this glorious town, we might just infect another mind with our enthusiasm, our skepticism, and our Sense. Whether we do or not is a matter for the historians. Until then, our financial debts shall increase, and our moral ones be paid off, every three weeks, as it pleases us and is possible. 3W
ADVERTISEMENT FOR AN ADVERSARY
In the form of THREE WEEKS’ Conflict Resolution Program, we have made ourselves available to the public for the elucidation and solution of any problems insoluble by otherwise less endowed intellects. The public has generally left this gracious opportunity dormant, as is the public’s manner with all things possessing too much sense. We know that it is not for a dearth of conflict or a surplus of good judgement that our scheme has been neglected, but rather we think that the public is still not adequately roused to our purpose, though we have been at this for two seasons already.
As a first resort, we have included the missive at the fore of this issue, to remind the reader what he is reading. Second, we wish to reiterate the ongoing availability of our Reason for the purpose of alleviating your own difficulties, or your neighbor’s. And third, we would like to announce our desire for an adversary, the existence of which might provoke the public’s keen bloodlust, since we have failed to arouse its intellectual curiosity.
We do not merely crave the doltish effect of two pundits bickering across a mahogany table at each other, from opposite sides of the spectrum; but rather a lofty intellect, acute to subtlety, who would take us to task upon the largest issues in the arsenal. We seek a Berkeley, perhaps, to our Hume; an Augustine to our Julian; a mental Foreman to our cerebral Ali. We would not waste our columns with the tired volleys of modern ideology - we know when we are right, and we know we shall never persuade those who are wrong. But with a formidable and enlightened adversary, to challenge our philosophy and our perspective, we might see the happy result of inflicting our readership, as innocent bystanders, with the scalding oil of knowledge, or at least the viscous paraffin of curiosity.
As we await your petty conflicts to be resolved, we also await a worthy foe to challenge our rectitude. Let them pore through our words, and find a reasonable and contrary stance. In a better age, there should be dozens of such able debaters; but we know we are not in such an age, and that perhaps we are alone in our rigorous enthusiasm, and our humane convictions. If such is the case, we shall proceed as we have, and hope to set the world ablaze with just our single torch. But if the world is fortunate, we shall discover a collegial nemesis, and the sparks thrown from our clashes will quicken the conflagration. 3W
LEADERSHIP AND APATHY
A DROUGHT OF THE FORMER, AND A DELUGE OF THE LAST
Little More Than an Eloquent Complaint
by Alexander Swartwout
What has been taking place in France these past few days has admittedly got the occupants of this paper’s office a little giddy with shadenfreude (and makes us wonder why the French, of all races, haven’t got their own word for such perfectly vicious and vicarious satisfaction). It has been an unpleasant eighteen months since our own political system coughed up an anomaly of democratic values, and during that time, no haughty silence has burned us with such humiliation as the haughty silence of France - France, bastion of liberté, seat of the Enlightenment, land of the neighborhood philosophy club. Now, they have been stung by their own moral certainty, and showed that they are as capable of xenophobic yokelism as all of America at its best.
The fellow that the French have chosen to be one of two presidential candidates, M. Le Pen, is a misanthrope of the highest order, one of our own Mr. Helms’ caliber; and one that makes Mr. Bush - whose election made the French gasp with such moral disgust - look positively Continental. While the French obviously have a clear object-lesson in humility upon which to meditate, it would be a great relief if this Gallic upheaval also served to teach the American left to quit their guilty preoccupation with the French’s progressiveness. Liberals within our own borders often seem to spend more time daydreaming about how sophisticated are the Frenchies, with social healthcare and moral motives in governance, than in making any effort to compel their own political environment any which way but right. Like the castration of Peter Abelard, it looks as if a single crime can yet be seen to save two souls.
That lesson learned, it is of course to be hoped that France can improve upon its mistakes this week, and take seriously the consequences of apathy and lethargy - and participate. The thorn of the story is this, after all: the polity of France was so bored - yes, bored - by the homogeneity of their perennial candidates, that they agreed as a civilization to just skip the first round election. This is exactly the sort of idiot logic the Frogs have been accusing this country of thriving on - and their own exercise of it has produced a runoff between candidates no more desirable than, say, George Pataki and Attila the Hun. No wonder they are rampaging in the streets. Mr. Chirac, the conservative incumbent, is now sure to win easily, and so if the French were restless and wanted change, they have shown how not to bring it about.
One would think that such a highly touted people would be able to learn such a lesson from the greatest modern teacher of political incompetence, that well-chastised American left. This sorry gang is still in hiding from their schizophrenic showing in the 2000 election - as well they should be, until they figure out the boundary between delusion and pragmatism. Mr. Nader, specifically, would do well to fly to gay Paris and say nothing - just pose, and be a model of nonsensical reasoning. This author still overhears hipsters moaning about the near-miss of Mr. Nader’s candidacy, and it is everything I can do not to lean across and pinch these strangers with violence. We are more than a year into Mr. Bush’s administration, and he is, to put it simply, a figure easy to oppose. Yet he is coasting, because the coffee shops are still full of namby-pamby uncertainty, and ill-considered pipe-dreams of a multi-party utopia.
If the left and moderate left in this country cannot see the lethal failure brought about by presenting a fractured political front, maybe now that their snooty French archetypes have botched the same job, it will appear clearer. Mr. Nader’s candidacy was not the crime - it was his refusal, to the end, to concede to pragmatism for the sake of the American people, and humanity. If he is a moral fellow at all, and he must be, he has to be in torment to see how his very un-Zen rigidity has cost his beloved environment, his beloved constituency, and the beloved civilian populations of a dozen nations at least. I am not merely wielding low standards and compromised ethics by arguing that the left must debate its differences within the extant system, and not just go and start a new ballgame whenever they are bullied out of their own. I am adhering to the same principle which has succeeded in this country’s politics and economy since powder was fashionable: be reasonable, be practical. Think: how can one’s idea be realized, rather than just relegated to that long list of good ideas had by the impractical? That Mr. Nader went unrelenting all through election day, and that he thus led his surly followers into the vacuum of extremism, is exactly the same as the French electorate deciding that not voting was the most effective way of improving their lot. We are now governed by Mr. Bush, and, now that we’ve had a good look at M. Le Pen, frankly we are thankful it is only as bad as it is.
And while the impatient disposition of the politically progressive around the world continues to cost them the opportunity to actually have any influence, the age’s remarkable absence of leadership continues to astound and dismay. Mr. Arafat is not fit to sell cars; Mr. Sharon is not fit to wear human clothes; Mr. Bush does not deserve the dinner he eats every night. These are our leaders. Even M. Chirac, in a maelstrom, has decided that his opponent is too loony to debate, in what amounts to naught but another gesture of piddling leadership. Were I in M. Chirac’s shoes, I would be at the podium at once, if only to show the world what a relatively luminous individual I were. In fact, if I were in a runoff with Lucifer himself, I should debate, only to show to my own satisfaction what a humanitarian I am, and what a devotee of democracy. If it means Lucifer will get a few slings off at me, I shall suffer them, faithful that the audience can see that he is still on fire and has horns, even if also a little wit. Instead, France’s populace, like our own, has submerged its electoral system in a shallow bath of intellectual slothfulness and feeble reasoning, and they shall lack a strong leader for it.
Elsewhere, heads of state and ambassadors of every stripe seem to be showing their slips more boldly than in recent memory. Catholics, for example, should be turning in their membership cards by the thousands, for the humiliation their Vicars are dripping down upon them. It occurs to me, to make these essays worth anything to posterity, they should be somewhat self-contained and free of historical referentiality, and so I should mention, in case there is no Catholic Church anywhere on Earth in a decade or so, that people are finally outraged about priests’ having so long been allowed such loose definitions of celibacy, when in the company of adolescent boys. And the Pope has just concluded a two-day summit meeting of his American cardinals, which shall go down in history as two of the most fruitless days ever spent in discussion. The cardinals have returned home, each one perfectly confused about what John Paul mumbled into his vestment. Catholics, essentially, had just better keep an eye on their kids - and isn’t this how it has always been, anyway? The Church is being steered by a dithering flock of hypocrites and cowards - something a lot of folks have suspected for a long time - and they continue to pass their accountability on to higher, and conveniently invisible, authorities. The very corporeality of the flock, and their children, are inconsequential to the fathers. And that men prohibited from acknowledging their sexuality will become predators and perverts is something even Adam knew, though it has taken two millennia to reach the Pope’s ears.
If we were to require an act of true leadership from the clergy, it would be that they emulate the humility of the demi-god they are in thrall to, and resign, regardless of their own crimes; for the crimes of the Church are everyone’s. Rather, red robes are being pulled taut against ecclesiastical posteriors, and the bolts are thrown on the doors of rectories throughout the land.
But if Jesus is too high a standard of leadership for these scalawags to aspire to, perhaps they could just look to the Dutch cabinet. In a remarkably quiet revolution, the entire Dutch government has recently resigned, for reasons that will startle even the least cynical. During the conflict in Bosnia, it seems, a contingent of Dutch soldiers, lightly armed and present in a peacekeeping capacity, was overrun by an invading force of Serbs, who proceeded to massacre the inhabitants of the village under international protection. The Dutch cabinet, from top to bottom, has concluded that they could only meet such a tragedy with penance, and with an apology and a prayer, they removed themselves from power. It is a gesture seemingly equivalent to turning oneself over to the police, for the crimes of one’s unseemly neighbor.
The Dutch government’s motion is one of profound - indeed excessively ethical - leadership but presents a conundrum: if the few honorable souls who work in politics are going to have to resign whenever their duties drag them into the proximity of amorality, war, and prejudice, then we shall be losing honorable souls as quickly as we turn them up. If our own administration were held to as high a standard of noble bearing, it wouldn’t have held office for one day before humbly resigning. It is proven, then, that the term of power is directly proportionate to the conscience of the powerful. I shall remind myself of this, when I expire having never had any influence or held a single prominent position, knowing that this must mean I am necessarily as honorable as could be.
Leadership also seems to be in short supply in the South, where a handful of formerly stable ex-banana republics have spun out of control, and have been trying on governments like sport-jackets. Mr. Chavez, in Venezuela, lacking leadership qualities, allowed his supporters to open fire on his opponents. This move proved unpopular, and the military overthrew him. The military, lacking its own share of leadership, then allowed an apparently repentant Mr. Chavez to return to his office. Thus Venezuela, missing a grand opportunity for international credibility, is content not to be taken much more seriously than France or Washington, D.C. Argentina continues to revolt against the misguided leadership of the international bankers (who seem to have no concept of who they are leading, or what is the organism that actually makes and spends money). And the Mexicans, only a year past the happy ascendance of Sr. Fox, are already furious with him, as he spends more time lunching with Mr. Bush in Texas than attending to the drug-fueled civil war which is rending his country apart. Sr. Fox may have felt that having his photograph taken beside a paltry statesman would elevate his own appearance, but it is the difficult nature of political physics that sometimes causes a window to become a mirror, and two fools in suits to reveal one another, rather than conceal.
The state of statesmanship around the world is so dire that the best efforts continue to be put forth by Saudi sheiks, who are at least canny enough to see that the collapse of diplomacy is bad for business, and will eventually cramp their own dictatorships. That Prince Abdullah has bolder, better, more humane ideas about stifling war and ethnic hatred than Secretary Powell or his overwhelmed boss makes me want to eat the newspaper, and read the bagel. There is no progress to be sensed, little to encourage one’s optimism, and everything to suggest that there is nothing better but to hold on and let the world’s executives age past functionality, and make way for an improved generation. It is another issue altogether whether there is a worthy class in waiting, or if political sophistication inevitably degrades with time, and our race’s whole fate is merely entropy. The reader shall know when I convert to this darker opinion, because I shall not bother to offer my kvetching any longer, once I am persuaded that it is being spoken to naught but the cold barren Moon. 3W
DISPATCH FROM ABROAD
MS. BONNEY CONSIDERS CURRENCY
DENMARK- In thousands of grandparent’s dresser drawers across North America, there exists a small, stagnant economy in European currency. Generations of Americans have come and gone to the Continent, as tourists, and have brought home as their most telling souvenir the money of those nations they visited: Francs, Marks, Lira, and more. These colorful, doubtful monies have then gone on to fascinate the younger generations with their variety and insensible denominations - what we lack in other scruples, Americans make up for in a remarkable intuition for all things financial. And so for the length of the century, Europe has become something of a workshop for the manufacture of exotic, entertaining coins and bills, brought home to America and marvelled at. That these objects were in fact viable tender in actual national economies generally provokes just a disbelieving snort and a slow shaking of the American head.
Today this is a bygone picture - by five months, to be exact. The Euro has appeared in Europe’s billfolds like a deluge of party flyers, displacing the dozen currencies so long cherished by fascinated American grandchildren, and in the realm of Fiducia, it has wiped away the ragged borders of the whole continent. This is no small achievement, and surely suggests a trend for the future: fewer monies, more coherent economies, and fewer opportunities for easily-got and interesting souvenirs.
My first Euros were granted to me in an airport exchange booth, and the experience was strangely gratifying. I had previously had the chance to cash in a few dollars for a few thousand lira, and found it too absurd to register; and I had also traded a few dollars for a very bad proportion of pounds, and disliked the trickery. In this case, I offered the agent fifty dollars, and was handed back fifty-two. It was as close to discovering a money-well as I ever expect to come. Because the Euro is based upon the standard of the dollar, prices in Europe are easily converted; but because the Euro, at the moment, is still slightly less strong than the dollar, it feels very much like I have been given two dollars for nothing but the trouble of my flight. I ordered an extra drink with that money, and as long as I live, this exchange shall remain in my favor.
Unfortunately, what it offers in self-esteem and simplicity, the Euro takes back in aesthetic interest. They are hardly worth bringing home, the way lira or pesetas once were, loaded with ornate portraiture and color-theory-free watermarking. They do not illustrate national pride, or cultural idiosyncrasies, but instead they blandly honor equivalence and a careful attitude of mediocrity. The Italians, who are filthy with subjects for pecuniary representation, seem not to want to show up the Poles or the Germans, who might have a harder time adorning a bill. And so the bills are quite bare, with mechanical drawings upon them of noncommittal objects like eagles and globes, and in their most extravagant moments, a displaced sketch of an aqueduct - the last thing to cross a European border without sinister motives. A newcomer to the Earth would think, based on the craftsmanship of the money, that Europe had just been settled, and that America was the Old Country, rich in history.
The coins are better, and are in fact the heart of the currency - I have collected tens of Euros in coinage simply because it does not occur to me that things that cost between one and five Euros can be paid for with alloys instead of paper. These are minted with a modestly better assortment of Europe’s treasures, including the Coliseum, Botticelli’s Venus, an assortment of domes and facades, and a few fellow’s heads, which not even the locals seem sure about. These busts look Northern, and a shopkeep offered that perhaps one of them was even supposed to be Roosevelt, which I doubt, but can’t dispute. On the heads’ side (none of which contain heads - the heads, like this Aryan-looking fellow, when they appear, are on the tails...) there is either a nondescript globe, or a map of Europe, with the nations perplexingly separated. A critic of the currency has told me they like to think of the illustration as depicting Europe after being thrown down hard against the ground, breaking it apart - and undermining the peachy premise of One Europe, One Currency.
Unifying Europe in any but the most superficial way is a fool’s task anyhow. Though the vibrant and various monies of the continent are now defunct and nothing but museum pieces, the traveller must still know how every language pronounces the word, and might spend a week in a place before they realize who’s talking about money and when. To the Germans it is the “Oi-ro,” while the Italians know better, and call it the “Ay-oo-ro,” and the French seem to have equated the word for the thing with the same phlegm by which they debase it - with the scant alphabet at my disposal, a phonetic representation of the French throat-gurgle that is “Euro” is impossible. And in Denmark, where I now reside, pretend you are tossing a laughing toddler into the air, at play, and make an Up-You-Go exclamation. You will have learned how to say the name of the new specie.
More specifically in regard to my placement among the Danes: I have come among them by ferry-boat, which is how one traditionally does so. The act, to an American raised with an excessive respect for borders, is especially anticlimactic. Customs is but a pier, bicycles are the preferred means of ingress, and smiles serve for an interrogation. At once, the visitor is loose in a residential neighborhood, not too different from Flushing, Queens.
Here the newcomer is treated to a ubiquitous introduction to the Danish pastime of decorating windows with tableaus of porcelain figurines. In a particular instance, ten kiln-fired and glazed Charlie Chaplins frolicked up and down a single sill, which not only detached me from my geography, but from my time-period.
Only the barking dogs, present behind every picket fence, served to ensure my presence in the here and now. These dogs were, without exception, tiny and shrill, hardly dogs at all - and in conjunction with a ferocious hissing swan in Præsto - suggested that perhaps customs was lax because the national defense was in the charge of small, agitated animals. Elza. Anne Bonney
AN AFTERNOON IN OUTER SPACE
A MOVIEGOER’S OPPORTUNITY TO BE FIRED INTO ORBIT
After One Hundred Years, a Medium Realizes its Potential
by Ephrain Underhill
If there is a single question that, throughout my life, has more undermined my self-esteem and tested my confidence, it is “Would you go to outer space if you could?” As an adventurer of the body as well as the mind, I have always liked to think I would say Absolutely; but as a coward, and uniquely privy to my deep insecurities, I fear that I might see the sudden reality of the thing too terrible, and at the last moment lose my nerve and decline.
It is our privilege as New Yorkers, and citizens of the modern era, that we are today able to put our nerves to exactly that test, and do so with a sack of jelly-beans in our fist, without much more fear than whatever the escalator gives us. This is due to the arrival, at the looming amphitheater above Lincoln Square, of “Space Station 3-D,” one of these motion pictures slandered as an IMAX experience, but something far worthier than such a title.
The reader’s incredulity might be more easily summoned if they understood, first, my opinion of the enterprise of film-making altogether. Mr. Thoreau, though writing of more profound matters, most concisely chastises the art form: “It costs more than it comes to... Its mainspring is vanity.” I realize it is yet a young form, and might not deserve so much scrutiny; but shall get it from me nevertheless, simply because of the cinema’s extraordinary and premature self-importance. (As a contrary example, I like to think that cave-painting, after its first century, was still a humble practice, and didn’t presume so much upon its audiences, until the mammoths were rendered with a more mature expertise, and the spindly little arrows in its back were drafted with a few centuries’ worth of skill.)
After only a few decades of Talkies, the practice of motion picture-making looks upon itself as cathedral-building, when it is, even at its best, really only rock-piling. Whenever I am shocked by the fresh air behind the theater, I am inevitably possessed of a little disappointment, even if it were a movie I generally enjoyed. Even “Citizen Kane” and its peers do little more than provide a few instances of intellectual or visceral delight, amongst hours of confabulation, and at costs that are widely known to be astronomical. Costs that, in this era, are quite beyond the boundaries of morality - one James Cameron, to take an example I have a particular vendetta for, deserves Napoleonic banishment, not chintzy statuettes, for diverting the resources of an entire developing country into three hours of maritime treacle. True awe, utter fascination, and pure euphoria, all lack from the cinema, without exception - until this week. And any blindered cinephile who would debate my bold pronouncement should first expose themselves to “Space Station 3-D,” and see just what you have been missing. You will never forgive the thousands of hacks who have burned so much silver halide upon so much celluloid at the expense of so many egos and fragile spirits, once you see what they have been failing to do.
Clutching his candy, the moviegoer ascends to the top floor of the cineplex, and is ushered into a steep amphitheater, and given the ungainly goggles that characterize the IMAX experience. During the tense moments prior to the dimming of the lights, I saw myself as the descendant of those gentlemen stooped over their stereopticons in the Edwardian parlor, and realize how well progress has treated us, and how I could hardly seem more ridiculous than a respectable derbied businessman, lustily cranking the handle of the nickelodeon just to see a tiny, blurry, powdery girl prancing in her knickers. IMAX, though it is marketed for tourists and the crass of taste, and though it does provoke a mild cerebral headache after an hour, is poised to replace the typical photographic motion-picture, and initiates to it tend to unanimously agree, while they rub their temples in the lobby. Meanwhile, black-clad film types are noticeably absent from the vicinity of IMAX theaters, probably because they know, as connoisseurs of spectacle, that their two-dimensional, bone-dry, character-based manustuprations are pale by comparison - and so they stay close to their downtown art-houses, where the secret of their banality seems to be safe. For if film is meant to be spectacle, and meant to show us what we could never otherwise see, the modern cinema is an anemic failure - it shows us more of what we have already seen too much of, and for spectacle, give me a garden in bloom in June. I can neither touch, smell, nor taste a movie, and I don’t see any rationale for forgiving these shortcomings. My expectations are only proportionate to cinema’s own self-aggrandizement.
“Space Station 3-D,” in happy contrariety to the form’s trends, is every bit the spectacle a film should be, and succeeds as no other picture has in transporting the moviegoer into a new realm - namely, to high-Earth orbit. The film is a propagandistic documentary about the ongoing construction of the International Space Station, financed by the perversely idealistic warmongers at Lockheed-Martin. But though it is indiscreet about its agenda, and childishly optimistic about the practical use of hurtling pen-pals around the Earth, it succeeds in spite of itself. This is due largely to the success of the three-dimensional effect. (Why they don’t see the truth, and the advantage, in calling such movies four-dimensional - time based as they are - is beyond, or perhaps beneath, my understanding.)
The IMAX gimmick is a double-barreled camera, translated to a double-barreled projector, and viewed through spectacles designed to separate the two images as they were originally offset, to create the realization of spatial dimension in the viewer’s easily-tricked brain. The wily IMAX engineers, spurred on no doubt by the impresarios in the P.R. office, have designed the image offset to be slightly greater than the one created by the actual physiology of the human eyes, so that the dimensionality of the image is in fact faintly exaggerated - and the viewer, when he steps back out into the real world, is invariably disappointed at how close together his eyes actually are, and how dull and flat the real world suddenly seems. In the film, such things are most noticeable when the scenery is earthly, and so relatively familiar. We are brought to the steppe of Kazakhstan, to see the Russian mission contingent train and launch, and an ordinary grove of birch trees seems to zoom at the viewer like a Piranesi sketch looked at in a convex mirror. In short, even the most barren landscape in Asia becomes, on this screen, utterly fascinating, shrouded in fog, and rife with the anticipating launch of the rocket that looms just perceptible in the distance.
When the camera brings us to such launches - of a Proton rocket carrying space-station hardware, and of NASA’s space shuttle carrying the inhabitants - there are few vicarious experiences to be compared against it. The theater admirably deafens us with the roar of the blast, our stomachs obediently tense up and rumble, and the imagery - the sense of force conveyed by the sight of fire billowing towards us, and of stones and gravel sprayed directly into our shielded eyes - makes even the most staid among us want to shriek for the thrill. And thankfully, though a rocket-launch is an easy place for a propagandist to demonstrate his subject’s manly dominance over Nature, these film-makers settle for more naivete than that, and they prefer to cut us into the cockpit with the astronauts, to see their helmets rattling in the seats in front of us, and then to have us peer out the back window, at the magnificent trail of flame descending thousands of feet below. Rather than a bawdy technological penetration of sky, as many a witness to a shuttle launch has compared it to, when the moviegoer is blasted off, it is much more of a departure than a conquest, and is therefore more bittersweet, disconcerting, and, probably, empathetic.
The bulk of the feature has us in space, being lectured to by the narrator, a certain Mr. Cruise known from more ordinary films, and listening to the testimonies of the astronauts who spent a term up there. The stereoscopic experience of life in space provides a fascination that somehow never wanes. Grainy videotapes of space shuttle crews lazily tossing each other tools in zero gravity are, remarkably, old hat to the current generations, but the trick is entirely renewed at Lincoln Square, where the screwdrivers and pens float straight across the bridge of one’s nose, before being grasped by a floating astronaut, looming huge in the periphery. A Russian cosmonaut shaving, with his razor suspended in the air beside him while he rinses, turns the viewer into a giddy idiot, and by the time an American space-man is seen in his sleeping compartment - the cramped dimensions of which are truly sensed here - eating a bag of popcorn, and failing at it, the moviegoer has discovered an incredible vicarious nervousness in himself, which begs the astronauts to catch whatever gets away from them. In the matter of the popcorn, the stuff drifts away in every direction, and the viewer’s worry is only consoled by the space-man’s assertion that debris will eventually find its way to the vent filters, where it can be cleaned up. Visions of popcorn and hair-clippings (trimmed by crew members in front of the hose of a vacuum cleaner) short-circuiting humankind’s greatest endeavor never go away, testament to the sympathetic effects of the film.
When we witness dinner, and an M&M candy is tossed wide of an astronaut’s mouth only to bounce off his chest and marvelously drift directly between the viewer’s eyes, we must trust these people completely not to bring down the ship. The amount of time they spend entertaining themselves, and us, with the effects of zero gravity is accepted only because we are manifest amateurs, paralyzed among the bristling knobs and straps and trinkets that everywhere adorn the space station interior, and we don’t know any better. Watching the crew members floating towards us through the cylinders of the ship, occasionally making trick maneuvers and graceful midair redirections with their fingertips both offers us a feeling of having achieved absolute physical liberty, and proves to us that there is much about our own abilities that we do not have the first clue about. I expect I would damage myself terribly if left to drift about like this, and though it looks easy enough for a petite female astronaut to hurl hundred-pound water sacks around the corner to a catcher, I could not presume to have the dexterity to guide myself into the claustrophobic escape capsule, which these fellows do like preening carefree dolphins. I should be a bruised, bleeding, but euphoric space-traveller.
As for the make-up of our companions on this trip, it occurred to me upon the early presentation of an astronaut’s massive and fully-proportioned thigh in the immediate foreground of a zero-gravity shot, that here might be humanity’s best approximation of the Nietzschean Super-man. We are shown their training, and we are privy to their intelligence, and supplemented by our society’s long admiration of the breed, everything comes together to suggest that the Astronaut is both a giant of the mind and one of the body. Many of them tend, true, to jockishness or a military bent, but at the same time they are necessarily scientists, and well-spoken, and requisitely mild-mannered, or else they could not cohabit with their peers in a can two hundred and fifty miles above the Earth’s surface. And finally, the Astronaut is granted something profound - something that civilians are perhaps being given a first taste of only thanks to this presentation - that is, Perspective.
Mr. Armstrong’s words upon the Moon, and a dozen stilted poets sent into orbit have told the newspapers the same thing over and over: How humbling to see the globe below you, how petty we become, how glorious we are yet to be, in a such a magnificent universe. And though these are pretty sentiments, they fail as do all words to actually carry their meaning all the way to the conscience of the listener. This earnest movie, though, shows us what they mean, and does so convincingly. The Earth, in these pictures, is rotating hundreds of miles below. Its sphericality is tangible, and its mass intuitive. The clouds hover a hair’s breadth above the land and sea. In the most stunning shots, the space shuttle sits in synchronous orbit a few hundreds yards below our window, throwing the Earth into even more profound relief. I have discovered, since watching this, that I possess a kind of anecdotal confidence I had lacked before, and realized that it is because I am prepared to tell acquaintances that I have seen Earth from above, even though I have only been deluded by technology into believing it. I cannot object to such a manipulation in this case, as I cannot discern any ill-effects of people walking around on the surface of the Earth with a memory, even a fabricated one, of having left it and returned, and sensing better the size of their endeavors, relative to greater things.
All of this smells awfully like politics, if you are possessed of the proper landlubber’s skepticism. NASA, Sony, Tom Cruise, and Lockheed-Martin teaming up to pitch to the common plebe how great and important is space-travel, human exploration, and the like is nothing I should ever have expected to find much favor with. And indeed, even two hundred miles up, Mr. Cruise’s earnest delivery of the Boy Scout script cannot but elicit snickers from the clever. Then suddenly the merits of cinema divert the cynic: a cosmonaut squeezes a drink of water into the air, where it hovers in a gyrating sphere, until he leans forward and sucks it up, and the worst of Earthly politics is transposed by the most exciting possibilities of naked physical law, and the marvels we mediocre monkeys have stumbled across. Lockheed-Martin fails to garner any support from me for the construction of cruise missiles and invisible, pilotless bombers, or the promulgation of an unaccountable military-industrial complex - they merely persuade me that great things can be done by fallible civilizations, and that the universe is every bit as astounding as the century’s airborne poets have tried to tell us it is. Suspended above the Earth, with the elaborate mechanisms of the vessel gleaming white in the raw sunlight, I am not thinking of the evils of earthly militarism, but rather of the list of questions posed by the Marquis de Condorcet at the end of the eighteenth century, which ask, essentially, why should the ideals of the Enlightenment not be realized? What restrains us from recognizing our flaws, improving upon them, and expanding our knowledge indefinitely for its own sake? What limits us?
Why should our species not learn how to fly, and to build a house with such an inspiring view, especially when the rest of our priorities are so evidently macabre? In a prosperous society, why shouldn’t we dedicate a portion of our success to such exertions, which provide us, at worst, with a clear lens through which to see ourselves. A late poll - that wart upon democracy’s clean visage - has indicated that 86% of Americans would accept an invitation aboard a rocket ship to space. This is a tremendous optimism, though it surely doesn’t include the margin of last-minute cold-feet, which runs strong through our people. In any case, a statistic like this suggests that the expansion of science is not merely a convenience for the powerful upon earth, to improve their weapons and their advantages; it suggests that human curiosity is a fundamental characteristic of democracy. Curiosity is itself democratic, in that nine out of ten of us are curious enough to go to space. If one adheres to the faith that the will of democracy ought to be the orientation of the civilization, than space stations and rocket ships should continue to be among our industries.
Forgiving the hypocritical nature of the aerospace establishment nothing - giving us as they do both odes from the stars and ever-faster delivery vehicles for self-annihilation - the money spent to produce the space station, the money spent to make the movie about the space station, and the money spent (ten dollars) to admit the sullen Earthbound moviegoer to see the movie about the space station, is all money well spent. Skeptics shall not be brainwashed; the jaded shall not be disappointed, and may well be converted; the weak of stomach shall not lose their confections to the crushing force of space-launch; and the ordinary world will not look the same when you emerge. 3W
ON A YEN FOR PLAIN LETTUCE
In Support of a Sibling’s Cause
by Henry William Brownejohns,
Over the course of a dilapidated lifetime of eating salads, I am nevertheless surprised to find even this antipastic trifle lately besotted by faddishness. Where an American salad, one that is traditionally eaten before the meal, was once invariably a pale bowl of lettuce and tomatoes (with the inclusion of carrots and cucumbers defining a classier establishment), today it is more routinely a slaw of radicchios, arugulas, and spinach both baby and grown-up. The reader may still be wondering whether this is a rueful complaint or just another needling and meaningless observation from a declining mind. It is a bit of both.
Bitter green salads admittedly add interest and color to the course, but they undermine the gastronomic purpose of it - that is as a palate cleanser. Americans are going at their entrees in this age with harshly treated tongues, and most corrupt their subtle dinners with salt and sugar as compensation. And while exotic leaves may even provide a few hard-won nutrients to the bloodstream, ones not available from the forlorn Romaines and Icebergs of the family, at the same time bitter greens torment a new and ample segment of the population in other ways.
Among these newly beleaguered is the author’s very sister, Ms. Molly Brownejohns, who happens to be so tragically allergic to bitters that between the first course and dessert she will go from being a charming dining companion to a rather sour spirit, and demand an escort to the emergency room to have the toxins in her blood diluted before the rest of her party can enjoy their coffee and ladyfingers. I confess that it is under her influence that this essay is being made - but lacking many other practical uses, I believe our kin should at least be mediums for the expansion of our sympathies. Personally, I have enjoyed most of the salads I have had in this new era, but Molly’s sufferings have wakened me to their shortcomings and their ramifications. The number of persons allergic to bitter greens, and who can eat pale ones like they were, well, lettuce, is astounding, although I didn’t trouble to find out the actual figure. Still, it is not much different than if the chefs of the world convened and decided that only peanuts should be used, at the expense of all other legumes. A million voices would rise up in protest, through constricted larynxes.
Yet beyond the health and comfort of a few susceptible individuals, I see a more troubling implication in the ascendance of bitters: we are developing too-complicated tastes. By phasing out the simple lettuce salad, we are exercising just the sort of decadence that has plunged Europe into one dark age after another. Our civilization enjoys its best days when it is hardy and sensible, and sees its flaws clearly. If we cannot find the pleasure and sense in the gentle leafy greens, and in all similarly minute things, we shall begin to come apart. Already, those with allergies and sensitive palates have been shunted out of the mainstream by the fickle preferences of the cooking-school set, and for little more than unchecked trendiness. I do not propose the abolition of arugula; I propose variety. I can testify, as can my roughage-challenged sibling, that bitter greens have not so much supplemented the American salad menu, as they have overtaken it. I would restore the bland Romaines in order to hold fast the bonds of our multifarious society, and offer more rarefied salads as well, if that is what fashion dictates. This paper stands resolutely against all uniformity, whether it be functional or gourmet.
GLENN BARKER’S LEAFLET
THE PEOPLE OF NEW JERSEY PROVE THEMSELVES MORALLY BANKRUPT, AND INFERIOR TO A SINGLE RECOVERED DRUG ADDICT AND EX-CONVICT
A Convicted Murderer and a Verified Populist Subverts ‘Megan’s Law’
by Alexander Swartwout
It is presumable that when General Washington headquartered in New Jersey, he was doing so convinced that the nation he sought to establish would do a better job of ensuring its citizen’s rights than old King George. Little could he have known the the electorate that was due to settle there would become one of the most self-contradictory and intolerant in all the Union, and would punctuate its democratic fatuousness with a law named like a TV movie, or vice versa - namely, Megan’s Law. This is the sorry piece of legislation that informs the matrons of a community whenever an individual with a criminal record moves into their neighborhood, so that they can promptly burn effigies upon his lawn, and drive him out of their community posthaste. It is intended to discourage former sexual offenders from living anywhere among their fellow men (or their children) ever again, yet in the typical manner of the Garden State, its language is so coarse that anyone who has ever suffered a conviction is liable to the harassment of county prosecutors - whose job it has become, in turn, to sic hordes of intolerant and excitable PTA members upon the apartments of the former offenders. The law does not take into account the fact that these individuals, wherever they may be on the spectrum of human decency, have served the sentence as it was handed down to them by a judge of the United States judiciary. And the logic does not penetrate the Jerseyan mind that Megan’s Law effectively turns any sentence into a life sentence, so long as the public is privy to the transgressions of every lawbreaker. A few wits in past weeks have pointed out that by the same rationale, communities ought to be notified when a Catholic Church is being built within its confines, if it is really the children everybody is so worried about. The whole proposition is founded upon the cynical and simplistic argument that human behavior is fixed and unchangeable, and is supplemented by the naïve premise that every conviction by the courts is based on certainty. Megan’s Law nullifies most of those obscure middle amendments which hold together the Bill of Rights, the ones that ensure due process and check judicial overreaching. The voters of New Jersey seem perfectly content with it.
As do their county prosecutors, as evident in their efforts against one Mr. Glenn Barker, of Middlesex County. Mr. Barker was convicted nineteen years ago of a murder, and has served his sentence. He maintains his innocence in the matter of homocide, but admits to guilt in a previous kidnapping arrest, which charges were dropped. In any case, by the dictate of the U.S. Constitution, and the original charters of every one of its states, Mr. Barker is rehabilitated, and entitled to another go at it. Maybe this is too lenient for your tastes, in which case I presume you hail from that side of the Palisades, or ought to - but it is the very leniency that General Washington was trying to wrest from old King George.
The office of the prosecutor has sent underlings out into Mr. Barker’s community - door to door - to distribute a leaflet about Mr. Barker’s transgressions. In it, the prosecutors put forth the facts about Mr. Barker’s criminal record, which would have been illegal for them to do prior to 1997; and what’s more, they insinuate that he has ill intentions, without any evidence. The prosecutor’s notice says that Mr. Barker “cruises mall parking lots, has stopped to assist a stranded female motorist, looks for women to talk to, and has coached youth basketball and baseball teams at a Y.M.C.A.” Taken out of context, it seems like a banal statement about how decent single men in their forties endure the travails of daily life in New Jersey, but in the sinister environment of the prosecutor’s libel-sheet, these become unforgivable crimes.
Perhaps the prosecutors and minivan inquisitors of New Jersey’s planned communities would welcome ex-convicts more if the ex-convicts just stayed in their homes with the windows drawn and the lights off, and emanated the aura of evil that they are supposed to. They should let the lawn grow long, the paint peel from the shingles, and every now and then, they should let loose with mysterious banshee-screams to terrify the neighbors. This way, the children of the neighborhood will grow up properly afraid of the dregs of society, and shall know how to protect their own children. When one of these ex-convicts, such as Mr. Barker, seems to harbor actual remorse and a desire to ratchet up his good standing - by helping stranded motorists and volunteering to coach children - it is too drastic a break from the suburban norm to tolerate. Thus such activities are listed beneath murder and kidnapping as secular sins. And I am not sure how any Garden-Stater can accuse another of “cruising mall parking lots,” any more than one can accuse another of using hairspray, or breathing radon.
Mr. Barker, though, is not rolling over, and thus this tribute. In the week after his neighbors received the prosecutor’s fliers, and they all began to look at him strangely, as dictated by the State that they do, Mr. Barker typed up his own pamphlet, and handed it out door to door.
In it, he admits to his conviction, though he remains adamant about his innocence. He confesses to having been a depressed drug addict, during the late seventies and early eighties, when his prior arrest was made (but no conviction). And he also comes clean about helping a stranded female motorist. He even offers new information: that he helped a stranded male motorist, too, undermining the snide misogynist scare-tactics of the Middlesex county prosecutors. Mr. Barker says, indeed, that he was a coach and a volunteer, but that since the prosecutor’s machinations, he has been forcibly removed from those activities. He also mentions that this is not the first run-in he has had with nosy New Jersey barristers - he has effectively been run out of two other towns by the same method. He has been in South River now for five months, and works for a sign-painter. Mr. Barker does not seem ready to give up and move again, though I do question the sense of sticking with New Jersey, which, even when its best face is forward, isn’t exactly Eden - and for Mr. Barker, and due process in general, New Jersey is most certainly not presenting well.
For obvious reasons, Mr. Barker’s levelheaded strategy appeals to this author - though it is surely too highminded to reach the voters of his home state. They remain in favor of the harassment of ex-convicts, even as statistics are now amply available which prove it to be just the opposite of a crime deterrent. The isolation and alienation caused by Megan’s Law tend to either force ex-convicts out of the state altogether, or provoke them into new offenses. Not surprising; even placid animals will only tolerate so many jabs from an adolescent’s stick before they decide there is nothing better to do but lash out. It may be that the folks of New Jersey are just out of touch with this basic premise of Nature.
In any case, the State either loses tax income or security, and this on top of the respect of humanists everywhere. Mr. Barker, regardless of the benevolence of his intentions, is on the right side here, but he is a convicted murderer arguing against the mutated sense of millions of easily-frightened soccer moms.
AN INADVERTENT CRIME
NEW YORK. A new father, pushing his one-year-old son through the park in a stroller this past weekend, was stopped by a patrolman and given a citation for littering. The father had unthinkingly dropped an exhausted popsicle stick in the grass, as he attended to the whims of his fidgety child. The ticket was in the amount of sixty dollars, and the father was thrown into a panic of embarrassment, concerned that, though his son was hardly sentient, it might nevertheless be subconsciously detrimental for him to see his father apprehended and punished at the hands of the law. In a chain reaction of poor judgement (which is how that affliction is most often perpetuated in this world) the father resolved to pay the patrolman a small sum, as a gesture of contrition and goodwill, in hopes of relieving himself of the formal summons.
Retaining at least a shred of good sense amongst his half-formed logic, the man realized the risk of offering an officer twenty dollars directly, and so he folded the bill once and tucked it into the tiny hand of his son, placid and chubby in his stroller, bundled into a wad of blankets and plush-toys. He then maneuvered the stroller in front of the patrolman, blocking his way, and attempted to discreetly draw the officer’s attention to the child. He tickled and cooed at the boy, looking up frequently, as if seeking approval of the policeman, but actually trying to draw his eye.
At first he was perplexed by the display, but shortly the officer spotted the money in the toddler’s tiny fist, and, stopping for disbelief, he bent down, tickled beneath the boy’s chin with his finger, and with a ‘gootchy-gootchy-goo,’ snapped up the money. He then walked off, leaving the man as before, with a baby boy in a stroller, a sixty-dollar citation for littering, whatever precognizant childhood traumas the incident was bound to induce, and less twenty dollars, illicitly.
A DEFENSE OF IDLENESS
Nature, in her wisdom and practicality, has provided that even the most sluggish of us should not completely go to waste, and be a burden to the universal system. This occurred to me lately while I was thinking of names I might reasonably call myself in those times when I feel most useless and lazy. I was coming up with things such as ‘fertilizer factory,’ and ‘oxygen converter,’ or ‘space heater’; all appropriate appellations, I feel, for a man who seems to be doing nothing with himself but sitting still and eating. But I shortly realized that these names, intended to be deprecating and I think not unfunny, were in fact really quite true, and that it was proof of the genius of the natural order that a man without the wit and inspiration to get up and make something of himself nevertheless is contributing in some small way; by breathing out carbon dioxide and excreting his last meal he is enriching the ecosystem for other, perhaps more productive species, like trees and shrubs. He is radiating heat which can be absorbed by household pets, as if he were a small local affiliate of the sun. And he is a filter of the air and water, by soaking up his share of toxins and providing an environment for whole populations of microscopic life, some of which, by virtue of ever-innovative natural selection, might well prove itself useful in the future, as a medical panacea or a cleansing plague. We must grant that these labors, while involuntary and circumstantial, are enough of a benefit to the workings of nature, and just necessary enough, to warrant the cost that the lazy individual incurs in space taken up by his body. In effect, by simply eating, breathing, and defecating, the shiftless man is paying his rent for that section of the sofa upon which he can always be found. However, this is his limit, and any other resources he requires to exist are in excess of his budget, as nature has allotted it. He must pay his other bills in a more viable currency.
1 -I remember when I was in school my teachers would do just that, they’d ask us to answer a question, and you’d start to answer, and they’d stop you and say ‘Repeat the question with your answer.’
2 -You’d just say ‘Because..?”
1 -The question is “Why is the sky blue?” and we’d have to write ‘The. Sky. Is. Blue. Be-cause...’ They’d kill us otherwise; didn’t matter what we knew.
3 -Why is the sky blue?
1 -Oh, I’d have to look it up, somewhere in my eighth grade notebook.
2 -It’s because of the reflection of the water, the ocean.
3 -It is?
2 -Mm. The water’s blue, so...
3 -Is that the one and only whole reason?
1 -I guess they were asking us tough questions back then. Wish I remembered.
4 -Pardon me, I’m sorry, I just overheard. I couldn’t help- But the reason the sky is blue is actually, it’s called Raleigh Scattering. It’s the air molecules in the atmosphere, they happen to reflect blue light. The other colors go straight through. I hope I’m not intruding. But it isn’t actually anything to do with the ocean. Actually, the water’s blue ‘cause of the sky.
1 -Well, it’s a good thing you were around.
3 -So where’d you get that about the ocean? I didn’t think that sounded right.
2 -So are you a teacher or something?
4 -I’m, no, I just happened to remember that, and then I heard you mention it.
2 -I thought you might be a science teacher or something, and you were tired of listening to people who never paid attention to their teachers.
4 -No, I just heard you mention it; it’s something not a lot of people know, actually.
1 -See? You never stop learning.
4 -Sorry to bother you, have a good afternoon.
1 -No, no, thank you.
2 -Well, there you go. I’m an idiot. I mean, mind your own - who asked him, man?
3 -Aw, honey.
VERDURE AND VERSE
On any pleasant afternoon, if you are not a scribbler yourself, you might take pleasure in this exercise: pause and consider that throughout the city, thousands of writer-types are at that very moment paining themselves with the effort to adequately describe the color green, and its good effects. It is a fact of the industry that these people often run out of ideas, and are left with nothing to do but look up and wax poetic about a tree in the breeze, or the way sunlight has its way with blades of grass and the human soul all at once. This sort of writing is like the bench-press of the literary art, something everybody does routinely, but at which only the strong excel.
And it is all because the writer, by necessity, has left himself sensitive to every obvious thing, and thus the small, profound pleasure of springtime, in the writer, is amplified into an agonizing poetic labor. Cold, calculating, and sensible authors all have somewhere in their archives a hidden collection of springtime poesy, which embarrasses them the rest of the year, but comes gushing out of their pens every April and May, regardless. Dainty verses about flowers and leaves and newly warmed air are the inevitable result of an inclination towards the craft of language. And every year, when the bookish of New York emerge into the light and begin versifying, as reflexively as lemmings toward the ledge, they all come up against the same shortage of descriptive verbiage. The wonders of spring annually overwhelm the tools of the language.
This week it is a particular problem, because this is that significant moment in the course of the seasons when the green that has appeared on the trees is not the ordinary, leafy green of June and July, or the sultry, dusty green of August and September, but is instead the unmistakable iridescent green of new growth. Spring does not affect us so deeply simply because it is the end of winter; spring is exceptional all on its own, its hues are unique, and the lifespan of its marvels are singularly brief.
On the street where our offices reside, the trees burst all at once, and for a fortnight afterward they glow with a verdure that they won’t have the temerity to keep up until next year. Having been here for several cycles, we generally know the dates that this will occur, and refer to it unceremoniously as the Green Week. But now that we are engaged in regular bouts with the shortcomings of the language, we are more than ever sympathetic to the word-starved writing population, and so a few observations are offered to them.
There is indeed a field of scientific study about how poor the language is in describing color, and outer reality in general. Interestingly, from the dying tongues of remotest Borneo, all the way to the refined murmuring of the French, there is a uniform dearth of color-words. It is not unique to we English speakers that when asked to describe, say, ‘red,’ we haven’t got much to go with, other than uselessly referential terms, like ‘warm,’ ‘hot,’ or, in an outright concession, ‘red’ to describe itself. Conceptually, at least, there is no way to verify that what one set of eyes sees as red is anything like what another sees as red. They only agree that an apple is it - not what it is.
And so a city-ful of parkbench poets toss about objects like ‘verdant’ and ‘glaucous’ and ‘emerald,’ when they would rather get to the heart of the thing. Leaves are green, but such a statement doesn’t satisfy an author in pursuit of deeper truth and a lifetime of royalties. And sadly, leaves are only green because of the physiology of our retinas, and so cosmic truths, if achievable, wouldn’t be cosmically accurate anyway. Thus, the urge to script idylls that springtime provokes in us is one that cannot be fulfilled. Even if one were to compose the most perfect epic of viridescence and renaissance, next spring, one would be as compelled to try it again, believing themselves to have failed.
Anyway, we admire the futility and good-will of the annual spring adjective hunt. And though we have pointed out the universal failures of language to provide an adequate pallet for the part-time nature writer, we are fond of a particular Greek word, ‘chloros.’
Back when language perhaps wasn’t too sacred to alter, the Greeks, and the Latins after, were quite liberal about adding new words out of midair, when the old ones didn’t suffice. One fine Attic spring, during what we would call plainly the Green Week, some philophilic ancestor looked up to the newly sprouted leaves, shot through with sunlight, and decided it was not enough to call them green. So the color of that particularly fresh, lush, young spring foliage was given the name ‘chloros,’ and the problem was solved for generations of Greeks. Rather than straining for composite descriptions, they had simply to reach back for their new color word, and the magnificent beauty of newborn boughs was speakable. Maybe it could not be captured, heart and soul, but it could at least be spoken, and understood.
At the risk of ending a long American tradition of trying, and failing, to put into terms the splendor of our natural surroundings, it might be high time that a few linguistic pioneers stepped forward, and just made up some words for the things we don’t have words for. A word for new-leaf green. A word for maternal aunts and uncles, that is different from the paternal ones. A word for the spots I see in the darkness when I shut my eyes tight and push on them with my knuckles. And if possible, why not even a word for the common ailment of the aesthete that makes them all want to be shaggy poets in April and May, even while they can do little else all year long. H.W. Brownejohns