Feb 28, 2006

Under the silence of Remus

When they told him his brother was dead he didn't cry. Sometimes I wake up wondering about that. Worrying about them even though it doesn't matter and even though the brother who lived has been dead now for thousands of years. It doesn't matter but I worry about the holes. People tell different stories and in different ways but they never come to what worries me. There are these holes, these gaps they leave in the stories.

They were brothers. Twins. Born together and together thrown into a wilderness river and washed up under the twin signs of their god, the wolf and the woodpecker. Together they were raised by a shepherd and when they came of age they warred together, the two of them, they won together and they lead as twins. As a pair - Remus and Romulus, Romulus and Remus.

And then the stories cut to the day, the day they were standing there and Romulus turned to his brother and said there doesn't need to be any war between us. Even though so far as we know there isn't war between then, though until he declares this peace there had always been peace between them. His brother was silent. In the stories he doesn't speak. Romulus speaks, separating himself from him brother.Let us see which of us the god favors, Romulus said, which of us ought to found a city.

And so they did. They went looking for the favor of god, one up to a hill and the other down to a wood, looking for the god's word carried by birds and counted by their number. They hold the contest, the count, and this contest wasn't like when they wrestled as healthy infants. This was a contest for keeps, a match marking the space between them that will never close. This is the hole: we don't know why. The stories say what was said and then they say they did it and they don't say why, what happened between them.

Romulus won. The god favored him by double, by 12 to 6, and the city was his to start, his to name, his to rule alone. And so he did. He laid out a square, in full ceremony he plowed with a golden plow hooked to a white bull and a white cow. He sacrificed the white bull and he sacrificed the white cow and called upon the god and he gave it his name. He set to work on a wall and his farmers set to work on the wall. As they worked he told them stories, about how it would be. This wall, he said, no one will cross this wall and if they do they will die.

While they were working his brother came back. He came back and watched and didn't know what to do with himself and was he, I wonder, just lonely. Just bored. Remus watched and thought of something funny and laughed. He jumped over the line, and jumped back to the other side. I'm jumping over the wall of the great city, he said. One of the farmers heard him, saw him, and hit him and he died Remus mocked the wall, he would say. He laughed.

And when his brother heard he didn't cry. This wall will keep out enemies, he said. If you cross this wall you are an enemy and you will be struck dead. He ignored the taboo about killing your brother and called him by another name, ignored the taboo about spilling blood in the space dedicated to the god, and we don't know why. He talked about the wall, about the wall as if he'd fogotten his brother was his brother and this is the second hole: He began to build and when he looked from inside that square with his name he called his brother the enemy.

I don't know why.

I don't know why these brothers bother me. Maybe it's just the holes and the way it only feels like half a story. I worry at it like I'm worrying about that, like I'm looking for the piece that got left in the grass, for the voice that never got to speak. Remus' bad luck. The way the story turns on something I don't know. But then I wonder why I pulled up some story, some anecdote from arcania and wrote it down to worry about. And I wonder maybe, when I wake to worry, that maybe this has nothing to do with Remus or Romulus or Rome at all.
Klallam language links
After a conversation w. Luke

Attempts to document, preserve, and pass on the language.

The Klallam story of the flood.

Klallam verbs and prepositions.

Klallam sounds.

Also, Indian Shakerism, which is still practices by some Klallam.

Feb 24, 2006

Chess links

Principles of chess development.
(via Daniel Stoddart)

Birth of the chess queen.

Game complexity and the Shannon number.

Feb 17, 2006

'Why had he thought so earnestly about inane questions like this in the past?' - BRUTUS.1, a story generating computer

Bad news: I recieved a rejection notice from the University of Emory today. Still waiting to hear from the other three schools.

Good news: My thesis, laying out a proposal for a linguistic solution to the mind-body problem, is finished, coming in at 33 1/2 pages, with 92 footnotes and 28 works cited. Part 1 explores what exactly the question is, and how philosophy of mind is at an impasse. Part 2 sets out my proposal for Linguistic Parallelism, or how to think about the mind-body problem without dualism or materialism. Part 3 considers the Turing Test, some attempts to build Artificial Intelligence, and proposes a position between Strong and Weak AI.

I am, however, going to hold off posting it on the paper's page until I get some feedback from my advisor, the philosophy honorary, and the examining board.

left
Deep Blue, the chess-playing supercomputer that could calculate 200 million piece positions per second and beat world champion Garry Kasporov in 1997.

Feb 15, 2006

A boy, a bear, and a myth

There ought to be a bear story, but there isn't. There's always a bear story, where the bear represents the primal or the uncontrollable or the ancient. Where the boy fights the bear and it takes years maybe, both of them growing stronger and meeting again and again through the years and there's a symmetry between them and they identify more with each other than with any thing else and finally one or both of them dies and it marks a change. But, as I said, there's no such story.

There was a bear though. He smashed into our chicken coop one night when we were away, leaving a jagged hole in the plywood and a few feathers and one chicken leg he'd somehow lost in the grass. A few days later Dad told one of the forest rangers we knew and the ranger said a farmer farther down the mountain had lost all his sheep the same week.

Dry weather, the ranger said. Brings 'em down.

We talked about getting the bear, my brother and my dad and me. My brother called it a Grizzly but Dad said there weren't Grizzlies anymore, in California. We talked about how big of a gun we'd need and how far Dad's breach-break shotgun would shoot if we loaded it with slugs and how you would skin a bear and if a bear tooth necklace would be something you could wear to town. We turned off the outside lights at night so we wouldn't scare him away and at night my brother made me promise through the dark to wake him up if the bear came. Going to sleep I imagined the bear story, imagined the story so I'd be the archetypal boy fighting the archetypal bear and I thought about the bear so he was old, and brown, and huge.

Our neighbor came down later that week to talk. He had 10 thousand acres that surrounded our 10 and he lived up the road by the gate. Pretty much he never talked to us, except the one time some visiting friends forgot to lock the gate and he called us to yell and scream that he'd see that we would be responsible for any cows that escaped. Besides that he'd just wave, driving by in his jeep when me and my brother were out cutting wood or shooting cans or throwing rocks. In the fall and the winter he was a hunting guide. People from LA and Hollywood would come up to hunt deer and he'd take them out in his jeep and he'd find the animals and they'd set up their gear, scopes and tripods and camouflage, and they'd get the feeling for what the wild wilderness was like and they'd pay him and then when the weekend was over they'd go home.

We heard him driving down the road, that day, heard the enginee coming over the potholes and the gravel, and he stopped by the fence and we said hello and he got out and dad came out of the garage and he started talking to dad about the bear. Dad told him what the ranger said and the neighbor told us that was true and what he'd heard. He seemed to expect we'd be afraid the bear would eat one of the younger kids and said that's why he'd come by. Dad laughed, just a heh so it was only a little exhale escape of air. The neighbor seemed disappointed.

Well, he said, sort of coming to the point, if you do see it don't shoot it. It'd be out of season and that's illegal and the fur'd be bad. It wouldn't be worth nothing - it's just a cub, you know, probably a yearold. The older ones know to stay away from civilization. He waved at the mountain and the woods and our house, which was the only house you could see from there, except for the two that sometimes caught the sunset in their windows on the mountain across the valley.

Yeah, Dad said, and the neighbor started telling us he was thinking he could get James Cameron who directed the Titanic to come up again this year and pay to hunt for a weekend and he bet Cameron'd really pay to hunt a bear.

That was the last I ever heard of it.

Feb 12, 2006

Samuel Koster, who helped to liberate a Nazi death camp in WWII, who was the highest ranking military officer to be charged with the massacre of South Vietnamese civilians in My Lai, and who countermanded the order to count the My Lai dead, died of cancer on January 23 at the age of 86.

May he rest in peace.

Feb 9, 2006


Drawing crooked lines

Feb 7, 2006

Looking at weeds

Mom was a gardener and Dad was a Gardener. Every spring Dad'd be gone mowing and edging and trimming until way past dark and all summer he'd smell of grass and gas and the lines in his hands would stain dark green. Mom grew sunflowers along the back fence and black-eyed Susans by the front porch and she'd spend the spring and the summer walking up and down garden rows, her bare feet leaving toe prints in the soft dirt. Every fall the tomatoes would stop turning red and the frost would fall and we'd pick zucchinis.

There's a picture of me somewhere, from the spring I was 12, wrestling a rototiller down rows. Wearing blue flannel and a baseball cap and fighting the last frost and the rocks, I'd cut out the sod and the crab grass with a maddox and a shovel and gas and oil up the rototiller and bang out the air filter and pull on the pull cord knotted into the coughing clogged up engine. When it wouldn't start I'd step up on the edge of the rototiller and throw myself back, heels pulling at the dirt until the engine rolled over. The exhaust would puff and choke out the front and the blades would turn and I'd hold the handles, pulling back, fighting to hold it still and it'd turn and bite into the ground, spewing up the roots and the rocks and the dirt in a circle. It'd dig down and down until the engine was sinking into the overturned dirt and then I'd let it go climbing up out of its fresh-dug hole and up onto the frosted top again and then again I'd fight to hold it. It was a fight the whole way down and up, but in the end I'd let the tiller turn out into the grass and look back at the turned up lot. Finished. Accomplished. I'd walk out over the dirt with a rake, breaking up dirt clods and looking for worms and watching the birds come down to scratch and pick after grubs.

It must of been the next spring or the spring after, when after all the tilling and weeding, watering and harvesting had given me the taste for it, when I'd smelled the furrowed dirt and the rotting leaves, the sun-turned basil and the frost-black vines, that I decided to grow something for myself. I decided to grow lettuce. A plot of lettuce to sell at a farmers market or fair or to friends. I tilled a plot, a brown dirt square, and raked it over and over. Threw out rocks and pulled up crab grass roots. Dad and I went down to the seed store and bought a whole sale pack of lettuce seeds. Little seeds, pointy at one end and the smallest I'd ever seen, and when the long-bearded overhauled clerk heard I was growing a whole plot and gonna sell them he cut me a deal. I set out rows, drawing little lines and passing out clumps of seeds in rows. I covered them over and watered them down and waited.

Every day I'd stand to the side with my thumb over the hose letting the morning-cold water spray in a fan sprinkling down leaving little droplets in the dirt. Each morning, after I'd fed the chickens and watered the family garden and the flower garden, I'd stand there and watch and wait. For a week I watered and waited and hoped, looking at dirt. Then the weeds came up, little green leaves popping up through the surface and I kneeled down looking to see if some of them were growing in lines. I looked closely to see if some of those leaves were lettuce. Weeds, I figured, too early for anything but weeds but still I looked. And I waited. And hoped. And worried, wondering if something had maybe gone wrong. If all I'd see was fresh sprung weeds.

The weeds grew I still couldn't see any lines. I tried to connect the dots but could only see zigged zags and wild swirls and disorder growing and crowding out the dirt. I thought about it, squatting and looking every way, every angle, and wondering if maybe this could somehow still be my lettuce. Maybe my lettuce somehow slipped, sloshed out of line, and maybe somehow I'd only have to wait some more. But the weeds grew stronger, and harder, and wilder and I never saw any lettuce.

There was no moment of revelation, no point of realization, just the slow rehardening of the soil and spiraling out of the weeds, growing in prickles and twining vines and snarling in yellow grasses. There was no moment when I realized it'd failed, that the weeds had won, that the soil had swallowed the seeds and they'd rotted away. It was just a slow sinking, a silence as I said nothing, could say nothing against the weeds, and one day I just stopped watering.

One day I turned off the hose and stood up and just looked and admitted I'd failed.

Feb 4, 2006

Feb 1, 2006

Jesus Chirst and Josey Wales:
Reimagining the Christic 'Sacrifice' through the American Western

My outline for a future Fairfield Society presentation on the Westen hero-gunslinger as a metaphor explaining redemption.