Sunday, November 27, 2005

How Nice it is to Have Central Heating

You know this story. You know this one by heart.

You just gotta look up at the night stars, and it all comes back to you.

The Cone Nebula
Jesus on his Crown of Glory

Only lightly photoshopped in. For the real thing, though, you gotta go here. Only US$6. Postpaid. With Paypal! I was visitor number 428. You?

No, not that picture!

The Eye of Jesus in the Eagle Nebula

"And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30)

No, not that picture! Sheesh.
Look, as Andre Gide said, Art is a collaboration between God and the Artist, and the less the artist does the better.

No, I mean the stars that arch over my house like pebbles on Agate Beach on Haida Gwaii, a hundred different colours, or like flowers in a spring meadow. A love for physical measurement maintains that by looking at those stars we are looking back to the beginning of time: 14.5 billion years, give or take a weekend. In fact, certain members of those slide-rule and abacus crowd are arguing that some of the stars they are viewing in their telescopes are older than the universe itself. That kind of thing is enough to piss a 14-year-old science student right off, I tell you.

Default View through the Hubble Telescope
Notice Adam and Eve Slinking Away After Stealing Fruit from their Own Orchard. Like, what’s that all about?

Eve: “Me, I’m waiting for the electronic version of a slide-rule.”

Adam: “Yeah, we got electronic calculators, we got graphing calculators, but, well, so what, you know. And where’s the electronic abacus!!”

Eve: “How's a girl supposed to feel romantic?”

I tell ya. Physicists didn’t invent the idea of an older universe surviving in the cracks of this newer one. Listen:

Eve: “Knit 3, pearl 2.” (Eve’s been making baby booties from a Redbook pattern I faxed her down the evolutionary wormhole.) “Pshaw. The gnostics were talking about it 2000 years ago, for one.”

Adam: (Poking his head out from underneath his Volkswagen.) (Hey, look, the guy was sitting around choking on dust and wormwood, with nothing to do.) “You know. The idea that we’ve been stranded on this planet, this zone of matter and death, and only through our minds are we going to get back to God.”

Eve: “Oh, gosh golly, there you’ve made me lose count again.”

Eve Knitting (previously confused with a Roman Abacus).

Adam: (Warming up to the subject and wiping his greasy hands on his overalls -- Thanks to my advice, Adam shops at Workwear World now). “In fact...Pass me that wrench there. Yes, that one. Thanks! (Clang! Clang! Clang!) It is through using those minds that we are going to make it there, (umph) back to Mr. G. himself, off of this frozen floor, on which, umppphh (beads of sweat), God’s beautiful crystal stars lie smashed, under is just a re...flec...tion of the fragments...There, done!”

Following this logic, every child that is born divides the little bit of God within us into smaller and smaller pieces.

Adam: “Now you’re talking.”

Kind of like the poetry of Ezra Pound, or the minimalist poetry of Aram Saroyan.

Adam: “Now you got it.”

Eve: “What do you think? What about pink? Pink’s nice, isn’t it?”

The Stars of the Night Sky in the Cariboo, and the End of Philosophy.
When I moved to the plateau in 1992, this night sky was masquerading as a lawn of Kentucky Blue Grass. Once it relaxed in my presence, though, it took off its mask. Et voilà.

Adam (peering over my shoulder and chewing on a grass stalk): “That was God’s first operating system, OS1, slowly grinding through its tasks.”

Eve (from the kitchen, stirring a pot of potato and leek soup): “Meanwhile, it seems, while it chugs through its bites, everyone is alone on a huge and uncaring earth, aren’t they.”

Adam: “Uh-huh. Where a grizzly stares at you and stares at you and stares at you and stares at you.”

Harold (tentatively): “Where if you hang around long enough you become dinner?”

Eve: “What a beastly world!” (She sets a bowl of steaming soup in front of me.) “Don’t you think?”

Adam cocks an eyebrow and passes me some bread.

I, of course, try not to get involved in domestic arguments.

I change the subject.

(Here’s the poem I told them instead -- kind of like putting your fingers in your ears and saying ahhhh!)

A Lighter than Air Poem by Aram Saroyan
In the American Senate, this poem was used as an example in an argument for discontinuing all arts funding in the United States of America. Whoever said that poetry had no power?

Everybody’s a philosopher. For instance, a grizzly stalked my wife and the kids and me once, for two and a half miles in Wells Grey Park in October.

"Grizzly Warning!"

The Oregon Department of Fish and Game recently issued the following bulletin: In light of the rising frequency of mountain biker/hiker/grizzly bear conflicts, the Oregon Department of Fish and Game is advising mountain bikers, as well as hikers, fishermen and hunters to take extra precautions and keep alert for bears while in the field. We advise bikers to wear noisy little bells on their clothing so as not to startle bears that are not expecting them. We also advise mountain bikers to carry pepper spray with them in the event of an encounter with a bear.

It is also a good idea to watch for fresh signs of bear activity. Mountain bikers should recognize the difference between Black Bear and Grizzly Bear droppings: Black Bear droppings are smaller and contain lots of berries and squirrel fur; Grizzly Bear droppings have little bells and smell like pepper.

Well, I guess, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, that’s all.

Up here on the plateau, for instance. In between the philosophers, we got trees and we got snow. They don’t stare, not like a grizzly stares, but the snow does fall. In fact, the snow falls wherever whenever. Sometimes it falls in October. A lot of it falls in December and January. The worst snowstorms are often in March. Sometimes it falls in the middle of July. You get meltdown in February and hail in December. You get black ice pretty well every month between September and May. And you got trees. The trees, well, you just can’t stop the trees, can you.

Philosopher Contemplating Eating a Poet
before hibernating under a tree stump.
Now a movie by Werner Herzog.

For a little animated preview of a bear making his move, go here. Awww. The real bears are almost anti-climactic, aren’t they.

The little trees seed themselves in my driveway, if I don’t rake it for a couple weeks. They peak up between the grains of gravel like sequoias in the Jurassic. They grow like weeds along the natural gas pipeline, and along highway rights of way, and in the ditches of logging roads that cross-stitch the plateau like one of Eve’s dropped knitting projects, and on the clearings of old logging shows, and pretty much every place in between. They grow like that for two hundred miles in any direction.

Hot Tip! For a picture of Eve’s sewing machine, go here.

Well, Christmas, right. It's coming quick. What's a guy to do? Thing is:

either you cut one of those wild and woolly trees down for a Christmas tree and set it up in your living room with gingerbread, or in a decade a crew is going to come along with saws and cut it down themselves. Leave the trees lying there by the tens of thousands. Let them turn brown and drop their needles. Trip over the damn things. In a world like this, what the point is of getting a Christmas tree from a box under the stairs, I dunno.

It’s like eating caviar, I think.

Caviar for the Masses!

Not if these guys smiling out of the cover of Orion magazine can help it! Here’s a quote to whet your whistle (I tell ya, it looks like a film set of Gooooood Morning Afghanistan!):
In less than seventy years, Soviet communism turned the breadbasket of Eurasia into a nation dependent on American wheat and grateful for foreign aid in the form of frozen chicken legs (which Russians affectionately called nogi Busha -- Bush's legs -- for George Sr., who sent them).

Nope. It’s just best to set the tree up in the corner and break out the cards and the rum and cokes. Shuffle the deck, see what comes up, see what game we are going to play this time. Put your environmental attention elsewhere. Why cards? Simple:

God Does Not Play Dice,
but Eve sure does play cards (and bingo too).
Casino advertising sign. Sugarcane, B.C., November 24, 2005.

Eve’s cool. She doesn’t let it bother her that Einstein said that any physics that maintained that a beam of light was both a wave and a particle at the same time was an incomplete physics, does she! Her knowledge is, shall we say, more elemental than that. By the way, that’s $100 she’s flashing. As was said in the days when Soviet Socialist Realism was official policy in Russia: Art is memory; propaganda is prophecy.

Or, as Andy Warhol said in the days when Soviet Socialist Realism was still the official policy in Russia: An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he -- for some reason -- thinks it would be a good idea to give them.

Yeah, kind of like that tree that God planted in the Garden of Eden. Kind of like that. Kind of. Like that.

Eve on the Problem of Being a Particle and a Wave
in a Vast Universe of Eligible Men with Money
“My horoscope says I should expect an exciting time with my partner today...
if I only knew which one!”
Bild Lilli (from West Germany’s Bild magazine, the Life of the Wirtschaftswunder) was Barbie Doll before she crossed the Atlantic, and after she danced in the cabarets as Marlene Dietrich, and after she ate pears with Adam under The Tree.

So, we’re playing cards. Ok.

OK, these were the rules for the card game that was Germany in 1941; this is how we got into the position of being in a nuclear winter: in Germany in 1941 there wasn’t enough heavy water to cool a nuclear reactor, but there was enough methane, really cold liquid methane, 162 degrees below zero Celsius liquid methane, actually, cold as Jupiter methane, cold as Saturn methane, cold as the beginning of the world methane. There was enough of that natural gas cold as a comet’s breath methane to get a reactor running very slowly, enough of that cold as the bent space around the burbling sun methane, enough of that pay no royalties to the government of British Columbia methane (like one of those gas-powered heaters they used to put in Volkswagen Beetles), enough of that don’t-you-pump-that-methane-from-our-ocean-floor-methane, enough of that Lethbridge feedlot methane, to end the Second World War before it had hardly begun.

The Wirtschaftswunder was Heated by Carbon Monoxide.
Wirtschaftswunder: wave version, particle version.
Those heaters did not keep the cars warm.
I remember driving around with my friend Nancy in her little blue VW Bug, and reaching my hand out the window to pull the wipers back and forth in the rain. That was back in 1977. The slightly older picture above is of the launch of one of the first models by the German army on its invasion of Poland. Here is an excerpt from Hitler’s speeches about the launch of the VW line, on February 15, 1936.

...the intensive development of our most modern sector of the transport industry depends on the complete freedom of a People to make use of it, and I mean by this the absence of legal and psychological restrictions. It is no more asocial to buy a car than it once was to use a sheet of glass in a window instead of the traditional piece of oilskin. In the beginning only a few people use an invention of this kind; then it attracts more and more people until it gradually includes everyone...

In the latter part of the 1930s, German factory workers had a fee deducted monthly from their pay to pay for the purchase of their very own people’s car.

Adam: “Yeah. Joke at the time among the boys was...”

Eve (Rolling her eyes): “Funny thing about these cars we’re making: they look more like anti-aircraft guns.”

Adam: “Yeah.”

Eve: “To hell with Henry Ford.”

Adam: “Yeah.”

Eve’s right, though: with the dirty radioactive byproducts of such a reactor, kind of like the soot you get out of a wood stove when you have it damped down too tightly and the wood hardly flickers in there, you could, you know, poison London, or New York, even, but at least you wouldn’t blow up your lab in Heidelberg or Berlin. When the German Post Office asked for permission to go through with its cold reactor experiment, Werner von Heisenberg, who was a clever subatomic physicist and official head of the German Atomic Program, said, pshaw, it wouldn’t work. Just in case it did work, though, he requisitioned all the available uranium from the mines in Czechoslovakia’s St. Joachimstal, just, coincidentally, at the time that the post office trial had lined up all the available dry ice. By the time the dry ice had all evaporated, there wasn’t any more available for a long time. It was, after all, war. Things were rationed, you know. That was that.

Ah, but I tell ya, after the war, my uncle Joe got TB in the Russian camp in the Joachimstal, mining that stuff. Before that, he had been the town engineer in the resort town of Reinerz (think palm trees in tubs on the streets and skiers in the winter) just over the German frontier.

Heisenberg’s and Stalin’s Uranium Came from this Valley in Czechoslovakia.
Joe Schreiber got out by swimming a river in the night. His last words in Canada were about how nice it was to have central heating. Then his heart gave out.

Sometimes, though, I wonder who did win the Second World War. I think Heisenberg’s missing methane gets pumped right into my house. I think I use it every day to keep the place warm. I think it cooks my Christmas goose every year, complete with stuffing and all the trimmings.

Is this The German Post Office’s Missing Nuclear Reactor?

Well, yeah. This is Canada, folks. We, um, allow for certain practicalities here. We know how to turn, like, a blind eye, you know. Here on the northern lung of the world, this is a culture of cold: pressurized gas (cold) to heat our (cold) houses when the weather (normally cold) gets, normally, colder; refrigerators (cold, colder, coldest), inside those (over)heated houses to keep our beer cold; air conditioners to cool our houses when they are no longer cold; meat lockers; frozen pizzas; tins of compressed air -- for cleaning off computers that you bought cheap on eBay cuz some dude left a cigarette burning in an ashtray beside the fan for five years -- that can give you frostbite, that kids sniff, sometimes, and their lungs seize up and they turn blue. It’s bloody tragic, that’s what it is.

I think those gnostics were onto something.

There’s a bunch of that liquid methane pouring through the valley just two kilometres from my house, and there’s a whole bunch of cows pouring out the warm stuff, and Timothy Treadwell filmed himself cupping his hands around a pile of grizzly scat, and cried out gleefully that he felt her heat, that this was her life, man, and the Government of British Columbia is swimming in cash from the stuff, and the Government of Alberta has got so many royalties from the stuff that they are just giving the money away, because they’ve come to think that’s what government is for, and the Americans are burning the stuff up to provide electricity, because they’ve come to think that’s what government is for, and the Post-Carbon Institute is pointing out that if we are drilling twice as many wells to get the same amount of gas out, that, in effect, we’ve almost used all of the stuff up, and our whole cold earth, spinning in space like a pear, is getting just a little bit warmer, and we all know what happens when a pear sits out too long on the counter without being eaten: turns to mush, that’s what it does.

NASA Picture of the Gnostic Earth in the Throes of Global Warming.
That’s my house in 150 Mile House, right in the blemish on the upper left.

But wait! The methane is not all gone! There’s still, tada!, super-cooled stuff frozen at the bottom of the sea, left over from the creation of the solar system, like the black chunk of concentrated evil at the end of Time Bandits, just waiting for a sequel.

Chills your hands, it does.

As Samuel Johnson said: When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

Do Not Enter Sign God Nailed to the Gates of the Garden of Eden
After He Booted the Freeloaders Out

Next week: Everything you wanted to know about Eve but were afraid to ask.


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