Friday, December 29, 2006

Words borrowed from Si Muhand U M’hand

J'ai juré que de Tizi-Ouzou
Jusqu'a Akfadou
Nul ne me fera subir sa loi
Nous nous briserons
Mais sans plier
Plutôt être maudit
Quand les chefs sont des maquereaux.
L'Exil est inscrit au front
Je préfère quitter le pays Que d'être humilié parmi ces pourceaux.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Leges motus

my hand casts Newton's spells
careless stone obeys
water submits
five rings fade

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Koan, kindergarten

Did they stop calling it "Indian style", because nobody knows if they mean Indian or Indian?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Koan, recursion

It would be insanely postmodern if he is sketching me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Excerpt from an interview with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, December 7, 2006

[Full transcript]
MR. THOMAS: Thanks. Well, it was good being with you.
SEC. RUMSFELD: It's good to see you.
MR. THOMAS: When you get things, you know, straightened out, come down and see a movie with us. I promise it won't be a war movie.
SEC. RUMSFELD: What kind of a movie?
MR. THOMAS: We got a movie theater we kind of like in our house.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, do you really?
MR. THOMAS: Yeah, we decided we're not leaving anything to the kids, so we're spending it on ourselves since I earned it.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, damn right. That's my answer. (Laughter.)
MR. THOMAS: (Laughs.) There you go. And so we have this nice movie theater with surround sound --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I've heard these home theaters -- you have chairs that --
MR. THOMAS: Oh, they're fun. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah do that. You can sleep, you can do anything. It's very cool.
SEC. RUMSFELD: My wife --
MR. THOMAS: Juke box, all kinds of stuff.
SEC. RUMSFELD: My wife loves movies.
MR. THOMAS: Oh, good. Well --
SEC. RUMSFELD: She goes all the time with a group of women, and I have not been in six years to the movies.
MR. THOMAS: It'll be fun. I got one for you that'd you'd really love. You got it this Christmas. Get for her and watch it together. It's called "Akeelah and the Bee." Starbucks is involved in it. It's about a little African-American girl, 11-years-old, growing up in Crenshaw in LA. Her father's been killed by some hoodie. Her brother's about to become a hoodie. And they discover that she has this great gift of spelling. Laurence Fishburne is in it, Angela Basset. She goes out and redeems everybody. I mean, this is about every value we care about. Hard work overcoming honesty, integrity. I'm sitting there I'm balling away. I'm cheering for the kid.
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Inaudible) --
MR. THOMAS: (Then they have a bee ?). A-K-E-E-L-A-H -- maybe -- and the B as in spelling bee --
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
MR. THOMAS: I guarantee you I'll give you your money back if you don't love this movie. You will absolutely love this. It's got everything. There's not a white guy -- the only white guy in it is the principal of the school. Everybody else is minority, everybody else gets along.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Did you like the "Sound of Music?"
MR. THOMAS: Of course I liked the "Sound of Music."
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, so did I.
MR. THOMAS: And you know something?
SEC. RUMSFELD: People laugh at that.
MR. THOMAS: Well, I want to you something. I stalked Julie Andrews for 40 years before I finally got her.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Is that right.
MR. THOMAS: On our shelf, a picture of us having tea together in New York.
SEC. RUMSFELD: How long ago?
MR. THOMAS: Two years. But I --
SEC. RUMSFELD: She's showing her years.
MR. THOMAS: Yeah, well -- no, she looks great.
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
MR. THOMAS: I waited for her outside the Majestic Theater in 1962 in the rain. That's when it started.
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
MR. THOMAS: And that's how I opened the letter to her, you know. So anyway, you got more important things to do.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Good to see you.
MR. THOMAS: Good to you see you, and let's stay in touch.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Terrific.
MR. THOMAS: And come and see a movie. You will love that one, I guarantee it. Merry Christmas.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you. Very good.
MR. THOMAS: Thanks, everybody.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ruminate, enumerate

I just heard some troubling news about the funding of my office. No, it’s not curtains for ERD’s place of work (we do something like this dance every year), it's just not the sort of thing that I like to hear 7 days after signing all of those mortgage papers.
It’s gotten me thinking about how much life is about numbers, and how those numbers express a remarkable art. At times like these, when words escape me, I am left with numbers. Some are immutable, some changeable, others a wilderness.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Five pieces of strangers’ lives, or words overheard on an otherwise quiet train

“I’ve been doing a lot of amputations lately.”

“No. The problem is, we’re still not liquid.”

“My therapist was right. God really does hate me.”

“Where are you? No. Where are you?

“When I’m richer than you, I’ll be giving the gifts.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

The roses

Despite having convinced myself that I had no time between studying finance, packing boxes for the move, and preparing for a Thursday meeting, Wednesday evening I attended a reception at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
I didn’t get much time to look at any exhibits beyond the vicinity of the reception, but the venue itself is fantastic.
American Art shares (as it has for some time) the old US Patent Office Building with the National Portrait Gallery. The Greek Revival building was recently renovated to add a great deal of color and a sense of movement. Reopened this summer, the space is worth a visit in and of itself.
The event was for me a good reminder to stop and smell the pinot grigio and wild mushroom tarts.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Long-overdue requiem for Pluto

It finally happened, nearly three months ago now. On the 24th of August, 2006, Pluto ceased to be a planet.
Having been an astronomy student in the days of Hyakutaki and the epic Shoemaker-Levy 9, I was for a couple of years drunk on the unflatteringly named sub-discipline, known as “debris astronomy”.
The debate over Pluto’s planetness had already been raging for decades when I joined the periphery of the fray. The detested debris astronomers argued the matter like foxes discussing security arrangements for the chicken houses. The geology and planetology crowd defended the little ball of ice with the ferocity of a mother hippo guarding her calf. The cosmologists: “What? That? Who cares? Hey, did you see what Ed Witten just wrote?”
It occurs to me that the Voyager spacecraft are speeding toward the edge of our understanding, carrying artifacts that declare to whomever finds them, that Pluto is the 9th planet in our solar system. We were sufficiently certain of this fact at one point to make such a permanent declaration.
I’m packing a lot of boxes lately, having more or less sold my house and bought another one. I recall opening the door to my current home, thinking that I was far too young to own anything as complicated as a house, and that after the odyssey that was the purchase, convincing myself that I would never contemplate doing that again.
My home has become Pluto in July, hurdling toward a change that will have no immediate effect on its composition or appearance, a change that will be impossible to recognize from a distance, but a change no less significant.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Friday, November 03, 2006

[work in progress, yet untitled]

Dervish ink
slices out tiny circles
(some might say serif)
driven to bite like a sharp axe
burried in my chest
by lunatic arms
I drink a broth
of red & white fungus
and wear a shirt
rendered from the hides
of bears or boars
in ecstatic hope
Lacquered hair crowns me
and blue earth-pigment
adorns mine eyes
as I gaze at stars
directed to rise over

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Four hundred eighty-nine years ago today, Martin Luther posed a series of questions to his community, inviting scholarly debate on a breadth of religious concerns. He would be persecuted for asking questions, refusing to recant, and otherwise deviating from the orthodoxy of his church and the academic community. The confluence of national and religious politics, the proliferation of print, and Luther’s philosophy would become one of the formative events of the modern era.

Every year, this august observance makes me feel proud to have been raised in the tradition of Luther's theology. Each year, I also find that this event raises a host of unanswered questions. I debate theology over beer with Roman Catholic friends, and find myself increasingly concerned over the return to reactionary and exclusive doctrines practiced by believers with whom I share a common name.
This anniversary also turns the lens of scrutiny on continued (or perhaps redoubled) mingling of religion and government. Many of my friends contend that the state should be an atheist and that believers should cloister any opinion related to a religious conviction within the walls of their place of worship. I argue that the state has no more business adopting the dogma of the atheist than it does proselytizing Christianity or Islam or deism.
The attempts of political parties to infiltrate religious doctrine has become an even greater ethical hazard. If we allow politicians to back policy decisions and laws into religious philosophy, then we invite monarchy. In the days when state was coupled to church, autocrats ruled by claim of divine right, making their whims, whatever they may be, morally unassailable.
The assertion that any political entity works on behalf of and with the authority of any deity is as poisonous as it is laughable. Which party is honest? Which is not guilty of skirting (or patently breaking) the law of the land for political gain? Is there a party that has not indignantly decried its enemies for doing something its own members are guilty of? If we cannot trust these organizations to consistently attempt to uphold the secular laws and standards they seek to set, why would anyone invite them to greater authority?
Regardless of your religious convictions, today is an opportunity to question the leaders in your community, both political and religious. Read, question, reflect, act. There are important decisions only a week away.

Your politics are your own. Whatever they may be, register to vote.

Friday, October 27, 2006

My notebook remains a Quaker meeting

The spirit is willing, but the pen is weak.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Friday, October 13, 2006


I believe the last three weeks (and I predict the ensuing month at least) constitute one of those periods in which my blog becomes a little grown-over. Other matters, on which I have little doubt I will pontificate and complain to the reader, have demanded my attention.
Still, I have been ruminating on the idea of influences and connection, and rather than posting yet another haiku or koanic image, I’ll share a list of books that have influenced my thinking and writing over the last year, though I’ve probably forgotten a few. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything these authors have offered in these titles, I can with limited exception recommend all of these to the reader.

A Great Improvisation, Stacey Schiff
The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi
The Art of War, Sun Tzu
Pomes All Sizes, Jack Kerouac
Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Art of Peace, Morihei Ueshiba
Your Backyard Herb Garden, Miranda Smith
Harvard Business Review on Knowledge Management, various
The Stolen Child, Keith Donohue
Hands-On Environmentalism, Brent Haglund and Thomas Still
The Gospel of Luke (NIV)
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carol
Organization Theory and Design, Richard L. Daft
Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, Manfred B. Steger
The Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier
The Limits of Enchantment, Graham Joyce
Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa
Foundations of Finance: The Logic and Practice of Financial Management, Arthur J. Keown, J. William Petty, John D. Martin, and David F. Scott
The Best American Poetry – 2004, Lyn Hejinian and David Lehman

I also read National Geographic, cover to cover, and the journals Science and Quality Progress, as time permits.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday, September 22, 2006


I wish it were bee, but it is heron. A tribe of sisters and the odd brother, Apis melifera is infinitely social, raising the collective children, and intimately industrious, dancing out the nectar-dance to show all the way.
Heron, Ardea herodias, on the other hand stands alone, watching the fickle horizon or the heavens reflected in the scrying pools at his feet. He divines the secrets of mudbug ecology and of the hard rain heralds, locks them in the vault behind his eyes. His posture and his beak remind me of ibis (whose orthodox name escapes me); the ibis with his peck, peck mud-dipping beak is the aspect of Thoth, patron of the scribes. Three-times Great, Great resolves to absolve himself of his obfuscated philosophy through industrious scribbling. Can heron’s disciple to the same?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


He takes the same train I do
The same A to B
We ve never acknowledged
Neutral scowling rush hour faces
Now he appears at lunch
Arrives in costume to play in the wrong scene
No less disgruntled
At the quiet indignity of eating a sandwich
Than in riding the rails
Another lost actor strolls by my window
Pink flipflops over white lead chevron stripes
Her proper place is the bagel shop
Twenty two miles away
God is running out of actors
In the sitcom of my life
Ratings must be down

Friday, September 15, 2006


Sunday is Constitution Day, in commemoration of the completion of the draft of the US Constitution that we know today. I took a few moments to read the preamble this morning.
It would be a couple of years between the completion of the constitution and the creation of the Bill of Rights, but Constitution Day has turned my attention toward the amendments, as well.
Most Americans know (sort of) the 1st amendment, which guarantees some of our most important intellectual freedoms. Many others focus on the second amendment, no less important, that guarantees Americans the right to provide for their own defense. I find, however, that a staggering number of people haven't the faintest idea of what freedoms are ensured by the other faint brown words emblazoned on that fragile paper. For those who defile these in practice, I challenge you to have the courage to publicly ask for their repeal:

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Elections are fast approaching. The primaries are behind us, and if you haven't already done so now is a good time to start preparing for the generals. I encourage everyone to read the Bill of Rights, inform yourself on the issues at play on your local ballots, and vote with your mind and your conscience. It is never enough to simply show up and punch the ticket along party lines.

Your politics are your own. Whatever they may be, register to vote.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Red states

With the flurry of yahoos scrambling for office on TV, the radio, and at my train station, I found myself discussing politics with a friend of mine the other day. It started with a heated discourse over the pandemic war on terror abroad, which of course degenerated into picking apart the wherefores of the US's current leadership. One term from that discussion, in particular, keeps popping back into my head: "Red states".
In my youth, no self-respecting American would have ever described their state as "red". Red states were the enemy. They mostly loomed on the right side of that clunky Mercator projection wall-map, while we steadfastly defended the left and what was right. That war, though lengthy, behaved itself. Battles were waged in classrooms and by lonely chameleon polyglots in foggy cities, sometimes spawning open-war in far-off places where the outcome didn't affect the price of anything.
Then, like settling into a still pond after days of hiking under a heavy pack, we won. I know this. I remember it. My father keeps a graffitied piece of the Berlin Wall on his mantle, and I've seen an inordinately larger piece on display at a location that does not exist in Langley, VA.
So, I find myself today wondering, where is the brave new world? Wasn't the victorious end of the Cold War supposed to usher-in a utopia of technology, democracy, and free-market riches for all?
I take classes for my graduate degree with a healthy contingent of active-duty military folks. From them, I hear repeated again and again the phrase, "America is the only remaining superpower". When I was much younger, I believed this, too. It may have briefly been true.
In reality, this sentiment over-simplifies our situation. It is an anachronism, declaring a continued universal victory that is predicated on 1970's political thought. How can this definition of a superpower persist in an environment of the economic superpowers of the European Union, or India, or China? Can we continue to claim military supremacy in a world where stateless theocrats raise transnational kamikaze? At the end of the 18th century, another group of stateless ideologues used ersatz weapons, abhorrent tactics, and the quiet aid of a legitimate state to squarely defeat a military and economic superpower.
Moreover, we now risk forfeiting our status as an ideological superpower. Wealth ebbs and flows. Military might is a long race in many stages; the favored competitors are bound to trade the lead on any given day. But the strength of this state lies in its commitment to the ideals of fundamental rights and freedoms.
As we look south to a remnant of the old red states and our enclave there, we must ask, who in this fight is being defeated?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

still pond stirs
pebble wrinkles nod-off

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunday morning meditation

I have no idea as to the origins of the recipe. It may be some piece of folk wisdom, or a hallmark of domestic science handed to my mother by her high school teacher. It is equally likely that it came from the back of a bag or one of the hundreds of back issues of Good Housekeeping that clutter my grandmother's smokehouse.
It is certainly not my grandmother's recipe. I can't make them the same way that she does, as my hands are not the same size as hers and I don't own that wooden bowl that has been scuffed with flour since long before I was born. For her it's not so much a recipe, nor even a rote, as it is a process that her fingers execute without thought, like the complicated but invisible series of motions involved in standing up and walking.
When I'm done casting the spell my mother gave me, working an ordinary feat of practical magic, I have a pan of biscuits that's not exactly right, but that reminds me of the genuine article. I make them more like the authentic ones from my grandmother's kitchen by serving with the proper accoutrements: a mixture of peanut butter* and a syrup that I've never seen sold anywhere outside of Louisiana. At a meal other than breakfast, I might place them alongside black-eyed peas or butterbeans and chowchow.
I don't imagine my readers will be overwhelmed by these little loaves, as they will not evoke for them the memory of sitting on an rough wooden pew, salvaged from the Old Church and placed next to my grandmother's table. However, for those who would like to join me for a simple breakfast some Sunday morning, enjoy:

2 cups of flour
1T sugar
1t salt
1T baking powder

1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup milk

preheat oven to 450
mix dry ingredients
cut in butter
stir in milk
shape into 6 even balls
bake in a dark pan for 15 minutes, more or less

*My brother would wrongly use crunchy peanut butter and too little syrup, while some of my cousins would argue that the mixture requires warm butter. These notions are crazy if not immoral and are presented only as a cautionary example.
Also, if the reader can’t come by proper cane syrup, molasses may suffice in its place.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Yesterday evening, I went to read one of the blogs I frequent, and found that it and the blogster who wrote it are both gone. Click.
I was surprised by my reaction. I've seen blogs evaporate before, and all of the warning signs were present in this one. I found myself melancholy and gently stunned by the disappearance. It reminded me of the vanishing city in The Brief History of the Dead.
This ubiquitous happening unceremoniously cut a thread. (Though, I wouldn't complain if more people rose to the courtesy of deleting their blog after the third and final entry that, two years ago, began with "I'm so bored...") I find a "one step back" scenario in my effort to expand my network of writers, poets, philosophers, artists, and daydreamers.
As I looked over the bare grave-marker Profile screen, I thought back to a sweltering July evening, when I was working one of those jobs that paid the tuition for a couple of years but otherwise remains a footnote in the story of my life. I was working at a driving range, and that night found myself cursing the mosquitoes, telling myself that they were infinitely worse than they had been the previous summer. I thought I must surely be imagining this development.
Glancing over my shoulder at the baleful light coming from the tall lamps illuminating the parking lot, I realized that the phenomenon was not imagined. The dominoes in my head started falling over: the new street lights; the parking lot that now covered the half-acre stand of old trees adjacent to the range; the small army of golf ball-sized bats that had lived in the trees; the memory of watching bats diving in and out of the powerful beams of the overhead range lights; the swarms of insects that were lured into the harsh light, only to be devoured. One collapse yielded dozens of changes.
Now, I grumble to myself over the people who would have followed that lost blog to mine. Hubris. Of course, I realize that this is futile. There was no grand destiny for some reader to follow the convoluted series of sharp angles across the web to spend a moment over what I have written. If there had been, they would have gotten here, or may yet by some other route. For now, I read and write and tie more threads.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

geometric pegs snap into place
I settle back to sleep

Monday, August 21, 2006

How Far We've Come!

ARC Identifier: 539221
Title: Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Heart Mountain, Wyoming. In the press room of the Cody Enterprise . . ., 01/08/1943

Creator: Department of the Interior. War Relocation Authority. (02/16/1944 - 06/30/1946) ( Most Recent)

Type of Archival Materials:
Photographs and other Graphic Materials
Level of Description:
Item from Record Group 210: Records of the War Relocation Authority, 1941 - 1947

Location: Still Picture Records LICON, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S), National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001 PHONE: 301-837-3530, FAX: 301-837-3621, EMAIL:
Production Date: 01/08/1943

Part of: Series: Central Photographic File of the War Relocation Authority, 1942 - 1945

Scope & Content Note:
The full caption for this photograph reads: Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Heart Mountain, Wyoming. In the press room of the Cody Enterprise, Bill Hosokawa, Editor of the Sentinel, Heart Mountain Relocation Center newspaper, grabs the first sheet off the press and scans it for errors. Press work on the Sentinel is done under contract by Enterprise printers. Bill, as editor, prepares the makeup, reads proof, sets type, makes corrections, operates the linotype and locks the forms ready for the press. A Washington U. graduate and former foreign correspondent and west coast reporter, Hosokawa is also an experienced printer and assumes, single handed, the task of seeing that his 8 page tabloid newspaper comes off the press as a first rate sheet.

Access Restrictions:

Use Restrictions: Unrestricted

Variant Control Number(s):
NAIL Control Number: NWDNS-210-G-E664
Local Identifier: NWDNS-210-G-E664

Copy 1
Copy Status: Preservation
Storage Facility: National Archives at College Park - Archives II (College Park, MD)
Media Type: Negative

Index Terms

Contributors to Authorship and/or Production of the Archival Materials
Parker, Tom, Photographer

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Things scribbled on August 10 from 12:11-12:26


my Mondrian wall
golden world dances beyond
she took the choice seat

it hides in plain sight
gnarled tree by the coffee shop
leaving life behind

the jackass and the pachyderm are fighting for the crown
six or an even half-dozen
overzealous congressional staffers
wrinkled suits
phones singing Motown to Providence crackers
wasting their brief lives in servitude
liars, salesmen, and big-tent-revivalists
none better than the last

waiting for Godot
Ray rambles schizoid sermons
I seem to be blind

"no more coffee," my watch scolds me. time to go.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I know it when I see it

Since attending the MAPS Meet, I’ve been on the lookout for instances of folk culture in my own backyard. In the vulgar suburbs, folk culture doesn’t jump out at you the way all of the basket-making and recipes of “real” folk culture do. It can be very difficult to define, but like Potter Stewart said, “I know it when I see it”.
There I was, riding home on the tube, when I saw it- a piece that has been around almost as long as I can remember, hiding in the light. Amidst all of the other graffiti, ranging from hip-hop pop art to drunken-imbecile-with-a-can-of-paint, was a tag that reached back decades. Like so many before (and I hope so many to come) it read
- Cool “Disco” Dan -
This tag hearkens back to my earliest memories of the train. I don’t recall how old I was, certainly not more than 10, the first time I saw it. Then another, and another. Soon it became one of those childhood rituals, like the punch-buggy game, spotting instances of Disco Dan’s work.
In high school came the last realization that this was not the work of an individual. Some were excellent renditions, perhaps by the master himself, others were poor reflections, clear knock-offs. Teenagers suggested an elaborate Dread Pirate Roberts lineage: “I am not the real Cool ‘Disco’ Dan. The man who gave me the name wasn’t either. The real Disco Dan is retired and living like a king in Cleveland Park…”
Throughout college, I don’t recall having seen a single new application of the tag. Old ones weathered, sometimes becoming so faded that I couldn’t have read them if I didn’t already know where they were and what they said.
As I reminisce over the tag, I realize that this instance is along a stretch of track that I travel every day. Moreover, it is a vibrant plum color that does not bear the mark of age. This is new and wrought in the style of the original ones.
Here, on the Red Line, I see continued a tradition of folk art. Some would call it destructive, and I suppose on some level it is. It must be. It would just be a marketing gimmick if you could buy readymade Disco Dan from Target.
I adjust my sunglasses and puzzle over the people and places that Dan connects.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I look at the polished brass frame around the glass door and see an image that reminds me of one of van Gogh's self portraits. A young man, his short beard framing his cheeks, looks back. His blue eyes pierce me, searching for something, but they are fettered by a force deeper than the holes they dig into me. I feel bad for him. I want to give him the answer he's urgently seeking, but he doesn't even know the question. I take a deep breath.
I study the notebook in front of him. Its dusty-blue cover is worn, the helical wire in its spine flattened in a few places. The pages’ edges fan open a little and reveal scuffs of graphite and a few dots of smeared ink. It seems alive, breathing like a horseshoe crab or a spider.
The book’s owner has only looked up from it a few times since he sat down with his coffee. Mostly he has been writing frenetically, first on one page, then another, sometimes flipping three or four pages backward to cross out a single word or add a line of text. Sometimes he just reads one page over and over.
The author furrows his brow and breathes labored breaths, unable to inscribe as quickly as he writes. This is frustrating. Sometimes searching for an elusive word, he fidgets like an animal too long caged. It is as if the act of pushing pen across page is some Herculean effort that weighs as much upon body as mind.
I sit back finally and find that I am equally out of breath.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Arcs reach from London Heathrow to cities on the other side of the pond. These aren’t lines that you would be aware of if you were to stand (or tread water) where they pass. Some might call these lines “imaginary”, but I would argue (perhaps splitting hairs) that they are “conceptual”. They exist in peoples’ minds and within tools we contrive. These lines are of the same stuff that allowed the Sphere to show A. Square the insides of his neighbors’ houses.

The arcs’ intended purpose was to estimate the course of aircraft, connecting Europe to the Americas. Business people, scholars, and tourists would conduct across these lines trade, ideas, and single-servings of culture.
These lines were just hijacked. Of course, nobody destroyed an airplane. No one died. Instead, malice of intent has again derailed innocuous plans.
Today on the ride home from work, people looked over their shoulders. I watched two strangers watch a third prod a McDonald’s bag with the tip of his umbrella. One rider, half joking noted that Friday would be 8/11 and that the Madrid and Mumbai bombings had both occurred on the 11th. They way she wrung her fingers as she laughed at this observation belied her cynical calm.
I was reminded of the invisible cord that reaches across minds and oceans and seems to tie our hands and tether us to something moving in an alarming direction. I recalled that connection is like change or difference; there is a tendency to either deify or vilify it.
As the train whined to a halt at the end of the line I stood up and headed home just like I do everyday, one point intersected by so many lines.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Friday afternoon saw me returning to the office from a conference in Dupont Circle. This was before the wind and the rain that washed-away the oppressive heat. The humidity gave the avenues between the hotel and the metro a claustrophobic character and veiled the sky in a diffusive sand-colored glow. As the escalator took me over that rollercoaster angle at the top, a place other than the one right in front of me came into view. Lamp posts became impossibly green trees; brownstones, temples. The algae-covered concrete tube that conveys riders from the brightly-lit circle above to the dim underworld of trains and tunnels below was a cenote. It was, in fact, a particular cenote I had stood above a month before.
The cenotes are, in the most profane geological sense, the result of the action of moving water on the soluble limestone landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula. Ultimately, the water will leave behind an orotund shaft that reaches down to the groundwater level and far beyond. Convoluted networks of underground channels link one cenote to another, and some of these networks even open into the ocean. I've read that some cenotes, miles inland, contain water that tastes of sea salt.
The cenote I recalled at the station, the one within Chichen Itza, is a primitive thing indeed. A circular chasm two hundred feet across, you’d fall six stories from its rim before you got wet. Birds dive into it, but not as far as the opaque green water, while lizards hunt its vertical walls. It is one of those places where the fortress wall that separates the here and now from a harsh old metaphysics fades into a beaded curtain just out of reach. On the one side are sad domesticated men wearing brown knee-socks with sneakers and carrying camera bags, and on the other side, watching, is that primal thing that made building pyramids and cutting a person's still-beating heart from their chest a good idea.
That gaping maw descends not only into the intimate places of the Earth but well past the thin shell of my mind into an unlit vault within. I can only infer what resides there, the thinking layer of words and analysis buffered from it by the ascetic layer of dreams, and impressions, and memories half-remembered.
I thought about posting one of the pictures my wife or I took of the cenote, but that seems totally antithetical to what it is. Even writing about it is not quite right, the thing being described so far removed from the rational part of oneself that arranges letters into words. To understand the cenote I peered into, recall that evacuated state that you may have only experienced a few times, surrounding rage, lust, victory or defeat, or profound loss.
Places like this one connect the visitor to ideas and experiences that are otherwise outside the network of modern consciousness. The computer on the table in the coffee shop or on the desk in the office deny the observer important pieces of the experience.
Once connected by one’s own experience, these memories become entwined into the network in one’s head. From there, they flow unseen beneath the surface into otherwise inane activities, like walking to the train station.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A metabiography for Dave

He’s what you might call
a nonstandard kind
of person Once when
I had to return
a book to Hornbake
Library Trombley

he says to me I
wanna stay out here
Finish my coffee
he adds with a nod

When I got back to
where he was sitting
someone was putting
change into his cup

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I spent a little time yesterday evening with a couple of Goode's World Atlases. One is from the 1940's, the other a more recent mint. The old one shows a state called Palestine, that looks like the uninterrupted sum of what the new one calls Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, with so many asterisks. The truth of the places and the people living there is so much more complicated than either map can express.

The "conflict" isn't a new one. I tend to think of it as a war unlike any other, raging since before anyone can remember, built upon shifting and sometimes far-flung geography. It is stoked by the opinions, allegiances, and actions of persons outside of the theater-proper, many of whom have no legitimate reason to take sides.
In talking recently about this flame that has fanned itself once more from so many smoldering embers, I heard it again. Someone shrugged and said, "It's such an old conflict. And neither side is blameless. What do you expect?" With that, the speaker absolved a thousand moral failings and excused new excesses, based upon the crimes of the enemies' fathers.
How many have to die before one score equals another? Is there a plan to end the war that doesn't involve something like genocide?
The elephant in the room is the fact that every event in this conflict is the result of a choice- a choice to kidnap or capture soldiers, a choice to respond with force that has ended the lives of more children than men bearing arms, and the spectrum of choices of those outside of the conflict on how to respond. Every time the war is reignited, escalated, or encouraged from afar, someone bears the onus of having chosen war over peace.
No one can decide the outcome of last year's battle or punish someone who died half a century ago. We do, however, have the power to decide if children die tomorrow.

Monday, July 31, 2006

A cartographic aside

The rekindled open war between Israel and Lebanon has prompted me to spend a lot of time with my nose buried in atlases. I post these from some of my favorite sources to lend geographical context, perhaps as much for my own benefit as the reader's.
These two are produced by the US Central Intelligence Agency for inclusion in their World Factbook publication. They are not produced to the same scale. A few weeks ago, looking out across the landscape, you might have been hard-pressed to figure out where and why one of these countries ends and the other begins. Everywhere, it would be bright and dry, and you would run into people who spoke Arabic or Hebrew, or both. Many would probably be able to chat with you in English. Roads, though ultimately interrupted by fences, gates, and people equipped and willing to kill, connect cities in the one to cities in the other.

This is a great general map of the Middle East produced by the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (back when it was still the National Imagery and Mapping Agency). I find that it draws-in the relationships of places like Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and Iraq. Not far beyond the edges of this map are India, Serbia, and Dar Es Salaam.

Friday, July 28, 2006


For whatever reason, I recently had the fever to see names of people I barely knew and their grandparents' names scribbled in hundred year-old books. My employer has a wealth of genealogical resources at the ready, which made the effort almost disappointingly easy. Maybe that’s what incited me in the first place.
My wife's forbearers were easy to follow. A few key strokes, a few clicks of the mouse, and I was looking at the 1790's. Her folks all stayed put, lived in cities, and had respectable jobs.
Not so for my clan. My mother's people all lived down past the ends of dirt roads, and I editorialize from the celerity with which they vanish from record as I go back, didn't care for bureaucrats. Irony.

Following my father's line revealed an interesting riddle, however. He and his half-sister (their relationship in and of itself is an interesting tale, though not mine to tell) know decidedly little about their father's origins. He never said much about his humble beginnings and was, as a more general rule prone to tell things as he saw them or wanted them to be. There were bits of stories about Europe and the occasional, "Semper fi". He was a little too young to have fought in the first World War.
Doing the genealogist jigsaw with all of the "He was from somewhere in New York" or "Kingsport, I'm sure of it" pieces, I found him. There he was in the handwriting of a long-dead census taker, one name sandwiched between so many others.
I had found him, a teenager living with his mother and step father in Bridgeport, CT, Among Austrian-American neighbors whose mother-tongue was listed as “Slavick”. Only he wasn't living with them. Next to my grandfather's name (which had been crossed out) was scribbled the word, "Omit". The only other evidence I had were the words, “Marine” and “U.S.N.”
This piece of the puzzle led to the last piece I could find. A young man with my grandfather's name and birthday had not long before enlisted in the Marine Corps at the New York City recruiter. Only this young man was exactly two years older than my grandfather, and coincidentally, just old enough to enlist.
With this, I did what any real historian would do: interpret, editorialize, and present history as I saw it. The records and the editorial about a young man unwilling to accept a new father filled-in some of the gaps.
This exercise has gotten me thinking about how our personal networks span not just space, but time. Wrapped-up in the convenient package of a database served over the WWW, this pre-digital information system of the US government adds context to a network based upon heritage and genetics. Though, as with most explorations of this sort, the discoveries beg more questions than they answer.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
-Thomas Paine

Monday, July 24, 2006

Dharma koan

[I have no time to write and much on my mind.]

If I am not my job, then what am I?

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Lady, Or the Tiger? Or, What is Montague? revisited

This week, I have been busy with concerns of the world outside of the box. Between catching up on all of the work that was displaced by the flood and finishing a term paper on performance management strategies in cultural institutions, I haven't had much time for writing my blog or keeping current with those I read.
Back in the saddle, I'm told that my previous post about the name of my blog was less than helpful. Those persons who told me this might consider creating a blog identity and posting their feelings so that everyone can read them. In my effort to get readers thinking about influence, I apparently "missed" the tangible connection between phrenology and Phrenology. Silly me.
The notion of cursory observation and summary judgment began for me an inquiry into values. I looked for it and found it everywhere: my place of work, my home, my brain, and of course, every time I turned on the television or radio or opened a magazine. In my mind, I began to question and lampoon our snap-judgment and market research culture, connecting it with the dusty pseudoscience.
The blog started out with a grand plan to explore bias and relationships, but almost immediately began to favor the latter. Moreover, the emphasis also quickly became the act of exploration. I learned yet again that I can't get away from geography and that the digital frontier along this undiscovered country of mind, space, and society is too interesting to leave untrodden. I have my chance meeting with Interscape, Silliman's Blog, and a host of blogs by nascent writers to thank for the shift. Of course all of the things happening in the real world had a hand in the shift. The mind (or perhaps the brain) is an inluence machine.
Maybe I'll rename and rebrand Phrenology, and maybe I wont. Maybe I'll get back to the original scheme and maybe I wont. I can't say for sure, because the road ran out a few steps back, and I don't know which way I'm headed from here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Kantharos and laurel

Today, I'm back "home" at my normal office. The flood has been defeated, and I'm getting tons of work done that has been hampered by the act of God and the ensuing geographical inconvennience.
Despite the fact that I had absolutely nothing to do with getting the building open, I feel victorious. Life is good.
Go forth and declare yourself the Conquering Hero of something today.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Study on "green"

Grassy knoll
wind flips dandelion leaves
Cabo Verde (ha, it's really brown)
Color of life
stolen by dinoflagellates
algae & lichens
Flavoparmelia caperata
devouring sun and rocks
underfoot + overhead
subduing, creating
tying physics to biology
spinning sunlight and air
into agave and lime
after so many, my complexion
I don’t have enough for a cab
it’s yellow anyway


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Good morrow, Werner Heisenberg*

Interscape has been exploring the notion of connectivity. This and my recent travels have me thinking again about interconnection, real and virtual networks, and those Shenandoah falcons. The birds' perch straddles a peculiar ontological line, with one foot in a tangible place, the other dissolved into the web. Whether you consider the WWW to be an inanimate tool or something greater, a confluence of ideas, consciousness, and technology, the falcons are undoubtedly (and unwittingly) part of it.
As they travel and hunt, their nest site is a node. They return there from time to time to eat, to rest, and for other reasons that only make sense to falcons. From it, they connect to other perches, to prey animals, and to sources of water. Each of these interactions careens downhill in a thousand different directions, starting with pathways like small stones falling from high places, rats whose mates never return home, and the uric acid that is a strand in the web of the global nitrogen cycle.
The electronic eyes that beam their image around the world connect them to our web of consciousness. The falcons do not seem impressed by this fact.
I’ve also been looking at the Observer Effect for a graduate class in management I’m taking this semester. In brief, the idea is that by observing something (a system, a behavior, &c), the thing being observed is altered, even if the change is only subtle. This can pose a host of problems for management analysts who are just trying to estimate costs, complete efficiency or job-satisfaction studies, or figure out what in the hell it is that consumers want.
In light of the Observer Effect and the connection of the falcons to the WWW, to me, and to the reader, I’m trying to figure out how we might be impacting the birds and SNP by spying on them.

* Author's Note: E.R. Dunhill is well aware of the distinction between the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Observer Effect. This is one of those opportunities to be evolved and not nit-pick over cheeky blog devices.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Four thousand thirty-two words

Pyramid of Kukulkan.

El Caracol. Literally, “the snail” (a reference to the spiral shape of the central structure), this was an astronomical observatory.

Outskirts of town, a few miles from Chichen Itza.

November Niner Seven Fower Delta Lima

engines zoom

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


It’s been more than two weeks now that my office has been closed because of flooding. I spent the first week at home, drying out my basement, cleaning out my gutters, and pulling out my hair. The second week, I was on vacation, swimming in the Caribbean, climbing Mayan temples, and eating a mix of Continental and Mexican cuisine.
Now, I’m back at work, but not in my usual place. My entire office has been given far flung temporary quarters in one of my agency’s nearby buildings. I’m driving the beltway, rather than taking the tube. Resources I need to work are in my normal office, which is currently dark, hot, humid, and 10 miles away. My normal venue for lunchtime Taiji is steps from the other building. I’ve been getting increasingly grouchy.
Separated from my coworkers, and my office, I am reminded of Emerson: “To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society.”
Between my travel and my temporary relocation, my normal order has been upset and I’ve found some of Emerson’s reflective solitude. This has me thinking about what I’m doing, what I want, and where I’m headed. I’ve given these subjects a great deal of time lately, but I had gotten stalled. Spending more time thinking about them was producing fewer results, and the answers seemed to stay one step ahead of my brain. A trip to the jungle and to a new maze of cubicles seems to be closing the distance.
I thought at first that it was curious that all of this could come out of simply changing my surroundings, but I’m beginning to understand that it’s not really the environment that is changing. Sure, I’ve been in these places and hadn’t before, but my brief and innocuous presence is barely to be noticed and does not leave an indelible mark. These places remain substantially they way they were before I visited. No, the change is mine.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Tuesday, my wife and I visited the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. We arrived there after a long drive through the endless wilderness that surrounds Cancun, punctuated by a couple of quick stops in towns peopled by the heirs of the pyramid-builders. Despite having studied geography in college and having worked for several years in cartography, I was surprised by the first person reality of the landscape.
Miles would fly past us in which the scenery was a homogenous mass of knotted scrub and densely packed small trees. Stretches of forest a quarter of a mile long were leaned at nearly a 45 degree angle, the lingering footprints of Wilma, we were told. Here and there, a farmhouse of cinder blocks and coconut palm thatching would occupy a slashed and burned plot. Towns were collections of simple buildings crowded around the roads in much the same density as the vegetation.
Chichen Itza was as unfamiliar as the landscape around it. Having grown up with constant trips to the national parks of the US, I was surprised at how informal the temple complex was. Local artisans and tourist-junk mongers occupied blankets along the trails connecting the various structures, and concessionaires offered gigante margaritas for US dollars. None of this detracted from the complex in the least, though the tacky margaritas pass only on kitsch value.
The buildings nearly defy words. I’d seen them a hundred times before in books, on art history exams, and as a backdrop to the talking heads on Nova, but in person, it was again the matter of scale that struck me. The ritual ball court spread out like a battlefield; the 70-meter cenote gaped green water and dozens of tiny shrieking birds; the sprawling pyramid of Kukulkan thumbed its nose at the heavens.
El Caracol, an ingeniously designed astronomical observatory was the highlight of my visit and was where I obtained my favorite souvenir. The Maya were brilliant astronomers, geographers, and mathematicians. El Caracol was their observatory, laboratory, classroom, and supercomputer, aligning the world with the heavens, measuring out the year, sighting the cardinal directions, and correctly predicting the future of when to plant, when to harvest, and when to revere. Here amidst the centuries-old paths of astronomer-priests, I connected heavens and earth in my own 21st century cartographer way:

N 20.67923
W 088.57096

Once Blogger starts playing nice again, I'll post some pictures of the temple complex and the towns.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man.

I'm now a month into this blog and I've had a couple of questions about my choice in naming it. No, I didn't just randomly select something weird for the sake of being weird. I'll begin with the definition I get from Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition (1936 printing):

phrenology (fre.nol'o.ji), n. (phreno + -logy; cf F. phrenologie) The study of the conformation of the skull as indicative of mental faculties and traits of character, esp. as according to the hypothesis of F.J. Gall (1758-1828); also, the system of faculties and their localization based upon this hypothesis.

Phrenology was an idea that worked at a time when physicians and academics didn't concern themselves with the trivia or worth of their social and ethnic inferiors. If someone looked different, whether that resulted from a lifetime of poor nutrition and hard labor or from foreign ancestry, there was clearly something wrong with them. Phrenology sought to map out everything wrong with deviating from the appearance of upper-class society of western Europe.
Academia evolved, recognizing that intellect, taste, and morality were not merely burdens of the elite. Phrenology became a joke, an example of bias creating idiotic science that created more bias. Bugs Bunny and C. Montgomery Burns practice phrenology.
Somehow, we've witnessed the recrudescence of phrenology in recent years. It's not more of Sherlock Holmes’ descriptions of the "sloping criminal forehead". It's a bit more insidious than before, but like our first crack at phrenology proper, sounds very convincing.
As readers, observers, and consumers, we are being measured and judged constantly. Advertising companies attempt to sell you an image- an identity- less than they try to promote the merits of a product. Books, magazines, and newspapers are all products edited to present the most marketable content. In making a decision about what to print and how to say it, they influence your thinking on the basis of marketing statistics.
Our interpersonal relationships, from the instantaneous to the intimate, contain similar snap-judgments. Take the AP photographs from New Orleans, describing a Caucasian couple “Looking for supplies”, and another of two African American men “looting”. You do something similar but more subliminal to your friends, your spouse, your boss, and the homeless guy on the corner (whose name in this case happens to be Ray; he used to be a Marine). Of course, you know all of this already. This is our wilderness.
With this in mind, I started Phrenology. Rather than being motivated by profit or politics, I (like many bloggers) write to become a better writer, to interact with you, to learn, to give insight, and because I feel compelled to put pen to paper.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rained real hard and rained for a real long time

ERD’s been quiet the past few days. I got a call from my boss’s boss Monday morning when I was about out the door. “The office is closed. We’re flooded.” Then fell Tuesday, then Wednesday, and now we’re looking at reopening next week.
The servers at the office have been on-again, off-again, so I’ve had precious little to do for my job. Normally, I’d be going stir-crazy by now, but yesterday and today, I stayed busy getting water out of my recently finished basement.

"Little fat man isn't it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers' land."

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Yesterday was the longest day of the year. Obviously this statement will invite a hail of quibbling over details, involving definitions of apsides, the difference between Julian and Tropical Calendars, and may end with a hastily scribbled anelema. Roll with the punches.
This event doesn't consistently align with a calendar date or the beginning of a fiscal year, and falls among all of those other pieces of trivia that you figured out at some point, but don't altogether remember. As a result, it comes and goes without being noticed by most people.
In ages past, such an event was venerated. It was significant. It was a gift from whomever or whatever people believed had created the world. This event was also proof-positive in the competence and wisdom of the leadership. They predicted it, and it showed-up right on schedule.
The solstice remains worthy of observing, especially for those of us married to clocks and calendars. I'm not suggesting painting your face and making a blood-offering. Instead, take this as an excuse to celebrate however it is that you celebrate. Take a walk. Go out to dinner. Talk to a friend.
This event also reminds us to question our own leaders. Read something about politics. Chat with your boss. Inform yourself and ask if the decisions you see are sage and just.