Thursday, April 30, 2009

Merchants of Light

I'm in Dumas, Texas, at the Window on the Plains Museum, and I'm thinking about Francis Bacon's The New Atlantis, written in England in 1623. It is a resolutely utopian work of thought and political philosophy, and I'm struck by the role of the "Merchants of Light" -- individuals whose job it is to traverse the world for intellectual treasures and to bring them back to share, and to create repositories of knowledge and learning.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009


Podcast: Biggles Murply.
Winston, the chubby miniature pug, had eaten all the snacks in his dish. Bliggles Murply, the pug with floppy ears, still had kibbles and bits. So, Winston decided to eat them while Bliggles Murply was not looking.

Winston ate things so that the other dogs could not. He would eat their food even when he was not hungry and when he knew it would make them angry. Winston was not afraid of the other dogs’ reactions.

Perhaps Winston should have been afraid, though. Perhaps he should not have eaten Bliggles Murply’s food.

Bliggles Murply was magical.

Bliggles could read dogs’ minds. It was partly because he was a dog himself, and it was partly because he had sneaked into the kitchen when Great-Aunt Erlitza was brewing a potion and he lapped it all up while it was cooling in a bowl on the countertop.

It was supposed to make a person invisible, but, like all of Great-Aunt Erlitza’s potions, it did not work as intended. Instead of making bodies invisible, it made thoughts visible – but only to the person or the dog who happened to drink the potion.

“What’s mine is MINE!” thought Winston. For Bliggles Murply, Winston’s thoughts were like a bright green neon sign.

“You are a greedy little thing, aren’t you?” muttered Bliggles Murply.

Winston looked at Bliggles Murply. He snuffled, snorted, and drooled a bit as he smiled.

“What’s mine is MINE!” yapped Winston.He trotted over to Bliggles Murply’s blanket. Then he sat right down on top of it.

“Just saying it is yours does not make it yours. You are sitting on my blanket,” said Bliggles. “I’m going to tell Little Anna.”

“So what,” said Bliggles. “Little Anna is mine, too.”

“Well. I will fix that!” thought Bliggles Murply. Winston would learn the error of his selfish ways.

While Bliggles Murply thought about what he would do to teach him a lesson, Winston ran upstairs to Little Anna’s bedroom, scurried under her bed, and pulled out her left shoe. Winston chewed on it, the corner of his lip turning up in a big, fat smile,

In the meantime, Bliggles Murply decided that he would he would hide Winston’s dog dish. That would teach him that he could not eat everything in sight.

Winston ran down the stairs, Little Anna’s chewed shoe in his mouth.

“What is mine is MINE! Little Anna’s shoe is mine! She is mine!”

Bliggles Murply sat down, scratched his ear, and shook his neck until the dog tags rattled against the buckle of his collar. He was frustrated. Didn’t Winston realize that every cat and dog that met Little Anna thought the same thing? Everyone thought that Little Anna belonged to them, and them alone.

“If I had a dime for every dog, cat, rat, or human being who thought that they owned something just because they wanted it, I’d be rich,” thought Bliggles.

Time to teach Winston his lesson.

“I ate your food,” said Bliggles Murply to Winston.

To his surprise, Winston did not care. Instead, he started gnawing on the corner of the heel of the shoe.

“Hehe – you thought that you could take Little Anna away from me by stealing my dog dish. You are wrong. You were busy stealing the little prize. In the meantime, I grabbed the bigger prize. I have Little Anna’s shoe.”

“What kind of prize is that?” asked Bliggles Murply. “It will just make Miss Anna angry with you!”

“Which is bad? I don’t think so,” said Winston. “After all, she will pay attention to me. In fact, she won’t pay attention to anyone else while she is trying to teach me new tricks.”

“You mean tricks like sit and shake hands? You already know how to do that,” said Bliggles Murply.

“She doesn’t know that. She will think that she’s taught me all sorts of things. She will love me. I will own her.”

“Oh.” Bliggles Murply did not know what to think. Obviously, Winston was right.

“I own her” glowed in green neon over Winston’s head. Bliggles Murply growled low in his throat.

Winston snorted and smacked as he returned to chewing Little Anna’s shoe.

Bliggles Murply wondered: Should he chew up Little Anna’s other shoe? Should he start a fight with the cats? Should he make a mess in the kitchen?

No. It was too much work.

So. Bliggles Murply slunk off to his dog bed. Then he tried his best to ignore the neon green thoughts flashing over Winston’s head.

He hoped Great-Aunt Erlitza’s potion would wear off soon. People’s thoughts were too hard and conflicting to ever really get a clear picture.