Monday, March 29, 2010

Elevator to Nowhere

Audio File / Podcast:

It had been a long day. Tinguely Querer was ready to leave her office. But, the elevators were malfunctioning again.

Not relying on the technology to repair the new, streamlined elevator, Tinguely decided to take the old reliable workhorse, the freight elevator.

How appropriate, thought Tinguely, as she felt she was getting a bit husky these days. It was hard to keep up the level of exercise she needed in order to maintain her weight. She was nursing a strained foot from the “turbo Air” footware that failed to live up to its promise of an effortless, injury-free run.

"The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control." (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

The lobby of the high-rise office building smelled of the latest “green” biocide used to keep the mold and rodent problem in check.

The freight elevator door opened slowly. Tinguely saw two men tumble into the door from the street entrance.

“You need to give me back my wallet. Now. I am serious.” A 60-something man was shouting to a young black man wearing a dark brown shirt, tight khaki jeans.

“You need to have a little respect. Respect. Now.” The young black man was on the verge of hyperventilation.

Lalica, the evening receptionist, leapt to her feet. Lalica had dark brown hair, and she tended to wear floral blouses.

“Boys! Stop it right now! There is glass in here! You could get hurt!”

The young black man sank slowly to the floor, put his head on his knees. He was sobbing. The older man pulled the young man’s shirt. “Give me back my wallet. You had no right.”

The sobbing was disconcerting. Tinguely was uncertain what she should do.

“You had no right,” sobbed the young man. The 60s-something man was frantic to get his wallet. He tugged on the young man’s shirt, his pants, groped in his pockets.

“Don’t take that – that’s my new iPod!” wailed the young black man. “It’s the only thing I’ve got that works!”

The malfunctioning elevator door yawned open wide to the dark cavernous shaft.

Pulling something from the young man’s pocket, the 60s-something man darted toward the elevator, not realizing what the door had opened to. He plunged through the open elevator doors.

Tinguely dug out her BlackBerry. “911.”

Lalica nodded. The young man continued sobbing, oblivious. As Tinguely dialed, the foot injured by inadequate running shoe technology throbbed. The malfunctioning elevator door went into spasms of opening and closing.

“It’s going to be hard to get through that,” commented Tinguely.

“The fall probably broke his iPod,” said Lalica.

"Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheaia, truth, happens." (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

Tinguely walked slowly toward the wall of mailboxes in the high-rise apartment building where she was renting a bedraggled two-bedroom apartment. A tenant holding a paisley backpack was fumbling for her key. A tall, slender 70-something man held his restless Pomeranian.

“Bella. Relax. We’ll take a walk soon.”

Tinguely read the notice on the wall:

“Water Off from 6:30 am to Noon. We apologize for the inconvenience. West chase only.”

“No water again?” Her voice was indignant.

It was better not to say anything. After all, there was nothing to add. Her words would not influence the functioning of the plumbing.

“Another suicide. They have to turn off the water. Some kind of repair,” said the paisley backpack girl tenant.

“Well. Having the water off again will surely inspire another suicide. I do not know why it takes them so long to flush out the drains.” The 70-something man was huffy.

“That’s the third suicide this month,” said Tinguely.

“The curling iron in the bathtub may have been an accident.” The man did not seem to like the conversation.

“As was the death of the guy whose GPS unit instructed him to jump off the balcony from the 23rd floor?” asked the paisley backpack girl.

“Our machines are turning against us,” said Tinguely.

“Machines still save time,” said the man. “I love my high-speed coffee grinder and my new microwave.”

“Save time for what?” replied the paisley backpack girl, darkly. “Degradation and mind games?”

The Pomeranian barked, whined, shook her head, rattled her collar.

“Bella, is your ear still bothering you?”

The man’s brown eyes watered, and he patted the dog’s head lovingly.

“We just implanted a chip in Bella’s ear. This way, I always know where she is. She can’t run away from me. Ever again.”

“I wouldn’t trust it. The tracking device,” said the paisley backpack girl, glumly. “Bella is a girl dog. Bella, tear that chip out of your ear! It will only oppress and enslave you!”

“My dear, your comments are most unwelcome. Bella wants me to be able to find her,” said the man. He pursed his lips.

“Me, either. You’ve got to know your machines. You have to show them who’s boss,” said Tinguely.

Bella leapt from the arms of her owner. Her reddish-gold fur shimmered. She barked fiercely at Tinguely.

“Don’t worry, Bella. I’m on your side. I know someone who wants to chip me.” Tinguely looked down at her new Google phone which had built-in GPS, synched to Google maps. People in her Facebook network could tell where she was at all times.

She sighed. It was time to pay someone to take her Google phone and to drive aimlessly to random places, just to teach anyone who would track her movements that she was not going down without a fight.

It was not right to reduce her to a pixel on a digital map, and make faulty conclusions about her supposed movements.

Unfortunately, freedom and privacy were going to cost her money. She would have to get a new cell plan for herself.

The girl with the paisley backpack pushed up her sweatshirt, revealing Japanese calligraphy tattoos. She addressed Bella.

“Look Bella, it’s like this. You are negotiating with a hostile nation. You can’t go in and offer concessions right off the bat. You have to have a few kills under your belt. That gets their attention. It garners respect.”

“Do you realize you are talking to a dog?” asked the man. He placed Bella on the ground, attached a leash to her collar and strode away.

The door to the street opened and closed as the man left, Bella leading the way. The glass panes were clear. The lights of the city were twinkling. The empty parking lot and the abandoned gas station across the street were bathed in an eerie glow.

“You’re going to go on a walk on a night like this?” asked Tinguely.

No one responded.

The door opened and closed again. The night air outside smelled like lilacs and burning plastic.

“This is the way things really are, I guess,” said Tinguely. The chemicals and particulates in the air burned her eyes.

For the first time, she noticed that charred polyethylene smelled oddly of brimstone.

She suddenly could not imagine herself living here long.


"Technology is a way of revealing" (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

Mathematical Knowledge Is Constructed:

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): Mathematics and the political state both constructed from arbitrary states

Giambattista Vico (1668-1774): History is made by humans in collective action

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): The mind is active in the formation of knowledge, and creates categories.

Gottlieb Fichte: The mind “posits” reality and its positing is prior even to the laws of logic.

Hegel (1770-1831): Categories develop through time and history, focus on non-Being from Being to produce the synthesis of Becoming

Marx and Engels: Frameworks (or ideologies) are terms in which people understand the world; math is an ideology?

Poincare: Mathematics is built up from mathematical induction.

Jan E. Brouwer: Mathematics is built from the ability to count

Rudolf Carnap: Logical positivist – we build our idea of knowledge from sense data (logical constructions from sense data)

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934): Cognitive development is in stages; focuses on the social dimension of the development of a child’s conceptual framework

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Skin and Bone Bags We Were Born Into

Podcast / Audio:

"My skin and bone bag is looking even worse than ever," said Tinguely to her dad. He was reviewing a set of maps on their prospect and reviewing where they still needed to lease the subsurface rights. "My face looks haggard. I'm getting fat. Worst of all, I'm getting fat in all the wrong places."

"You don't have anything to worry about. How would you like to be me and have to look in the mirror every morning?" said Dad. "The clock runs just one way. Forward."

"It's the stress," said Tinguely.

They were having coffee at Marvetta's Cafe, a small country diner on State Highway 99 on the way to the oil and mostly depleted oil and gas field in Okfuskee County.

The waitress smiled. She was small and had a rather unwholesome energy, possibly dawn to midnight slugs of coffee and lard-based gravy ladled over lard-riddled biscuits.

"Yup. Pretty ridiculous to be all uppity and prideful about one's body. You get what you're born into. You have what you have," she said Her lips were wrinkled around the edges like a long-time smoker. She was thin, and her skin looked thick

"Pour me another cup, please, JoBeth," said Tinguely, reading the "Hi, I'm JoBeth" tag affixed to the crisp, white waitress blouse. "I'll take an order of biscuits and gravy. Torpedoes be damned. Humor the skin and bone bag while you've still got one."

Dad looked rueful.

"Look at her. Promise her a warm bed, full water bowl and dog dish, and she'll follow you anywhere," said Dad.

Tinguely was surprised Dad would say this. Nothing could be further from the truth."


Yup. No doubt. My skin and bone bag is looking even worse than usual these day, thought Tinguely.

If someone else had said it, I would have smiled, thought Tinguely. She loved poking fun at the hubris of anyone who took credit for beauty, athletic prowess, skin color, and cognitive pizzazz.

Hah! Hubris! Don’t we all know that it’s all a matter of the skin and bone bag we happened to be born into?? Nature vs. nurture? Yeah. They matter. But, by an large, the factors that affect both nature and nuture are totally luck of the draw. What skin and bone bag were you born into?

Well. Whatever it is. Live with it.


We get used to our particular skin and bone bags. Eventually, we figure out how to work them. We learn how to get the maximum benefit from them – we learn just what everything takes.

Good grief. This sounds like we’re going into a conversation about aging, illness, and passages. I don’t want to think about that. We all go through it. I have a friend who has convinced herself that it must not be such a bad thing – after all, every person who is born has to die. So, why should dying be any more traumatic than being born?

Of course, some people are dying even as they are born – at least that’s what some would have you think. I, personally, think that no one is born until they take their first breath. I know that’s ethically problematic, but it’s easier to measure, easier to deal with. I hate to think of all the women who have been forced into abortions (either by cultural, economic, or political exigencies) are going to go to eternity as murderesses. It is just not possible.

Nature is harsh. Human practices are equally so. If we take the right-to-life approach, we could stand back in amazement and horror as a gardener weeds her garden. If we take this logic to an extreme, we can see problems with pesticides and herbicides as well. But, we should look at “culling” as something horrendous, heinous, heart-wrenching.

That’s the way it is.

Birth, death, cycles, eternal return. These are the words that self-juxtapose in my mind.

Then, of course, the narrative of eternal return – the apocalyptic narrative.

I’m sick of it.

You’d think everyone else would be equally sick of it. I mean, what’s so seductive about the end of the world as we know it, and the “reconquista” – the reordering of the world, in the image of those who have the forebearance to stick around and do the defining/ redefining…?

What’s so seductive about mass death followed by mass re-animation?

I used to like it. Now it just seems tiresome. Hah. It’s endless. The narrative has a built-in self-destruct mechanism.

Sadly, we’re foolish enough to apply that internal, built-in self-destruct narrative into virtually everything we build and onto which we depend for our profit, our prosecution (of wars), our progeny, and our pride.

Yeah. That’s it. Keep it going.

Hah. I think not.

Nice to be addicted, isn’t it? Adrenaline junkies? Does that explain it? No. We’re closure junkies. It’s ugly.

So. We plaster virtually everything we do or create with a narrative that – well, really – never ever fits. Think of an artist crunking in paint on a canvas. Think of sloppy, thick brush strokes. No – think of a palette knife. That artist slathers on the paint like “lashings!” of clotted cream. Oh yes, those thick globs of paint are sweet, but they’re also messy and all too sweet/sour. I’m just saying that to let you know the apocalyptic narrative has become a brush with way too much paint; a palette knife loaded up with ugly pigment to be applied in big ugly globs on a canvas we call our life.


Stop it! Our lives are too delicate, with thin threaded lace for structure. It’s just not fair to slam down the 20-tonne narrative – apocalypse – on the fragile scaffolding we’ve erected and which we’ve started to call consciousness.

This life has too much imbalance.

It’s like throwing a shotput into a flowerbed filled with tiny, delicate leaflings and new blooms.


I don’t know what else to say.

I must stop.

Forgive me as I weep.


"I'll have the same," said Dad. He ordered biscuits and gravy.

"Are you sure that's what you want? The sodium. Your cholesterol." Tinguely realized the hypocrisy but continued to speak.

JoBeth winked at Dad. Tinguely's face flushed. She felt annoyance, but decided not to respond. It was't worth it. After all, it was all in fun. Was it the waitress's fault she wasn't invited to play the same game?

"Live it up. Gather ye rosebuds, as they say," said Tinguely. "Carpe diem."

A truck backfired. A flock of starlings squawked, left droppings on whatever lay below. A cloud passed over the sun. The shadow passed quickly.

They were hungry.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Vanished Without a Trace: Clowser, Hurricane Hunter

Podcast / Audio recording:

Tinguely Querer had decided to buy old Clowser's farm. She still remembered the night old Clowser's barn burned down and the stories that were told. It was now on the market, and Tinguely sensed that the unsolved mystery of Clowser's son's disappearance could be solved if only she could take possession of the farm, and the new barn they built on the ashes of the old. His plane went missing in the Bermuda Triangle years ago.

"Why cash? Why not a loan?," said Evalina Baugrozen.

Evalina was an attorney, but not a very confident one. But, something about Tinguely gave her new-found "brass" and spunk. She was not experienced enough to realize that Tinguely had made her a fantastic deal -- not because of generosity, but because of sentimentality.

"I want to get this done. I want to close quickly," said Tinguely.

Tinguely had just advised her father not to sell his wheat farm in Grant County, Oklahoma, with a "take or pay" contract with a pipeline company to sell the gas produced from the Red Fork sand. The wells were in the middle of the Cherokita Trend.

"You've got a good deal, Dad. It's rare any more that the minerals go with the surface." It was something she said often to her father. In fact, she had used his wheat farm and oil production as a case study for one of her courses in her MBA program.

Evalina looked at Tinguely.

"What is it that you see in the old Clowser place?" asked Evalina.

"It's complicated," said Tinguely. It was not really complicated at all. She wanted Clowser's farm.
Tinguely's judgment was compromised by her sentimentality. She liked to idealize her childhood. Her early years were lonely. She learned to read music before she could read words. She was four and reading music, playing the piano in recitals. Mrs. Crow, her teacher, considered Tinguely her prodigy. Things might have progressed, but Mrs. Crow's husband graduated from the University of Oklahoma, and he and his wife, the lovely Mrs. Crow, moved to a town that had offered Reverend Crow a position in their parish.

Did either one have any idea? Of course not. Their psyches had been tainted by "righteousness" -- they were just so convinced of their moral authority, and that they had taken the "high road" -- even though there was not one scrap of evidence to support them.

Flash Memory. Return to the summer her parents moved to the house at the end of a isolated cul-de-sac, positioned like a strange apostrophe to a developer's fantasy, between wheat farms and a strange, overgrown set of fields, farm ponds, farm house, and big barn.

No one ever saw anyone at old Clowser's farm. Rumor had it that his family had homesteaded the 160-acre patch of South Canadian River bottomland. He owned it outright, being the only child of the original homesteaders' only child. Old Clowser himself had an only child - a son -- who, sadly, disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle while flying his instrument-laden small jet into the eye of a Caribbean hurricane.

He was a "Hurricane Hunter" for NOAA, and he paid the ultimate price for poking the eye of the hurricane. No one even remember the name of the hurricane that took him into some unknown dimension -- probably shattered to bits, but the conspiracy theorists preferred the idea of alien spacecrafts sucking in trespassers into "their" airspace. Some scientists liked to conjecture that the Bermuda Triangle is a place where space warps back on itself. Dark energy becomes a force that pushes time and space, not just wind and rain and hail... Several scientists hypothesized that the atmospheric conditions resulted in tunnels of dark energy, and a virtual space warp.

Some suggested that Clowser's son's plane was pulverized by the high winds, and Young Clowser himself fell to earth (or water, as the case might be), like a twentieth-century Icarus, whose hubris was not his own, but was inherited -- by brazen, transgressive folk who believed that just by casting their eye on a particular place or space, they could "own" it -- regardless of previous or existing claims.

Clowser's son was an Amelia Earhardt without the glamour and publicity. He was a risk-taker. He went solo. He was an aviator for reasons other than the love of soaring on rivers of air. He loved punching into the place beyond the edge. Kick into another dimension. Smack life into your truest heart. What does that mean? Don't look. Don't care.

Stats and Facts:
Eighty-seven percent of missing aircraft go missing in the Bermuda Triangle.
Intense super-cells develop between high and low-pressure air masses.
In the transition zone, it is not uncommon to find "electrical fog" -- static electricity so thick it looks like fog.
Some scientists have speculated that horizontal electrical tornadoes form -- they are tunnels of dark energy.


When Clowser's barn burned, someone said a fireball shot out of the barn door. It occured because of hay dust.

"You know, hay dust is as flammable as gasoline," said one of the firefighters who was interviewed for The Norman Transcript. "It's the same thing that can happen in a grain silo. Static electricity can ignite it. It can happen at any time."

Tinguely read about St. Elmo's Fire. It was static electricity that dance along the sails in old clipper ships and the galleons favored by buccaneers. Tinguely wondered if there might be more St. Elmo's Fire in the Bermuda Triangle than in other places.

Was "electric fog" something you could find in windy places on land as well as sea? Could a tornado churning through the Texas Panhandle be accompanied by roiling electrical fog?

She had the feeliing that there was some sort of energy triangle that came together right where Old Clowser's barn burned to the ground.

There had to be a connection between the barn, the fireball, the Bermuda Triangle, and Old Clowser's only son, that intrepid young "Hurricane Hunter" who vanished without a trace.


"Tinguely, you'll be happy to hear your offer was accepted," said Evalina.

"Thank you, Ms. Baugrozen," said Tinguely. She pronounced Baugrozen so it sounded like a large mastiff's bark.

"Now that you have the land, do you have any plans?" asked Evalina. "Do you plan to put in a housing addition?"

"I'm going to build a barn."

"Farming? That doesn't seem like you, if you don't mind my saying so," said Evalina. She snapped her black patent clutch shut after replacing her pen and her BlackBerry.

"Not farming. Hurricane hunting," said Evalina.

"Well, I think you may be barking up the wrong tree if you plan to build a barn to do that. Unless, of course, you fill it with computer link-ups to weather satellites."

"I'm still working out the details," said Tinguely.

"Well, do what you like. The Clowsers were well thought of in their day. They homesteaded the place, you know," said Evalina.


It was done. The deal was inked. Now all was left was to slip into a horizontal tube of dark energy and seek the place where space warps back on itself.

Then she could do it again. Watch that ball of fire, that fireball of inflammable hay dust, and determine if it happened the moment knowledge itself sparked -- or perhaps self-awareness -- sparked, ignited, and caused the seekers of consciousness and perception to vanish without a trace.

Highly recommended blog: Jefferson Hansen