Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Top 18 (minus four months) of 2011

Contrarienne is very grateful that not everything in ones and zeroes is garbage. She spent all New Years Day culling the year past for the best links that fed this site in 2011. But by the time she hit April, she was worn out and quit. Then she remembered she had to do the new video embed and that's a pain, really. So she procrastinated.
  Of course, she should have thought of all that a day or two earlier and got it up on Saturday, but her editor was busy with other things and forgot to remind her.

As an intro, let's start with a little Tennyson. He had to wait fourteen years to marry his intended, the family fortune having been lost to bad investment. Nevertheless, marry they did and produced two sons. The success of his poetry allowed him to buy a house in the country where he could have solitude to write. You don't see that kind of thing much nowadays, do you? I'm looking at you, Billy Collins. (See below.)

1. Dec. 25. Much to my surprise, the multiverses are not only much smaller and inaccessible, but also much larger. I stand corrected better informed, but no more stable.

2. Dec. 8. Best poem. No contest, note last line. Take it, Billy.

Aristotle by Billy Collins

This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.

This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes—
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

4. Nov. 28. Must read o' teh year. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
You say lazy, I say ego depletion.
 But System 2, in addition to being more deliberate and rational, is also lazy. And it tires easily.
5. Nov. 26 Paper (unlike sand, see below) is fabulous!

6. Is this what they mean by keeping it real?

7. Laugh o' teh year. "Digression, cast adrift on the buoyant Dead Sea of your own narrations, is a sign of old age, and remarked by ancient moralists and proven by modern neurology and brain science to be a symptom of natural decay of the aging brian, so let me conclude with one, which now that I consider it, is not really a digression at all, though this present clause surely is:
January 13, 2010: I am defending to a colleague the wisdom of the police rounding up the usual suspects.
Me: Claude Rains was being more than a mere cynic, which of course he was also being, when he said "round up the usual suspects" because the usual suspects were not innocent but the known criminals of whatever the city was, Tangiers, Marrakesh, I forget which.
Colleague: Casablanca
Me: I am going to shoot myself.

9. I play this all the time. All. The. Time. It's attributed to Mississippi John Hurt but is only available by Gillian Welsh on a tribute album I bought once by mistake.

10. Contrarienne predicts: 2012 is a presidential election year. What a great opportunity for Occupy Everything. Just sayin'.

11. Contrariennes o' teh year: Cassinni and Voyager planetary imaging scientist Carolyn Porco, and Helen Frankenthaler.

12. Margeret Atwood's not worried about Facebook and Twitter, so neither am I.

13. Headline o' teh year: Riots in London worsen, stock markets drop and is it all over for hitchhiking. BBC, Aug. 8.

14. Aug. 7. Definition o' teh year:

First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. Bertrand Russell
15. Recipe o' teh year: Bacon Jam.

16. ABD update. How could I have forgotten them?

17. Lest we forget, Too Big To Fail. Top of my Save list on Netflix.

18. In Memoriam Douglas Adams. Because we all should read a little DNA each year.

There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be, but we have done various things over intellectual history to slowly correct some of our misapprehensions. Curiously enough, quite a lot of these have come from sand, so let's talk about the four ages of sand.
Happy Jan. 3, 2012.

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