Homo Sapiens at the Monuments

I was inspired with today’s word “camera” to share mostly photos rather than words, although some explanation is required. You see, I have a penchant when we travel for capturing the interaction between humanity and monuments. What tends to catch my eye is potential humanity, in particular, which is to say children being children.

The earth is 4.5 billion years old, humans around 6 million years, and civilization about 6,000, so you might say the rocks have it all over us. As Virginia Woolf once said,

The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare.
–To the Lighthouse

Yet while we stand around in reverence, snapping photos of the million-year-old natural rock bridge or a Michelangelo masterpiece, children do what they do, which is to say play games, be naughty, and generally act as if they own the place. Which they do, in the most essential way.  I first observed this at Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly back in 1993, where a late April water gully created a stream where a dozen Navajo children played. The sight of the massive rock edifice and 500-year-old abandoned Anasazi ruins carved out of the walls, set against the kids splashing water around and shrieking with laughter was both incongruous and perfectly natural. To me, it was like our genetic potential breathing.

Those are highfalutin’ ideas, but I frame them around this “photo essay” to help explain why these photos were taken in this way.

OK, it’s not Stonehenge, it’s Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. But wouldn’t be cool if you saw a toddler running through the sarsens erected by the ancient Celts?

Toddler at Carhenge, Nebraska. Photo by kajmeister.

This is a game of hide and seek at Ostia Antica, a coastal town outside of Rome which acted as a summer beach town to the emperors and patricians. The buildings date back to the 3rd century BC.

Ostia Antica
Hide ‘n’ seek @ Ostia Antica. Photo by kajmeister.

Castel Sant’Angelo was erected around the tomb of Hadrian starting in 135 AD. Popes lived here as well as famous prisoners like sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. The roof, with its giant statue of Archangel Michael, is also the setting for the final scene in Verdi’s Tosca. These non-opera fans were playing tag and turning cartwheels.

Castel Sant'Angelo
A game of tag at Castel Sant’Angelo. Photo by kajmeister.

The bambino’s name was Maria. Is that ironic, with the Pieta in the background, or is it just such a common name that the odds were in favor of that most illustrious name? (It happens to be mine as well.)

The Pieta
Bambino in front of the Pieta. Photo by kajmeister.

She had a very fancy, expensive SLR-type camera. Let’s pretend it was a birthday present. So everything in the Frari Church in Venice (@1300). where Titian and Monteverdi are buried, was fair game for photos to her. Brother and his friend were giving her rapid instructions in Italian, and asking perhaps to take a turn. but she kept that strap firmly about her neck, and brushed them off.

Frari Church
Preteen photography lessons at the Frari Church. Photo by kajmeister.

The Battle of Boyne was fought in 1690 between deposed King James II and William of Orange. William’s victory led to the continued presence of Protestants in Northern Ireland and all the strife that ensued from the tension between Protestant and Catholic. Inside, at the cafeteria, a single mom had brought Irish twins. When she went to go get them some food, they stayed AT THE TABLE like mom asked. Which meant one climbed down and meandered around the table, always touching it with one finger but trying to reach with the other hand for tablecloths and plates at other tables. Meanwhile, the brother climbed on top, overturned the salt shaker, and somehow took the menu apart in order to start banging the sharp edge against table top. Even though in this picture you can’t see the stone memorials gloriously honoring the fallen, I had to share this because, you know, IRISH TWINS!

Battle of Boyne site
Irish twins at the Battle of Boyne. Photo by kajmeister.

Lastly, here is a photo of my own kids, years ago at Gettysburg. Picture number one was shot at the top of the hill, where the Union army defeated Pickett’s Charge. On that third day of this decisive battle, Lee sent 12,500 confederate troops marching across nearly a mile of open uphill ground while George Meade’s cannons fired down at them, until the Southern army was basically wiped out. Some would argue that the defeat at Gettysburg, which turned the war, was where the United States of America ultimately began. A commemorative statue of Meade marks the spot where the Union army repulsed the one attack that made it to the cannons; you can see the tail of Meade’s horse in the upper right. My son was ten and my daughter eight, both playing their own battle and chase games. (They’re now both in college.)

Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg
Will o’ the Wisps at the crest of Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg. Photo by kajmeister, @2005.

Picture two is at the tomb erected to honor the Pennsylvania contribution to Gettysburg. The rock, carved some 150 years ago, is already being worn away by wind and snow.

Tomb honoring the fallen at Gettysburg @2005. Photo by kajmeister.

The earth abides.
–George Stewart



Author’s Note: A heartfelt thanks goes out to Fandango for continuing to inspire with Daily Word prompts, such as “camera.” I just did not feel excited to write another post about Christmas. For next week, though, I’m working on a statistical analysis and numerical heat map for movie versions of “Scrooge.” Stay tuned.


The Earth’s Wobble is Veering


The earth, minding its own business, while secretly wobbling on its axis. Photo by kajmeister.

It doesn’t take much to get me going down a rabbit hole for facts. I’m on the hunt now, I’m on the trail. Harper’s published a factoid in their current issue’s Index which said:

Distance, in feet, by which the Earth’s axis of spin has shifted since 1899: 34
Estimated percentage of that shift that is due to climate change: 40
Harper’s Index, Dec 2018

Thirty-four feet? Really? How do they know that?  I do understand that climate change is occurring, however I also like to understand the facts behind statements. How do they know it’s due to climate change?

Start With the Wobble

First, we have to visualize the earth spinning on an axis and having a wobble.

The Wobble Dance
Dance “The Wobble”

No, not that kind of Wobble.

Start with the earth. It leans. What does lean mean? It is a matter of perspective. For example, many of us have been brought up to believe that north is up:

World Map, north at top
Standard world map from geology.com.

But, in fact, there’s no reason to view the world that way. People who happen to be standing in Antarctica don’t stand on their heads. From their point of view, the world map would look like this:

World Map, south at top
World Map, southern orientation. From Manywaystoseetheworld.com

Continue reading “The Earth’s Wobble is Veering”

To Freeze or Not To Freeze

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
–Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”

With election trauma behind me and turkey recipes in front of me, I needed a little nudge in writing today’s entry, and my friendly neighborhood bloggers suggested Daily Word Prompts of chemical and freeze. Put them together and voila! today’s topic: cryonics.

Alcor cryonics
Cryonics seems to involve lots of ducts, pipes, and ladders. Alcor.org marketing photo.

Get Your Batsh*t Crazy Freezing Definitions Straight

First off, learn the distinction between cryonics, cryogenics, suspended animation. Cryonics is the science of freezing bodies with the hopes of future re-animation, after medical technologies have advanced to reverse aging or cure whatever ailed the body. Cryogenics is the branch of physics dealing with low temperatures. Suspended animation is inducing a cessation of body functions, perhaps through a low metabolic state, that preserves the body over an extended period of time. Suspended animation has been successfully extended to mice for a few hours, but not on anything as big as sheep or pigs, so unless you squeak, this is not a viable option yet.

Continue reading “To Freeze or Not To Freeze”

How Many Things Do I Really Need to Do Today?

Has the artificial intelligence singularity already hit? If you’re familiar with the Terminator series, that’s where computer intelligence develops to a point where algorithms are able to learn and improve, which leads to A.I. self-awareness, which leads A.I. to determine that it’s more useful than its human creators. Ergo, humans are unnecessary, and the manifestation of computing power turns into Arnold with the sunglasses, Hasta La Vista, Baby!

Arnold The Terminator
Arnold says complete your five tasks today, please! Google photo of The Terminator.

Maybe we’re already there. There is a raging (interesting) debate between philosophical technology camps about when or if the singularity will occur. In the abstract, perhaps it’s forty years away. In reality, though, aren’t we already shaping our lives around technology rather than the other way around?  My wife likes to joke that we have to “give our lives up to the googles.” But, seriously, haven’t we tacitly agreed to let those little devices run things?

To Do Lists That Don’t Make Us More Productive

I like a good To Do list, although I’m often over-ambitious and put more things on it than I can complete. After I stopped punching the corporate clock, I wanted a program to help me keep track of the projects I want to do at home. I fell in love with ToDoist, but recently the romance has soured.

One of the features of ToDoist is that you define how many things you want to accomplish each day, and it tells you Congratulations when you completed them. Action items are now a game. Hit all the targets, and you win! Or, get a notification, if you don’t. You have only two hours left to complete your five tasks. If you don’t update for a few days or go on vacation, you get a depressingly long Overdue list.

Suppose I have a day where I do One Big Thing that eclipses all others? I still get dinged for not doing four more, and then I lose my “streak” of days which affects whether I’m rated as an Expert or Apprentice. So I find myself doing things like, after the fact, adding “Grocery Store” or “Go to Mailbox” as a task.  I wonder whether this is really adding to my “personal productivity,” and, by the way, when did people need to run themselves like a business, anyway? Continue reading “How Many Things Do I Really Need to Do Today?”

Erratic Like a Fox

“Why did he do that?”

“How could she?”

“What was she thinking?”

Tsk, tsk.

We’re living in an age where we cheer the eccentric and boo the erratic, in equal measure. Same as it ever was.

I was prompted to write a post for today’s Word-of-the-day challenge about Erratic.  I immediately reflected on the past couple of weeks. Elon Musk and the joint. Serena pointing at the ref. Madonna, always controversial. What do they all have in common? Success, you motorscooters! Success, despite their seeming erratic behavior. Success which comes from their innovation, talent, and unpredictability.

Serena Williams serving
Serena beating the pants off her rival in the U.S. Open semifinal before losing in the finals, photo by Seth Wenig, AP.

The Erratic 85.49% Winner

Serena is the greatest tennis player in history. Winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, she now competes against teenage athletes who grew up idolizing her. About to turn 37 years old, with an infant at home, she blazed into the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals. Although she lost both finals, her power and presence were remarkable given her recent circumstances. Continue reading “Erratic Like a Fox”