Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ose Is Dark

          Ose Is Dark
               (to the (minor-key!) tune of “Space Is Dark”)

Ose is dark, and ose is deep
So in vain we struggled not to sleep
Though we filkers are insane
We all dosed off just the same
And our drooping eyelids testify
To the yawns that we stifled to a sigh…

When we came in to filk that night, we were a fannish crew.
We had our songs and instruments, and of course a keg of brew.
We got our books and guitars out, and sat down in a ring
And tortured half a hundred tunes to see if we could sing.
But over our festivities a shadow fell and spread;
Our voices quavered half a tone, our strings were flat and dead
Then from our song leader, this mournful wail arose;
“Why is it, every single song we’ve sung tonight is ose?”


A song is ose primarily when it has a certain tone;
A kind of whine, a mournful dirge, a dreary keening drone;
Its lyrics may be sprightly and as witty as can be
But it’s bound to sound depressing when it’s in a minor key.
When we pulled into Argo Port in need of R&R
Our crew set out investigating every joint and bar
We had high expectations of their hospitality
But we found too late that it wasn’t geared for spacers such as we.


We struggled hard to lighten up, but the ose was far too strong
It drowned out all our instruments, so we had to sing along
It drained our beer, it scraped our tapes, it busted every string
And it gave us broken ballads full of misery to sing.
Now every single filker here is nodding off to sleep
We try to stay awake but we’re entangled far too deep
We can’t repel the spell of one of filking’s fiercest foes
So one by one we all succumb to the power of the Ose!


We see our buddies yawn, then nod, then fall down to the floor
Our casualties are piling high, as if this were a war
We lay each fallen comrade out to snore upon a chair
Then we bravely go on singing, though we haven’t got a prayer.
Against the mighty Ose we fading few cannot compete;
The Ose is now triumphant; we are doomed to grim defeat.
Our final conscious action is to turn of all the light
Then we tumble into slumber as we bid ourselves good-night.


Monday, December 30, 2013

When Opposites Unite

               When Opposites Unite
               To the tune of “Ballad of Inverness”, or “Three Drunken Maidens”

Now, four-and-twenty opposites,  they went to Inverness
And when it all was over, there were four-and-twenty less.

Have a ball with your partner when you’re up against the wall
The night was made to make it if you wanna be made at all.

Position and momentum, they would fill you full of doubt
When the one was concentrated, then the other one spread out

The questions and the answers, would their follies ever end?
For every time an answer came, a question rose again.


Now space and time were very fine, they truly made the night
For their fixin’ turned to mixin’ when they reached the speed of light

The local and the global, you could see them here and there
Right here they’re interacting, ‘cause the here is everywhere


Creation and destruction, they will satisfy your yen
If you haven’t made perfection, then you’d better start again

Now, true and false could really waltz, they sure were in the groove
You really don’t know dancing if you haven’t seen them move


Reality and fantasy were truly hot to trot
We tried to separate them, but we knew that we could not

Oh, yes and no were on the go, they sparkled like a gem
Their search was not exhaustive, but it sure exhausted them.


A toast to self and other, for they had the greatest fun
They dove into each other and they merged right into one.

Now, life and death will catch your breath, so don’t be so upset
If you think the show is nothing, then you ain’t seen nothing yet.


Oh, now the song is over, yet it’s also just begun;
If you can solve the riddle, even you can join the fun!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Star Generations; a Modest Proposal

        Star Generations; a Modest Proposal

In Genesis 15:4-5, Abraham asked G-d about how many descendants he will have. The reply: look at the sky, can you count those stars, so shall your seed be.

But that seems a paltry promise. The number of stars visible to the naked eye is about 6000 for the whole sky, one half to one third of that from any spot on Earth. Let's be generous and say 6000. Well, that's a pretty small tribe of descendants; barely enough to fill a small town. Taken in those terms, it is an embarrassingly petty pledge.

Allow me to suggest a fix; that 6000 refers to generations. At about 30 years per generation, 6000 generations comes out to 180,000 years; a fairly respectable length of time, sufficient to last 'til, say, the next hominid speciation. Of course long before then Abraham's line will, by intermarriage and otherwise, suffuse the entire human race. (It's in the same gene-spreading sense that everyone in England is distantly related to the Queen.) So taken this way, Genesis 15:4-5 promises 180,000 more years for the present human race.

          Of course that implies an equal delay for the coming of the Messiah. So what to do until the Messiah evolves? Practice, practice, practice!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Zero Gee Family

Zero Gee Family

          Each of my family has separately experienced involuntary zero-gee. Each of us had been on an airplane, flying separate from the other two of us; in each case the airplane hit an air-pocket and briefly entered free-fall. Our reactions differed, in telling ways.
          My wife Sherri reports that she, and everyone else on the plane, whooped loud. My daughter Hannah reports that she had been laughing just before the plane hit the air-pocket, and she continued to laugh during the plummet.
          I distinctly remember that everyone in the airplane gasped in unison, including me. Then I reached into my shirt pocket, pulled out my ticket, and let it loose in front of my face. It floated in zero gee. Then the plane’s wings grabbed air, and the ticket fell into my lap.
          While falling out of the sky, my wife whooped, my daughter laughed, and I did a physics experiment. Thus we cope with the stresses of life.
In my own case I was seizing a rare opportunity to do cool science; and also I was nerdishly distracting myself from mortal terror. Call it the consolations of philosophy.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Passion of the Santa

The Passion of the Santa

            Late one night, in the middle of a dream, Sogwa the supercat was window-shopping in Nowheresville Mall. There were hordes of shoppers, but none seemed to notice that Sogwa was there too. She walked amongst them, unseen.
            All the prices were very low, but that did Sogwa no good at all. Sogwa the supercat wore no clothes, of course, so of course she carried no money at all, not a cent. It didn’t matter that all that cool stuff was marked down from a thousand dollars each to a penny each; she couldn’t afford it either way.
            Somehow the floor was harder than ordinary marble; it made Sogwa’s feet ache. She sat on a bench near a fountain. Shoppers swarmed by, not seeing her.
            Right next to the bench was a short pedestal. Someone had left a Santa doll on it. The Santa doll’s arms and legs splayed like a starfish; his smile was stitched on a linen face as round as a full moon. Sogwa reached for it.

            The moment she touched the Santa doll, it flew upwards with a shimmering sound, shedding sparks and streamers of light. The doll rose into the air, turning and growing.
            Full-grown, Santa rotated in midair. He boomed, “HO, HO, HO! Have a merry Christmas! A healthy Hanukkah! A quality Kwanzaa! A soulful Solstice! AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Santa waved his right hand, and candy rained from the ceiling.
            Sogwa yowled, “YOW!”
            Santa looked at her, winked, and put a finger beside his nose. There was a flash of light.
            When Sogwa’s eyes cleared, she saw that she was sitting on Santa’s lap, and Santa was on a kind of a throne. He said, “What’s your name, kitten?”
            “I’m Sogwa the supercat, and I think your special effects are really neat, Santa!”
            “So Sogwa, you like magic?” She nodded, and he said, “Then here, have a magic wand!” Santa handed her a short stick.
            She looked it over. “What’s it made of?”
            “Genuine cheap plastic, ho ho ho!”
            “Thank you, Santa! But how does it work?”
            “It works well enough.”
            “I mean... how does it work? What’s the secret?”
            Santa said, “It’s magic!
            Sogwa said, “Yes, I know it’s magic, but how does magic work? Tell me the truth!”
            Santa’s face fell. “You want... the truth?
            Sogwa said, “Yes, that’s just it! How do you do it, Santa? I mean, really and for true? ’Cause I’d like to do it too!”
            Santa slowly stood up; Sogwa leapt off his lap and turned to face him.

            Santa said, “Are you sure you want the truth?”
            Sogwa said, “Yes, I’m sure!”
            “Even if truth isn’t what you’d like it to be?”
            “Especially if! Tell me, Santa!”
            “Even if magic isn’t what it seems to be?”
            “Even if it isn’t there at all!”
            Santa said, “I will tell you the truth, but only if you insist; for the truth will set you free - but first it will drive you crazy.”
            “I insist! Tell me, Santa! Do you exist, or not?”
            Santa heaved a huge sigh.
            He said, “No, Sogwa. I do not exist.”

            Santa said, “You may watch the fireplace all night, but I will not come. You may wire a reindeer alarm on the roof, but it will not ring. You may seek me at the shopping mall, or the Post Office, or even the North Pole, but you will not find me. There is no flying sled, no magic reindeer, no polar workshop, no elf workers. None of those things exist; nor do I.”
            Santa said, “So people pretend to be me, they play at being me, but only so far, and not for real, because I am not for real. I cannot help them; I am not there.”
            Santa said, “For there is no Santa Claus! No lunch is free, no machines save labor, no tyrant is benevolent, no motives are pure, and no results are guaranteed. There is no invisible hand of the market, for that hand would be mine. There is no philosopher-king, for he would be me. There is no perfect lover, apart from myself. And I do not exist.”
            “And believe me, Sogwa,” Santa said, with tears in his eyes, “I wish I did exist!”
            And Santa wept.

            Sogwa rushed to his side. She hugged him and patted his shoulder, and Santa said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m a fake, a fraud, a funny story, a lie for children, and I’m sorry that’s what I am, because I wish I were real, I wish I could actually help!
            He blew his nose, and there was a flash of light.

            When Sogwa’s eyes cleared, she saw that Santa was now a teenager. Teen-age Santa was dressed in red spandex from head to toe. He said, “I would have been your genie, your magical helper, your fairy godfather.” He grabbed Sogwa by the hand and flew away with her into the air.  “I would have been anything for you, done anything, for you. For you!
            Teen-age Santa took Sogwa to a high place, and there he showed her in a glance every country in the world. “All of this would have been yours. I would have given you anything, given up anything, all for you! But I can’t, I can’t, I don’t exist, I’m nothing at all...”
             Teen-age Santa burst into tears. He blew his nose, and there was a flash of light.

            When Sogwa’s eyes cleared, she saw that she was back in Nowheresville Mall. Santa was now a tiny baby. The baby Santa was on top of the same pedestal Sogwa found him, and as before crowds of shoppers swarmed by, none noticing him or Sogwa.
            The baby Santa cried, “IT’S NOT FAIR! Not for me, not for ANYBODY! I don’t exist, there ain’t no Santy Claus, and IT JUST ISN’T FAIR!”

            Sogwa said, “Poor thing.”
            She picked up the baby Santa, she cuddled him and she rocked him.
            Sogwa said to the baby Santa, “I forgive you.”
            The baby Santa wailed louder than ever!
            “Hush, little one, don’t cry,” Sogwa said. “I forgive you for not existing. It’s O.K., I mean it. Hush, little Santa, I forgive you for being a fake.”

            The baby Santa sobbed and wept.
            “Hush, dear Santa, I love you and I forgive you. You did give up everything for me. How generous! You never even were - and for what? So I would doubt. So I would question. So I wouldn’t believe just anything, just because it sounds good and somebody said it’s true.”
            The baby Santa sniffled.
            Sogwa said, “O patron saint of skepticism, may your memory protect me! Whenever a schemer offers me something too good to be true, and I am tempted to believe, may I remember you, and what you turned out to be, and may I not be fooled. By your gift, Santa, may I doubt, may I question, and may I save myself. So thank you, Santa. Thanks for the warning.”
            The baby Santa lay quiet.
            Sogwa said. “Nobody’s perfect, and you’re nobody, so you’re perfect! I will never forget what you never were. I love you just the way you aren’t.”

            Sogwa saw that she was holding a Santa doll. The Santa doll’s arms and legs splayed like a starfish; his smile was stitched on a linen face as round as a full moon.
            Sogwa  left the Santa doll on the pedestal for the next kid.

            While walking away, Sogwa said to herself,  “Well, at least I got some loot.” She waved the cheap plastic magic wand. “This ought to be worth something.”