C6 H10 O5

The cellulose molecule is just a long string of glucose  molecules, but paradoxically, cellulose is an indigestible fiber, whereas glucose is the most easily digestible of all foods. I don’t know how to calculate the number of Big Gulp units in a pair of cotton socks, but it should be easy to do.

There’s no paradox here for cows, however. Not only is the bovine mind blind to paradox, but even intelligent bovids wouldn’t see what the fuss was all about, since cellulose is their primary food. This alleged food / fiber paradox is merely an artifact of our inferior digestive system.

Because cellulose is hard to digest, cows must perform a complicated series of chemical procedures in their enormous gut system.  If cows were genetically modified to live entirely on glucose, they would be more svelte, but I doubt that they’d be any smarter.

Published in: on December 15, 2010 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Plato and Kant have a lot to answer for

The romantics were the shock troops and sappers who softened up the honky world  for the consumer society. With liberty and equality, anyone could presume to want anything they wanted, without being accused of encroaching on others’ prerogatives. The aggregate quantity of desire multiplied exponentially, as Malthus pointed out, whereas the quantity of possible satisfaction increased only slowly, if at all. And to be too easily satisfied was shameful; an attainable or attained object was by definition degraded and unworthy. Last year’s chic outfit is this year’s wipe rag. Kant, Lamartine, and Novalis taught us that only the Ideal is good enough,  and marketing picked it up from there.

Equality and liberty did not preclude competition, and with improved means of transportation and communication the field of competition came to be the whole world. Every literate young man imprisoned in one of the modern European languages was drafted into a global contest — first to find the most unattainable ideal of them all, and then to immolate himself on that ideal. No wonder the motherfuckers were whiny.

And yes, “himself”. Bitches weren’t part of this, except as unattainable ideals. No hopeless striving for you, ladies!

Probably Plato was well-intended when he devised his celibate reform version of erotic obsession, but Jesus Christ! What a monster he unloosed upon the world!

Published in: on December 10, 2010 at 11:00 pm  Comments (1)  

In Memoriam Michel Foucault (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984)

Gone but not forgotten

Two and a half millenia ago sexuality was invented by the horrible Greeks and idealized by Plato. Once idealized, sexuality was as robust as anthrax and as insidious as herpes, and could nest dormant in your cells like trichinella or plasmodium . For most people during much of human history, sexuality merely wallowed in the murk like some enormous, slimy, barbeled catfish, and emerged only occasionally to engulf some hapless human victim. But from time to time sexual / anti-sexual idealists like Augustine and Dante encouraged and strengthened the  monster, and finally in 1830 (with the July Revolution and the opening of Hugo’s play Hernani) the French romantics and liberals brought the undead creature from mud to land. For almost two centuries now it’s been flopping and wallowing among us, going where it will, wreaking havoc and devouring any who dare come its way.

Many have tried to tame or defeat sexuality, but each attempt has only made it stronger and more horrible. Repression, chastity, marriage, idealization, libertinism, liberation, naturalness, “relationships”, psychoanalysis, bisexuality, intersexuality, transgendering, queering – nothing has worked, and sexuality still claims countless new victims each day. This creature has no benign forms and cannot be resisted, and all we can do now is resign ourselves to our sexual fates, whatever those may be, and hope for some post-sexual Beowulf or Parsifal to come along to drive a stake into the beast’s gigantic, loathsome head.

(The part about the 1830 Revolution in France will be explained in a later post. The rest is all common knowledge, though few admit it. Nineteenth century Frenchmen were as fucked up as 19th century Americans, but in a very different manner.)

Published in: on November 27, 2010 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thanks for nothing, Jesus

Struggling against a 20-mph wind under the hot sun, I glanced up and saw a hawk soaring effortlessly fifty feet above. Apparently I’d been recruited into some kind of goddamn parable.

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm  Comments (2)  

“Adopt the attitude of the octopus*”


Πολύποδος νόον ϊσχε    Polypi mentem obtine

The Adages of Erasmus, ed. & tr. William Barker, Toronto, 2001, I i 93, pp.41-5.

Cephalopods are like chameleons, but more so. Not only can they match the color of the surface they’re seen against, but in order to blend into the background they can even match complex and rippling patterns of color and texture. For this reason Victor Hugo describes the octopus as a “hypocrite”, since it pretends to be something that it’s not. (Here, an octopus pretends to be a rock). Erasmus, drawing on classical Mediterranean sources, also notes this capacity, but he treats it much more favorably. Whether this difference is Northern vs. Southern, pagan vs. Christian, or post- vs. pre-Reformation I do not know, but it strikes me as something worth looking into. It may merely be that in the Mediterranean cephalopods are just more familiar and ordinary than they are in the North of France.

Erasmus’s treatment of this proverb is fuller and in general more favorable than those given to other similar proverbs dealing with changeability and disguise: the chameleon (III iv 1 pp.273-4 ), the fox (as opposed to the hedgehog: I v 18, pp. 87-9), and Proteus (II ii 74, pp. 167-8). In ascending order of dignity, the chameleon is said to represent a dissembler, or  one who is inconstant and adopts any appearance to suit the time. The fox, with his many tricks, is held to be inferior to the hedgehog with his single very effective trick. The versatility and resourcefulness of the divine shapeshifter Proteus (twisting and turning…. hard to pin down…. a cunning fellow and jack of all trades) are treated with a degree of respect, though he hardly seems like someone to rely on. In all of these cases, dissembling and transformation are regarded as defensive tricks primarily useful for someone trying to escape enemies or to keep from being brought under control or called to account.

In polypi mentem obtine , however, octopodal changeability, disguise, opportunism and (as Hugo would say) “hypocrisy” are treated favorably:

The proverb is taken from Theognis, whose couplet about the polyp [octopus] exists today:

Adopt the attitude of the many-colored polyp;

Moving toward a rock, it straightway takes its hue.

This advises us to suit ourselves to every contingency of life, acting the part of Proteus and changing ourselves into any form as the situation demands….On the contrary there is a sensible attitude which makes men comply on occasion with a different mode of conduct, to avoid being disliked or being able to be of use, or else for the sake of rescuing themselves or their households from great dangers. (more…)

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm  Comments (3)  

He must be either dead or teaching school

This is Antonio Machado, the author. Juan de Mairena is not real.

Juan de Mairena’s lucid explanation

Mairena was — notwithstanding his angelic appearance — basically rather ill-tempered. From time to time he would receive a visit from some paterfamilias  complaining, not about the fact that his son had been flunked, but about the casualness of Mairena’s examination process. An angry scene, albeit a brief one, would inevitably occur:

“Is it enough for you just to look at a boy in order to flunk him?” the visitor would ask, throwing his arms wide in feigned astonishment.

Mairena would answer, red-faced and banging the floor with his cane, “I don’t even have to do that much. I just have to look at his father!”

Antonio Machado   Juan de Mairena XVI


Aut mortuus est, aut docet litteras

Ή τέθνήκεν ή διδάσκει γράμματα

“He must be either dead or teaching school”. An iambic line current as a proverb, and used in the old days to convey that a man was in great misfortune, though it was not clear what the man was doing. This passed into common speech, as Zenodatus tells us, on the following occasion. The Athenians, under command of Nicias, had on one occasion fought and lost a battle against the Sicilians; they suffered heavy casualties, and many prisoners were taken and carried off to Sicily, where they were compelled to teach Sicilian children their elements. And so the few who escaped and returned to Athens, when asked what so-and-so was doing in Italy, used to reply with the line I have quoted above.

Desiderius Erasmus, The Adages of Erasmus, ed. Barker,  I X 59, p. 131, Toronto, 2001

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 3:05 am  Comments (4)  

Right there in front of me

Out doing business today I drove past an abstract company. There it was, right there in front of me plain as day: Douglas County Abstract Company, 117 7th Avenue East, Alexandria, MN 56308-1807.

I tried to think of a punch line, but nothing. If there had been a ready-mix company right next door, that would have been something, I suppose….. nah,  lame. In any case, the cement company is several blocks away.

Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 10:28 pm  Comments (1)  

The Daodejing as a dispersed network

 It is generally agreed that the Daodejing, like many scriptures, is a composite text (not really “an anthology”) which includes material from many different sources and from more than one period. Beyond that there’s little agreement about the process by which the present state of the text was reached. The theory that it has been accidentally jumbled or disarranged is no longer widely held, and there’s probably a consensus that the text was put together by some kind of editing process. But the difficulty of finding a thread of argument, the scattering of certain themes throughout the text, and the many puzzling juxtapositions, even within a single chapter, lead some to suspect that the editing process was rather haphazard. (more…)

Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Freestanding Sage in the Daodejing

The free-standing sage (i.e., outside the “Therefore the sage” formula) appears six or seven* times in the Daodejing. Two of the Wang Pi text’s chapters which include the free-standing sage (chapters 5 and 19)  are found in the Guodian text without the sage. Chapter 19 is hostile to the sage in any case  and thus not a trustworthy source (exterminate the sage, discard the wise, and the people will benefit a hundredfold), and I will  leave it out of this discussion for that reason. (more…)

Published in: on November 27, 2009 at 12:34 am  Comments (1)  

The “Nei Ye” and the Daodejing

In his book Original Dao (Columbia, 1999) Harold Roth has argued that the “Nei Ye” chapter of the Guanzi is a guide to meditation produced within an organized teacher-student lineage devoted primarily to the arts of “cultivation of life” (meditation, diet, ritual, and physical practices), and that the  Daodejing, a handbook of political wisdom, is the product of a late politicized stage of this same school, or of a branch of the school. Roth’s theory is a beginning toward giving a definite answer to the question “What kind of book is the Daodejing?”, a question which has divided Daodejing interpreters more or less from the beginning. (more…)

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm  Comments (2)