Katy Trail 2: Biker Salute

Yesterday afternoon I walked my next section of the Katy Trail, starting at Matson. The day was warm, somewhat humid but manageable with clouds threatening at times to rain.

The drive out was not uneventful. I’m beginning to think that all drivers have so many close calls they must experience in their life, and since I started driving much later, I’m getting them all now. Either that or I like to drive too fast.

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Anyway, I was driving along I64 heading to Highway 94 following a pickup truck hauling some kind of trailer full of stuff when all of a sudden the top of the trailer blew off and it started losing its load on the road in front of me. There was what looked like large sheets of masonite, big tree branches, aluminum siding and all sorts of not car friendly objects. Luckily I was far enough back from the trailer not to get hit directly by the stuff, but I was close enough to watch the masonite hit the road and break apart into big pieces.

“Sh…”, and swerving around the bigger pieces, trying not to run into the semi on the left of me as he was doing some serving on his own and for a minute there was a group of us doing this oddly beautiful dance around the debris and each other but, luckily, no one stomped on their partner “..it!”

The semi, dragging pieces of masonite in its wheels signaled to the truck that it lost its load and just as I was moving up to let him know that he needed to pull over, I saw his emergency lights go on and he started to slow down, move over to the shoulder.

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Not long after, when I pulled over on 94 I went about ten miles before I calmed down enough to realize I had turned the wrong direction.

What a drive 94 is south of I64, with rolling hills and sharpish curves, but the road’s in excellent shape. The perfect road for Golden Girl, but I was going quite slowly because the surroundings were that beautiful. It seemed like every corner had a brown state park sign announcing this wildlife refuge and that park. I kept having to pull over to let other cars pass me as I slowly drove along enjoying the scenery.

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The trailhead I picked today started just inland from the Missouri river, winding its way through wine country, past farms and meadow and dense forest. I expected the walk to be pretty, but I didn’t expect it to be breathtaking. I was the only walker because the Katy Trail is more popular with bikers further away from the cities. You can go farther on a bike, but you can’t really appreciate the nuances of the trail except on foot.

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The Katy Trail in this location was bordered by limestone cliffs surrounded by dense vegetation. The plants were so close and thick, the depths were dark as night and you couldn’t see through them. Once when I moved close to a large bush to try to peer into the growth, the bush shook with the movement of something in it, most likely scared by my closeness. There really is little harmful life in Missouri, other than the bugs, but it’s unnerving to have this large bush shake violently when you approach it and you can’t see what causes it.

Bwock bwock bwock. Yeah, Burningbird the chicken bird.

Birdlife. You wouldn’t believe the number of birds flying in and around the plants. And insects of all kinds including beautiful butterflies. The trees overlapped the trail in some parts, and I was reminded of the problems with ticks this state has. But if we deny ourselves the pleasure of life by constantly worrying about what bad thing is going to fall out of the sky and land on us, then we’re missing the point, aren’t we?

One old farm had converted one building into a trailside store for hikers and bikers. It also had a large caged in area with geese and chickens and roosters, one of which decided to do a little crowing practice in the late afternoon light. I enjoy listening to roosters, but the owner was a bit miffed because I could hear him calling out to it, by name, telling him to be quiet, he’s loud enough to wake the dead. “Emmet, shut up, Emmet!” “Emmet, shut up you crazy bird!”

The place was a marvel of cats running about — big cats — and funky buildings and one silo that was covered in vines. The perfect touch was the Coke machine. A vignette of Americana, and not a bad one at that.

I walked until I reached the Missouri River and explored the shores, watching a couple of artists painting the view and the ubiquitous fishermen along the shoreline. Aside from the roads and the factories, the river is very much as it was from the past.

When I crossed the road to reach the river, a small car was coming along and I stepped to the shoulder, but the driver took the corner short, not seeing me, and brushed past me a foot or two away. Enough to be breezy. I didn’t jump or yell, just kind of looked at the car as it disappeared in the distance.

Ever have one of those days that you feel like fate has painted a big red bullseye on you? Funny thing is, it’s just this kind of day that you remember later, when you’re feeling philosophical about life — stands out in our minds, except as time goes on, the distance between me and the car will get shorter until someday I’ll be laying on my deathbed, talking to some disinterested young person about the car that ran over my toes.

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Altogether my hike was about five miles, a good distance. The ride home was the best because of the late afternoon green-gold-purple-orange-pink-red color the last light gets here in Missouri. The roads were empty so I let Golden Girl have the ride she wanted, except when I went through Defiance and slowed down because the small town was full of Harley’s and other motorcycles — several hundred, with drivers surrounding this small bar with live music blasting out, hoisting beers in salute at the cars driving past.

What a good idea. I turned to the Rock n’ Roll classic hit station and cranked the sound, rolling the windows full down letting the wind whip my hair about, and bringing in the sweet smell of the Missouri green. I waved back at the bikers, as I put the pedal to the metal and headed home.

The Odds

He was born with the odds against him and the miracle of his birth was accompanied by the miracle of his life. Arms too short and body so weak, they said he would never make it through high school, but he did. And like a weakling at the beach, he kicked sand into the face of his own mortality.

Must not run hard, they would say, and he’d grab tennis racquet, holding it close to his chest because he could hold it no other way and he ran and he hit and he lived. Every time the odds would try to hold him back, he’d look right through them and just continue on.

He’d sneak out at night to join his friends, getting into the mild trouble all teens get into, drinking a bit too much, partying a little too hard. His parents were aghast and scolded him and said to stay away from his Bad Friends. But they weren’t bad — they just saw within him the spirit, the normalness of him.

He grew from a frail kid into an adult, spending too many days looking at white walls. Getting too many cards along the way. Against the odds, in spite of the odds, he thrived. “How are you feeling?”, you’d ask and he’d say, “Heck with that, let’s go ride a horse.”

I remember once when he helped us move, watching him haul boxes into a moving truck, shoving them in so hard I thought something would break and I’d say “Take it easy”, and he just laughed.

The spirit, even the strong spirit can’t work around a leaky heart and he had surgery yet again. And once more, he beat the odds, turning around at the door when he walked out, saluting the hospital good-bye.

But then, a few weeks later, he went for a walk and when he returned he said he felt tired. Wanted a nap. When he didn’t show for dinner, they went to check and found he had died in his sleep.

He was 48, and the odds had finally caught up.

The wise person finds the simple path

I picked up a couple of books from the library yesterday that I’d ordered based on their being mentioned in other weblogs. One was Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language by Douglas Hofstadter. I would give credit to the person who mentioned this, in either a posting or a comment, but I can’t remember exactly where I heard of this book; the people I read tend to drop titles as frequently as Hantzel and Gretel dropped breadcrumbs, and for the same reason — to mark a path.

Well, if you recognize yourself as the person, give yourself a bow, because this book is an absolute delight. Here is a person, Hofstadter, discussing the principles of translation based on a small French poem, but doing so in a manner that is both engaging as well as enlightening. Rather than make the topic more complex and obscure, he simplifies, and in the process creates something infinitely richer.

In the introduction, Hofstadter discusses his obsession with controlling the layout and format of the published book, not just the content. He writes:

I know this sounds quite nutty, but it is me to the core. This is my style at its more pure, and, I must say, at its most joyous. Paradoxical thought it surely sounds, I feel at my freest, my most exuberant, and my most creative when operating under a set of heavy self-imposed constraints. I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity — and that, of course, is why poetry, building on a foundation of constraints, is so central to this book. Translation, too, is a dense fabric of constraints — and thus, needless, to say, the merging of translation with poetry gives rise to such a rich mesh of interlocking constraints that the mind goes a bit berserk in a mixture of frustration of delight.

I’ll relate just one example of the strangely twisty effects of my many self-composed constraints. Early on, I decided, just for the fun of it, to begin each chapter with a bit of a flourish — a few large letters that grandually would shirnk down to the size of the normal text. I soon realized that I had to avoid descenders in those first few letters — in other words, no “g”, no “y”, and so forth — in order to prevent collisions with letters just below. Well, this tiny constraint had quite a big effect in the case of Chapter 2.

An early draft of the chapters started out with a word that had a letter with a descender in it, and my search for a way to reword that first sentence to get rid of the lone descender led to a totally unexpected, unplanned style for that paragraph, which set a distinct opening tone for the chapter, which led to a curiously assonant three-word section head, which then suggested to me the idea of repeating that three-word pattern for all of the section heads in the chapter, and then the various section heads that I created in the appealing mold of that pattern would up exerting a considerable influence on what I actually said in the sections that they headed. Thust the trivial avoidance of one descender in the first five letters had a major impact on the ideas expressed in that chapter. Though this may seem bizarre, it is in fact absolutely typical. It is one of the more easily explained examples, but is not exceptional.

I was charmed by Hofstadster’s admission of this fact — I wonder how many writers would? — but I was hooked when he used ‘twisty’.

The book is ostensibly about the experience and effort of translating one small French poem. I don’t know French, nor is it a topic of particular interest; and my knowledge of poetry is limited. But from the first, I was engaged and now can’t wait to finish the book. On a topic I have little interest in. Can you think of a higher compliment to give a writer?

I started this post last night but left the finishing it to today. This morning, while doing my weblog reading, I found this at Loren’s about the poet Ezra Pound:

As I read the Cantos, I constantly wondered whom Pound considered his audience. I’ve had seven years of college English, with a focus on poetry. I’ve had two grad-level courses in Chinese Literature taught by a brilliant Korean professor. I’ve read a wide range of poetry for over twenty years. Yet, I felt totally inadequate when faced with the Cantos. Who, then, did Pound think would read his poem? Did he really expect anyone to be cognizant of all the literary influences found in the poems? Or did he think that, like a prophet, scribes would meticulously study his poems for years, annotating them so that the faithful could begin to truly comprehend his message? At the very least, the poem seems directed at a small, elite group of artist-scholars who believed, as Pound apparently did, that the great poets are seers.

The small, elite group.

I respect the need for any scholar to communicate with those of like mind in order to increase the base of knowledge. But I reserve my highest acclaim for the person who can write something like “Postmodernism for Dummies”, without condescending to the audience, or lessen the topic.

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Hide the sparkle

I was surprised when I wrote the post You are how you write? that no one seemed to notice the irony in the page. In particular the paragraph:

Of course, once I wrote this, I thought of Jonathon’s previous writing on Linguistic Imperialism, and the impact that political correctness is having on what we say.

This all followed my quoting Stavros and Jonathon’s strongly expressed disdain for the new book by William Hannas, where he states that perhaps there is a correlation between character-based written languages as compared to abstract alphabets and scientific achievement. I went along with calling “fie” on Mr. Hannas because it seemed like the thing to do, politically.

Lots of comments on this topic, but my favorite was Mark’s rather quiet comment :

Should I read Hannas, or is the poor man already in the outer darkness?

Of course, this is where the irony enters — without fully reading the book, we’re all ready to jump on Hannas and his politically incorrect words, directly after chatting about how political correctness is damaging the English language.

Not picking on Stavros, or Jonathon. Well, yes I am. But there’s a point to it.

When I wrote the posting Outside even among the Outsiders, there was no greater opportunity to get to know me, the ‘real’ me than with this weblog posting. After all, I was talking about some of my deepest insecurities, particularly as they relate to my experiences in my field. However, rather than using an abstract example to talk about my feelings of alienation among technical discussion groups, I used an actual group; one in which many of you also participate in — or not. Worse, I brought up that ugly “male/female” thing again, which seems to be one of the most taboo subjects I know of in weblogging.

This “male/female” thing in technology is very real, should be discussed rather than hidden, and is something I’ve had to deal with, personally and painfully, for over 20 years. It’s not only just a facet of my life, it’s one of the bigger ones. I could have picked a more ‘politically correct’ way of discussing it, but I don’t think I could have picked a more honest approach. Whether my perceptions are true or not, no matter how uncomfortable, they were and are very real. Should I have kept silent?

This reminds me of Jonathon’s Alibis and consistent lies, which generated so much discomfort in local reading/writing circles. Here Jonathon was, sharing a very real facet of himself by exposing how he writes, and there is this incredible push back because people are perceiving the lies being told to them rather than seeing this as an abstract concept that really doesn’t touch them.

And isn’t this the exact same push back that occurred with Dorothea’s Academic Ivory Tower take down? D wasn’t talking about some abstract field, she was talking about academia and academics in the midst of, well, academics. Academics who pushed back, with more than a hint of “Are you talking about me?”

Are you talking about me?

Frank Paynter (that’s PayntEr), talked strongly about his views on postmodernism recently, which triggered some push back from AKMA. Frank pulled the post, which AKMA regreted because, as he wrote:

Frank pulled his post on this topic, which is a shame. I’m sorry he felt obliged to; I hope he didn’t think I was fishing for that. The topic of postmodernism evokes strong responses across the board, and if a strong disagreement between Frank and me helps clarify what’s at stake in postmodern thought and the responses it engenders.

Do you know, I think AKMA’s got it.

Passionately, eloquently, hurtfully, angrily, scathingly, regretfully, we will break the boundaries of political correctness with each other. Sometimes this will be done deliberately and there will be consequences. There should be. However, most of the time these violations of political correctness are really nothing more than an exposure of yet another facet of ourselves, one that people may not like.

At times we’re going to say things that are going to have our readers, our friends, say, “Are you talking about me?” And the answer could be, you know, I just might be — should I stop? I can turn myself around, hide that facet. After all, I don’t want to hurt or offend people or make them uncomfortable. I don’t want to push people away.

As for the Outsider posting, I apologize to Liz for putting her, unfairly, on the spot. And I apologize to Marius for lumping him in with “stereotypical males”, and appreciate his honest response about this. The same apology extends to other men who felt unfairly classified with my writing. Or the women who felt I unfairly classified them.

And the “male/female” thing? Well, we’ll just turn me about a bit and hide that facet of me. Of course, there’s always the risk that if I turn around enough, there won’t be much left of me to show someday. But then, that’s a bit of okay, too. No sharp edges to get caught on.

The smartest weblogger I know is Happy Tutor. He holds up a mask and says, “Love the mask. Hate the mask.”

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You are how you write

I am in the midst of semantics, poetry, and RDF but I did want to take a moment to add my own comment on a new linguistic nosh currently being nibbled in the neighborhood. The nosh in question is a new book by William Hannas titled “The Writing on the Wall: How Asian Orthography Curbs Creativity”, referenced in a NY Times article.

According to Language Hat, the first to reference it, the author of the book, …claims that Asian science has suffered because the main Asian languages are written in “character-based rather than alphabetic” systems. According to the Times:

Mr. Hannas’s logic goes like this: because East Asian writing systems lack the abstract features of alphabets, they hamper the kind of analytical and abstract thought necessary for scientific creativity.

Stavros, currently living in South Korea and studying linguistics, reacted in a manner both swift and sure:

Roughly translated: Mr. William Hannas, with all due respect to your abilities and experience, but I would like to suggest that you stuff your head up your bum. Idiomatically: Fuck you.

Jonathon has also weighed in on this topic, specifically character association with sound, with:

In other words, as far as Japanese is concerned, the assertion that the language is based on characters corresponding to a syllable of sound is utter nonsense. Unless you’re referring to five year olds—but then there aren’t too many five year olds of any nationality winning Nobel prizes.

But he also added:

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Roughly translated: With all due respect Mr. Hannas, but I beg leave to dispute your assertions and suggest that you take this banana and insert it into your rectum. Idiomatically: Fuck you.

I don’t have the expertise these webloggers have to contribute much to these excellent and appreciated discussions on linguistics, but even I, as someone with little exposure to this field, have a difficult time understanding why a people’s use of characters rather than an alphabet for writing would interfere with their scientific achievements. All I know is how much I appreciate the beauty of the characters, but I imagine that makes me provincial in the eyes of a learned man such as Mr. Hannas.

So I’ll add my own contribution to the response:

pHUcK j00

Roughly and idiomatically translated: What they said. (Thanks to Aquarionics for linguistic help.)

Of course, once I wrote this, I thought of Jonathon’s previous writing on Linguistic Imperialism and the impact that political correctness is having on what we say.

Well, back to the poetry and the RDF and the next essay, which I’ll release later tonight but must take my afternoon walk. In the meantime, while trying to look something up related to this topic, indirectly, I found a website that might be of interest: Omniglot.

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