Thursday, November 26, 2015


Imagine this: you walk into a room. The door swings shut behind you, blocking out the last rays of unfiltered sunlight. The only illumination now comes from flickering candles and sunlight, reflected and refracted through thousands of crystals set intricately together to form the domed roof high above your head. The light from the candelabra and through the crystals reflects off the blades of the thousands of swords that ring the room diffusing until the entire area is dimly illuminated.

Your attention is drawn to these swords. Inumerable at a glance; they surround the room, each one with its blade thrust into the floor. Each one different from all the others. Swords from every conceivable place and time. They seem to be thrown together with no discernible system; a katana is set next to a machete, a wakizashi and dirk sandwich a falx. Here a bastard sword, there a kopis. From size they stretch from a claymore to mere daggers and everything in between. Sabers, scimitars and shamshirs. Kukris and Katanas. Nodachis, Wakizashis and Tantos. Great swords, broadswords, long swords and short swords. Two handed swords (there a zhanmadao), single handed swords (there a rapier) and hand-and-a-half swords. Hook swords, butterfly swords, daos from small to large. Is that a hachiwara next to the jutte? And look, a jiang. Every imaginable type of machete: panabas, parang, bolo, panga, borang and more. Zweihanders and cutlasses. Swords you’ve never seen or heard of. Swords known only to a few obscure craftsmen, be they sword makers or sword wielders.; known to them only from experience, whether theirs or their masters none could say. Nameless swords designed only to kill. For here every sword is a tool and every tool a weapon, from the kris to the basket hilt directly opposite you.

You are torn from your reverie. A man stands behind you. How did he get there? It’s unimportant. For you know that he is the warrior. The artist who wields these swords as brushes and the paint is blood. With people as his canvas, he paints death. A falchion in his hand, a gim in yours. Only one of you will leave this place.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

John Henry vs the Corporation

Let me tell you the story ok Ken Labori. Labori lived sometime in the distant future when mechanical creations were less mechanical and more creative than they are now. Machines were back then were not only better than humans at simple things like chess, or Go or driving cars; they were now also beginning to replace and surpass their creators in the realms of art and workmanship.

And so machines cranked out poetry, and many the aspiring Wordsworth gave up the field of contest in despair. Machines painted such great art that many a future Michelangelo forgot their own creative drive in awe and wonder. Machines took over architecture and cooking, writing and music. Machines even began to beget machines so that man began to ask himself, “Am I then obsolete?”

“No!” Cried Ken Labori. No man is obsolete and no machine can triumph over man. “No machine can understand the subtlety and innovation required to be a true master of an art. Surely they can copy our best artists, surely they can produce faster and more accurately. But it is in the human feeling that true art lies.”

For you see, Ken Labori was a carpenter. A carpenter as had never been seen before on this world. Ken Labori made tables and chairs, cabinets and dressers, doors and handrails, and even some smaller decorative kitch. They were at once beautiful and useful. Full of idealism and yet pragmatic enough for the dullest utilitarian. To see a Labori table was to admire it; to see a Labori chair was to desire to sit in it. For the beauty of Labori’s workmanship stretched beyond mere appeal to the senses, it touched a man’s soul.

Day after day machines encroached upon the once sacred territory of the arts. Day after day they began to mass produce that which man could only painstakingly create by the sweat of his mind and hands. And day after day Ken Labori declared that no machine could make furniture better than he.

But the day after that day, Machines Making Machines Inc.™ took up Labori’s challenge. They made one great machine to print flyers. They made thousands of flying machines to deliver the brochures and they even made some machines just to read their pamphlets. The message to which all these machines dedicated their existence to delivering was simple yet bold, dashing yet… The leaflet said:


And so Labori met with the head (a literal giant machine head) of Machines Making Machines Inc™. They decided the terms of the contest, namely: each contestant would produce one table within two weeks. The quality of each piece of furniture would be determined by a jury composed of ⅔ humans and ⅓ machines. The head summoned a robot to shake Labori’s hand and the deal was made, the contest began.

As had the hardest two weeks of Labori’s life. He labored day and night. Without sleeping, without eating; he worked every minute of every day. He set out by travelling the globe, securing the choicest woods from the most beautiful trees in the most picturesque woods and forests. Using techniques long since forgotten, he slaved and lathed away until! Behold, a table.

Imagine the most beautiful table, handcrafted with intense attention to every intricate detail. Woodwork and carpentry such as no eye had ever seen before, or since. Lacquer shines so that it reminds one of lakes, hidden in deep grottos nestled in mountain top woods. The wood is of trees more ancient and beautiful than the continents to which they are rooted and as one gazes upon it they can feel the earth from whose lifeblood these trees have drunk. Legs both sturdy and slender hold up the flat top of the table. But to say flat is surely to mislabel the slab that summits this work of art, for it is no more flat than the world. Like that fabled table of Arthur it invites all to sit at it and be equal, and surely, though the table would fit in any room, there is room at it for everyone who has ever lived or died.

Such a table would be a sham, a perversion compared to the table that Labori crafted at the end of two weeks. However, he lost the contest. How you ask? Was the machine made table truly better? No. Don’t be stupid. Let me finish the story.

This is how.

Machines Making Machines Inc™ spent two days making a Table Making Machine® and about a hundred or so machines to assist it. These machines spent three days gathering, sorting and filtering materials and two days making a table. So at the end of one week the Machines Making Machines Inc™ Table Making Machine® made a table that was… Remember the lengthy description back there that started with “imagine the most beautiful table…”? That’s a pretty adequate description of the table representing Machines Making Machines Inc™. With a truly gentlemanly spirit, Machines Making Machines Inc™ refrained from making a machine in order to inform Ken Labori that he’d lost the race. Instead it dispatched a robot to inform him.

Not being a very innovative robot, the one dispatched by Machines Making Machines Inc™, after receiving no reply to its knock at Ken Labori’s door, choose to wait outside until it was opened.

It waited for exactly one week. At the end of the second week of the competition Machines Making Machines Inc™ sent another robot to summon Ken Labori and his table before the judges panel. The second robot was, fortunately, smarter than the first (and slightly more volatile). When Labori didn’t open the door despite the robots knocking, it knocked the door down. Inside was Ken Labori’s table. On Ken Labori’s table was the dead body of Ken Labori. The two robots gathered these two things and brought them before the judges.

The judges looked at the tables, looked at Ken Laboris body, looked at the Machines Making Machines Inc™ Table Making Machine® and unanimously reached their decision. The cyborg panel of judges ⅓ machine ⅔ human concluded that while Labori’s table was indubitably the better of the two, a table was hardly worth the life of a person, even an android. While Ken Labori had burnt out his battery and memory in the effort of making the table, the Machines Making Machines Inc™ Table Making Machine® was perfectly fine and capable of producing more high quality tables. Thus, the cyborg judges declared, the winner of the contest was invariably Machines Making Machines Inc™. Besides they added, their table was made in half the time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On Language

I first began my expedition into the realm of lexicon a few revolutions of our planet ago. I set out upon this journey with twofold purpose: 1. to observe the sights and sounds, but not for their beauty, rather to establish my superior intellect and belittle those with less extensive a vocabulary. And 2. to annoy my friend Lisa (a (semi-)devout language purist with a blog on the subject here). Herein lies the fruit of my journey, and the destination I’ve arrived at so far. Please bear with my shaky camera and try to enjoy the view.

Just by embarking on this journey I’ve separated myself from those who say things like ‘most def’ or ‘I literally turned green, I was so sick’. Originally this was one of my stated purposes. Not only did I set out on unfamiliar terrain to distance myself from them, I set out to place myself above them (appreciate the double meaning of ‘set out’ there). It has long been a hobby of mine to use words like ‘juxtapose’ or ‘perfunctory’ (or any of the other 800 plus words collected here), in order to befuddle those who were unfamiliar with them. This was an easy game to play since most people are unfamiliar with most words in the english language (that may be hyperbolic though probably not as much as you’d think). I would use or misuse the words in order to throw off others; if I used the word incorrectly (as was my wont) they’d be unable to call me out on it.

So there I was, a few steps on my journey, staring in awe at the surrounding words (here a vociferous, there a genuflection) when I decided that my journey had another purpose. I came to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the english language. I discovered words like gestalt and rimption, I started describing things as fungible or vermicular, I fell in love with perfunctory and sublime. I discovered a world I’d never dreamed of; trespassed upon by few. I learned names like William Safire (to whose column the title of this post is a tribute) and Raven I. McDavid Jr. I stumbled upon a world in which words are treasure, treated reverently; there ways and meanings are sought out as though they are an old friend one desires to know more closely. So there I was, hardly a mile down the road and already finding the gulf between myself and those who have ‘frenemies’ widening. But let me divagate.

This is hardly a digression, rather it is a view from the mountain we find ourselves on toward the valley where my journey has carried me so far. I recently listened to a… rant? ramble? diatribe? by actor and comedian Stephen Fry. He censured those who, like me, insist on proper usage of words. Or on placing apostrophes in their grammatically correct positions. He opined that ‘anglophones’ who were ‘pedantic’ about grammatical and linguistic correctness were trading the lasting joy of english for the fleeting joy of superiority. The common reply to such accusations from, what Stephen Fry views as, the doctrinaire party is this: “We must preserve the english language to facilitate lucid communication.” To which Stephen Fry replies that only an idiot would mistake the sign ‘15 or less items’ to mean anything other than ‘15 or fewer items”. William Safire dealt with this very misuse in an article entitled ‘less is more, not fewer’.

Back to my journey. I found myself increasingly pedantic about others misuse of words even while holding onto my own purposeful obfuscations. Skip ahead. For some time I’ve read William Safire while rejecting his puritanical view of the english language. I’ve known that the language is dynamic and therefore will never be preserved. And though some mourn the loss of thou I embraced a future free of thees. As I progressed in my excursion I found this position of wanton linguistic extirpation to be harder to maintain. I found myself increasingly ambivalent about the issue. On my journey I began to respect words; outside of my journey I began to respect communication. I found myself grudgingly siding with William Safire. Let us embrace changes to the language when they move it in the direction of greater clarity. We should cheer when a word separates from its synonyms in order to take on a discrete and necessary definition. Conversely we should fight every step of the way when a word tries to blur its distinct boundaries and merge with its neighbors.

But what about Stephen Fry’s position? I thought long and hard after listening to his monologue. This is the conclusion I reached. This is where my journey has taken me so far. I try to surround myself with intelligent people. My close group (a ‘conspiracy’ or maybe a ‘constabulary’, not a gaggle) of friends have large vocabularies and the necessary wit to define contextually those words they don’t immediately recognize. It is a sad fact that most do not. William Safire says we should only use unfamiliar words if our purpose is: to teach or to tease, to reach out to intellectuals who will look them up or if we immediately (if not explicitly) define them. I find my current position to be inline with this advice. Use large words with those who will appreciate them. For the rest, talk on their level. For those that enjoy it, engage in philological repartee. As for the rest, refrain from overpowering them linguistically and appearing priggish.I stand in this valley, enjoying the fusty peaks and the fructificative mountains to the west; as well as the bathyscaph range to the north, the incunabulum ridges peering over their collective shoulders. Rather than keep this view to myself and lord over others there inability to see it, I will share freely the pictures and memories I’ve collected on this most vivid and memorable journey.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Sometimes I just want to cry but I don’t know how. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray but God, sometimes I think they meant ‘teach us to weep’. Father, if you really love the mourners’ tears then do you hate me? And when the kingdom suffers do you embrace it? Like I long to hold my niece when she hurts herself? If you longed to gather Israel as a hen gathers her brood then I pray that one day I might feel the warmth of that embrace and fears would cease as tears began to flow.

Maybe it’s just the masochist in me but some days I long to cry. I don’t know how and I’m worried that all this digging at my heart is building callouses faster than feelings and soon I’ll have only the former and none of the latter. can you turn this heart to flesh after I’ve turned it to stone? And if so how can I learn to ask you for that gift of healing when I shun the feeling it would bring?

I am not comfortably numb. Nor could I ever be (oh God don’t let me be). I guess I’m just too much of a masochist to sacrifice the pain in order to do away with the pleasure.

But more than that I’m a hypocrite. For I seek whatever I can to keep my deck level and my seas smooth; all the while steering clear of any chance of adventure and dangerous waves that might overturn my foolish craft and drown me in an ocean of your love.

I’m terrified of the sea. I’m terrified of what it would mean to me; to find myself truly surrendering to your leading through stormy seas. I’d rather be pulled under by currents beyond my control then brave the turmoil of the surface and face the music for my failures. I wrecked that boat because I refused to trust you. I’ve been practicing my grip for years so that one day maybe I’ll let go and let you take hold of the wheel. You can navigate by placing stars in the sky but when it comes to piloting this ship I will do it myself. I will relish every reef that grinds me down, every enemy ship that torpedoes my hull and at the end of the day when I break down, I will blame you because you never did.

If I could cry it would be tears rather than rain running down my cheeks to mix with the salt water I’m drowning in.

Adrift. Alone. But flotsam with no jetsam to cling to because my life’s too valuable to be thrown overboard. I would if I could.

I send out this SOS and like lagan sink below the waves.