the microatoll

Me vs. Metaphysics

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

The best satirists unmoor one from the quotidian wake of thought. Saki leaves one with a sense of discomfort, the sense that his youngest characters – i.e. Vera and Reginald – leave all their elders with (save the unconventional ones). Unconventionality is the usual saving grace in the universe of Saki. No philosophical school can remain not blushful while perusing Saki. Or H.L. Mencken, for that matter, who described metaphysics as a ‘salvo of nonsense.’ I feared for years that I had missed the point of metaphysics’ existence. Being qua being, it appears not to exist. Me 1, Metaphysics 0.

 

Love Pays Me a Visit Too

Don’t come over! I’m entertaining a guest.

It’s Love, come to the 15th floor to pay me a visit. Love has come to me just as to millions of my predecessors up the phylogenetic tree, back to the early hominids who lacked language to express their love: only primate vocal calls. How did love arrive in a primitive heart? Without any fanfare?

….What was Lucy like, in love?…Was a sentimental poem once written in her homely visage? Was there ever a yearning alight in her sunken eyes, as in my myopic ones?

I think I must be in love because the sentimental poetry has left me. After all, though it glorifies the beloved, Love is a plain emotion and a humble one.

Listening to Tartini’s violin sonata; the pathetic notes drift and curl hesitantly out of the open window into a night alive with smoke and laughter. Here, in my little apartment, my young green heart seems to throb with a secret music. Lift a drab head like Cock Robin to sing prematurely that spring has come!

But spring is so far away still! And Beloved, you are no gentle Chinook! I feel your indifference as a cold boreal wind from the capital. It will not thaw.

Robin, you must have been a lover once! –Stop singing for a moment, look down!

Robin, was it Cupid that smote you? –Your breast is still red and raw with the wound.

Robin, who smote you?

Pardon my Youthful Excesses

Is anyone born with a philanthropist’s heart? It was foolish, I know, to test the limits of my own altruism, to wake up before dawn to instruct a small crowd of darling young ingrates online.

I teach in a style that is obviously untaught. It is occasionally enlightening, but definitely more pedantic than curious Youth deserves. It feels more a test of character than of the pedagogic skills that my students are not fully convinced that I possess…

And yet I have faithfully taught, week after interminable week, with three memorable exceptions.

The first culprit was a nocturnal visitor: not a bat, but a boy. As I watched him slumbering, I couldn’t bear to wake him to explain the jarring realities of my Saturday morning. No doubt philanthropism, as a derivative of altruism, is attractive in a potential mate, but isn’t also a normal Circadian rhythm?

The second was a late return from a debutantes’ ball. While explaining the periodic trends. I fell into a deep sleep, from which I was awakened by the impatient shouts of my students. That lesson was ended due to ‘technical difficulties’—a beautiful excuse in this age. Perhaps it was unjust to vilify the hitherto faultless teaching platform.

‘I’ll have a word with the developers,’ I vowed with deep insincerity.

The third was a birthday party at the end of the least-frequented S-Bahn line, in the bustling bar of a woodsy Bavarian village. Alas! Schnapps take their toll on susceptible young females, stealing away with their best falsehoods. Students and parents received the following terse explanation:

‘Class is canceled due to my advanced state of inebriation.  Please pardon my youthful excesses.’

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Bacchus, patron god of youthful excesses.

Cholera in Haiti: The Work of Marinette-Bwa-Chech?

via Daily Prompt: Promises

The science is simply irrefutable.

The gods of a myth system can be more or less human. In the transference of Catholicism to Haiti, which brought the good but highfalutin Bondye (the creole moniker for God) there was left a cultural vacuum, filled exuberantly by the more human Loa spirits of Haitian Voodoo.

The Loa are African in origin, of course. Haitian Loa are a mélange of African spirits—from Togo (the seat of the capricious Kings of Dahomey), southwestern Nigeria (Yorubaland) and the Congo. Some spirits—appropriately characterized as raw, carnal, adolescent rough-and-ready types—have arisen in the past few centuries on Haiti itself.

The landscape of Haiti has changed: geographically, socially, culturally. There are no more stark and insoluble injustices, like racial subordination. Instead, there is a certain disrespectability about the political order, shrouding it in a mourning veil of perpetual penitence: a crawling corruption, which the twin Loa of greed and avarice observe gleefully from the [illegally sourced] Hispaniolan woodwork.

When their green woodlands are razed for new developments, the remarkably adaptable animal life of the American Southeast takes to the suburbs, forgoing the golden leaf litter of the forest ravine for the humble porch stoop.

May we similarly suggest that the clear-cutting of the Hispaniolan pines has forced the forest-dwelling Loa to fly to the homely developments around Port-au-Prince and the Caribbean coast?

There they nest under corrugated tin roofs, under tarpaulins, in water-filled potholes, in the shabbily ostentatious tents of charismatic shamans who reek a little of rice wine.

Modern belief systems have relegated Voodoo superstition to the steampunk graveyard and the tourist’s curiosity shop.

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Marinette-Bwa-Chech, dry-armed Loa sorceress with a true island temperament, was unable to bear the indignity of spiritual abandonment and swore revenge. When the dread spectre of Cholera arrived to the island on its maiden voyage in 2010—brought by Nepalese peacekeepers—in the wake of the earthquake, Marinette put all her energies towards its rapid spread: collapsing levees, overtaxing reservoirs, directing the contamination with a dowsing rod so that it leeched into clean wells.

And she alighted in politicians’ ears and whispered stultifying things so that, over pressing emergency legislation, they could only stare at each other glassily and do nothing.

It is this, more than anything, that has led to the repeated hindrance of international efforts to eradicate the dread Choler on the island of Hispaniola.

A formal petition to imprison the remorseless old Marinette-Bwa-Chech! Let us hear your AMEN!

A like, of course, would be equally acceptable

Sunday Afternoon of a Wastrel in the English Garden

Are you tired of voyeurs? Tired of poseurs? This post is for you.

What do dissipated youth do in their free time ? our elders used to wonder.

Modern youth says ‘Just check Instagram.’

I say the cloud’s most popular gallery has only perpetrated the mystique. The shadowed sole of a foot, the white edge of a table and the hulking silhouette of a MacBook at half-mast: what do these profundities mean?

Alas that I can’t say. With no Instagram, my exhibitionist streak has not been not highly developed. Per contra, perhaps it’s because I don’t possess the exhibitionist streak that I have no Instagram.

It was as I lay there, arranged attractively on the sun-warmed grass of the English Garden, that I pondered this question.

My peripheral vision was intensely occupied by small insects making steady progress towards my prone young body; my subconscious, by a pleasing cognizance of my vulnerability to the predatory instincts of both gawkers and gnats.

Not one passerby obliged me, but the gnats certainly did.

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At Work“: One wastrel observes another.

Machinations of Hoodrat Socialists

The unemployed, single mother goose raised her brood without the financial support of the Gander and his well-to-do family and relations.

Her Social Security payments hardly fostered cheerful conditions at home in the inner city. Class differences flourish amid poverty and tax hikes, a lot like slender speedwell on a suburban lawn.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Goose raised her goslings as ambitious, society-minded little Socialists.

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Mother Goose, Socialist.

In their youth, all members of the the brood were punk hooligans and Robin Hoods, who through small thievery and a variety of petty crimes, earned the family’s daily bread. All members of  the brood, that is, but one: the youngest Gosling, who was not only openly Capitalist but also religiously-minded.*

For his fifth birthday, he received a Bible. For his seventh, he received a prayer rug. It was shortly thereafter that he decided to join the Cistercian Order and become a monk, to which the family was strongly opposed. Nevertheless, every night the youngest Gosling whispered a prayer to heaven:

Lord in Heaven, Oh sweet Lord
I don’t want no silver bullet, no Panacea
Just dun brown monk’s robes,
just some dun brown monk’s robes.

Alas, the prayer was never realized. Before the end of the fiscal quarter, the youngest Gosling died unexpectedly. Untrained in the ways of the hood, he had been caught in a twilight crossfire between two rival gangs of Bantam roosters.**

He received no obituary because geese control no major media outlets.

Later, he would posthumously idealized and immortalized in the hearts & minds of many Socialist geese as, of all things, a martyr for the cause.***

*Suffice to say he was a believer in church and state.

**It was reported that the fight had been racially motivated.

***Courtesy of the machinations of his broodmates, senior members of the Hoodrat Socialist Party.

How to be an Elusive Entity – A poem.

How to be an   E l u s i v e   E n t i t y

inspired by this prompt.

I asked him How to be Elusive?—And, in answer
He canvassed gods and Galileos
–Even filed with Scotland Yard an inquiry–
To present me unsolved cases of fey mystery
Not atypical of an elusive entity.

Hark! how he will slip away and yet remain popular, a rarity,
Just whetting the appetite of the slavering laity,
—Then retire to a quiet shrine, and there
Meditate placidly on Sin and Piety.”

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Meditating placidly on Sin and Piety.

“Be elusive, my Dear, like the God particle, the Last Frontier—
the Standard Model’s funeral bier.
Or better yet, like the O-type star—
Undetectable—veiled by clouds of crimson cinnabar
Before which Sol sinks 10 to the 6 times subpar
Being dimmer, diminutive,
A mere Picayune
—But still more robust and longer-lived
Than the O-type, that cagey astral Jacamar!”

“Or mimic rather,’ he continued, ‘The revels of a Shakespearean spirit!’
‘Not a fairies’ midwife or moorland brownie
But a Puckish sylph detained by sorcery,
Who, freed from a piney prison
Makes mischief and demands a pretty sum
To lend his voice to the haunting chorus
Of Prospero’s island requiem.’

“And lastly,’ he entreated me, “You might aspire to be like Carroll’s Cheshire Cat,
Or the Hatter’s oft-disappearing Hat—
Perhaps strive for the political conscience of the callous Carpenter, 
Elusive—like that of our estimable Conservative front-runner!”

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Carroll’s Cheshire Cat

Host & Guest Chemistry

Vaguely inspired by this prompt.

As a molecular host, finding the right guest can be difficult. It’s all a high-stakes game of chance and proximity.

The fabled selectivity of the molecule cyclodextrin for the benzene ring reminded one  epigrammatic duo of scientists of the lock-and-key model for enzymatic selectivity. So they named the field host-guest chemistry.

The thing about chemical houseguests? Perfect complementarity.
Cyclodextrin is the paladin of all molecular hosts, and benzene, the the ideal guest.

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Image: Benzene makes for a better houseguest than Goldilocks.

If, like cyclodextrin and benzene, two molecules are destined for the sacred union of host and guest, not even the mirror image of the guest can pair with the host.

Imagine that you had an identical twin who, of the two of you, was the only one welcome in your parents’ house. It’s the beautiful logic of enantiomers, molecules that are non-superimposable mirror images of each other. This logic can be summed up thusly: A left-hand foot cannot be placed in a right-hand shoe.

Even if the shoe fits–even if the guest conforms to its molecular host–electrostatic binding sites of host and guest must also align. And if charges are not complementary, the guest will be summarily repulsed by the host.

But if noncovalent interactions are successful, our guest is out of solution for the night!

***

*The epigrammatic duo, Drs. Jane and Donald Cram, were actually married, in another instance of perfect complementarity. While only one grainy page of the PDF is available to the unsubscribed, their foundational 1974 paper on host-guest chemistry is archived here on Science

The Microatoll rockets to preeminence!

No, just kidding. But follow on twitter @microatoll for updates on exciting new posts to materialize swiftly and soon!