Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ask Palinode #7: super bonus question day

Sometimes you get tired of being ugly. You want to jump out of bed and say, 'Fuck it world, I'm all about the beauty today. Being ugly is so never was and never more will be, aye'. Then you face down the mirror, the one showing you your same old ugly face, and say, 'Thanks mirror, that's a nice picture of the old me. But there's a new me now, and that me is beautiful'.

I'm already beautiful, so I don't have to go through this process. But today I not only look beautiful; I feel it. In fact, I feel better than beautiful. I feel cute and perky on the inside. That's where all the pretty butterflies come from. So perky do I feel that I'm going to answer multiple questions at once. My Head Is Too Big For My Body, aka Mr. Head, asks:

  1. Broken down into component elements and allowing for inflation, how much will my body be worth when I die in 2046?

  2. How fast do the molecules in said body need to vibrate so I can pass through solid structures?

  3. What does the word "zeitgeist" mean?
#1. Mr. Head, congratulations on your decision to take your future in your hands and calculate the worth of your first, last and ultimately only possession - your own body. Most people calculate their worth by tallying up their assets - houses, cars, yachts, slaves, jewellery - and leaving it all to relatives or the Humane Society. They say you can't take it with you. But your body comes along whether you want it or not.

The human body is a mish-mash of elements, some common, some extremely rare, that were minding their own business and having a good time when your DNA molecule showed up and started bullying them around. Then these inert piles hopped up from whatever they were doing and started joining into molecules, each bond adding complexity and specialization until an entire Mr. Head was standing there, all assembled and wondering where his girlfriend had gotten to. In economic terms, it could be said that each step up in complexity adds value to these elements, until a pile of carbon, which in raw form may cost a penny or less, suddenly becomes part of an entire body, which can be rented out for up to fifty years in exchange for varying amounts of money.

When you're calculating the worth of the elemental composition of the body, it's best to keep in mind that your body is worth a whole lot more if all its molecular bonds remain intact. Separate, unmolested and sitting in piles, the various elements of your body still amount to less than a dollar. If you're willing to add value to those elements, though, the sums of money start piling up. You've probably got about 16 kilograms of oxygen locked away in your tissues. Not worth much when extracted and placed on a table. If you were to chill it, bottle it under pressure in a steel canister and offer it to old people, you'd find that medical-grade oxygen fetched a very high price. Or take your carbon, which, if removed from your body and dumped in a bowl, would not be worth much. If you add it to industrial pollution, though, you can then refrain from burning it in exchange for carbon credits. Cha-ching. That's an instance in which you can add value to a substance by not doing anything at all beyond placing it in a particular context. And you're helping to save the Earth.

If we were to account for inflation, as your question suggests, let's assume a base value for your elements of ninety-eight cents. This is an entirely reasonable sum, because anything in this world worth less than a dollar is automatically ninety-eight cents, with the exception of Hubba Bubba bubblegum. If we then assume an inflation total of 523%, based on the rate over the past forty years, your denatured self will be worth a stunning $6.13 when, in 2046, you will fall over dead in the street and then someone will sell you for your elements. Way to plan, Mr. Head. Especially since dead bodies will be reanimated in the future and put to work in 7-Elevens.

#2. Everyone who grew up reading comic books and dreaming of supernatural powers will be familiar with this question, which reminds us of the Flash and his ability to make his molecules vibrate in such a way that he could pass through solid barriers. Along with Wolverine's crazy claws, molecular control was probably the most coveted super-possession for young boys in the '70s and '80s. Lightsabers also ranked up there (note how all these things involve passing or cutting through barriers). The point is this: any boy who has the ability to vibrate through walls is by definition totally cool. And once he grows up a bit and starts dating women, immensely desirable. Girls who can do this are unfortunately not cool because girls are not allowed to go through walls. Women who can vibrate through walls are also immensely desirable and highly caffeinated.

In order to find out how The Flash did his thing, I asked my friend Levendis, who's read Crisis on Infinite Earths and so most likely knows about molecular frequencies.

Levendis: The Flash has a kind of 'deal' that protects his molecules, or he used to, but in Infinite Crisis #4 Superboy-Prime was pulled into the Speed Force by the other Flashes.

Palinode: So this 'deal' was the thing that allowed him to vibrate through walls?

Levendis: That was the deal.

Palinode: And the Speed Force helped him with his... speed?

Levendis: The Speed Force was an extradimensional force that the Flash was able to draw on in order to go to the speed of light and beyond.

Palinode: But now he's not able to do this?

Levendis: The nature of the Speed Force changed after Superboy-Prime and now he's just really fast.

Palinode: I hate comics.

The speed at which a molecule vibrates is a function of the amount of energy added to the molecule. At absolute zero, no energy is being applied to the molecule, so the vibration is zero. As the available energy increases, so does the vibration. In order to increase the vibration of your molecules so that you could pass through a wall, you would need to add a significant amount of energy and some kind of protective shielding against the harmful effects of that energy. The Flash apparently had a well of extradimensional energy called the Speed Force on which to draw, and he was protected by some kind of 'deal'. Regrettably we have no such 'deal,' and the Speed Force for us is the group of pale-faced kids in the park selling crystal meth.

Since no one has ever accomplished this feat in the real world, it can only be proved by thorough experiment. If you can find a sufficient source of energy, then you have to deal with the second law of thermodynamics, which indicates that waste energy from spontaneous transfer will be thrown off as heat. Oxygen molecules in your body and ambient air will react with the heat in a process known as combustion and then you will be on fire.

Most of your body will be converted to ambient nitrogen and particles of carbon. If the prevailing winds are correct, the particles of carbon will rise on the current of warm air and land on the other side of the wall. I call this The Classical Solution.

Clearly, classical physics are not your friend. What you need is the aid of quantum mechanics. For starters, take a look at this:

Whoah! What the fuck is that? You may not know it, but that's the solution to your vexed question here. In order to pass through that wall, you don't need speed; you need the benefits of quantum mechanical tunneling.

What is quantum mechanical tunneling? Without it, your Casio wristwatch would not work. Your television set would just be a weird box you paid a thousand dollars for. Your sun would not be able to initiate the thermonuclear explosions that give us heat and light. Your physics prof would not lecture on the topic, for obvious reasons.

Quantum mechanical tunneling is difficult to sum up in a few words, but suffice it to say that when a peck or bushel of subatomic particles approaches a barrier at a certain energy level, some will be reflected back, but a certain number will, by the laws of quantum probability, appear on the other side of the barrier. It's like throwing a cat at the door and finding that somehow the cat has landed in the hallway. Or like having a cat take a shit in a litter box but somehow you find cat turds on the floor (Cat shit is the only macroscopic substance known to take advantage of quantum tunneling). Bear in mind that there is no actual 'tunnel' involved; the particles appear on the other side of the barrier as a function of quantum probability.

You will notice that the tunneling effect works best when applied to the subatomic level. In fact, for your average electron, disappearing one side of a wall and popping into existence on the other side is pretty commonplace. On larger scales of measurement, probability begins to average out in such a way as to discourage crazy-ass shit like quantum tunneling. It's not impossible for all 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (7 *1027) atoms in your body to spontaneously vanish and then reappear elsewhere in the precise configuration that they enjoyed, but it's really really unlikely.

Given that degree of unlikelihood, it's probably smart to reduce your body to individual elements. This can be accomplished with a gun and a good pair of tweezers. Have a friend gather you up in a bucket and hurl your components at a wall. Then wait for quantum tunneling to do its magic.

#3. 'Zeitgeist' is not a real word. It was made up by my little cousin Billy in 1982 when I asked him what he was going to call his new puppy. 'Zeitgeist!' he screamed, spittle flying. 'Zeitgeist!' Shut up, I thought. The name didn't stick (big surprise). I'm quite surprised at how rapidly the word has spread out into common usage since then. It still doesn't mean anything, though.

ask palinode #6: cufflinks

Sometimes people living a thousand miles or more from my apartment have questions. And my first thought is generally, "Why bother? They can't come over and slip poison gas under the door by means of a flexible celluloid pipette. Why, between the road agents and the portaging, who would make such a long journey at this perilous time of year? I'm safe until spring thaw".

Then I reflect on the increasing popularity of the motor car and the air-plane, and a flood of generosity douses my soul. Mr. Hobbs, who lives in a boat moored to a rock off the shore of Lake Ontario, has the following to ask:

I purchased a set of cufflinks at the Sunday antique market fair in Kingston. They are a rather nice pair of cufflinks; they work quite well, they don't eat at all, they hold my sleeve's cuffs together, they never jump off and run away, as so many other cufflinks do, and they never talk back. ...But, I fear they may be communicating with others. You see, each cufflink has a symbol upon it, obviously of some sort of club or fraternity, and as to which organization's member they do beckon, I know not! Palinode from the image below can you decipher the club, clan, cult, fraternity, religious affiliation, a-religious affiliation (Buddhists, atheists, Epicureans, the NDP, etc..), group, party, organization, faction, persuasion, or perversion these cufflinks are symbolic calling card to?

Before I may bring these cufflinks to my heart, I will await your response and hold them aloft in my esteem and wear them only upon my sleeve(s).

They have no writing nor stamp on the reverse or stem. They did come as a set of 3, as heirs and spare I assume, for $4 (in total, not @).

Yowzah! You were right to suspect a secret affiliation dependent from the links. The first truth of the matter is that cufflinks are, if not evil, then definitely sinister; their very dapperness determines their nature. It is also true that, issuing from their sinister nature, they are in cahoots with other entities. I wish I could say with confidence that these entities have your best interests at heart, but it is not so. These groups serve only one master, and their twisted altar of worship is not yours.

Given that these are the bald facts in the case, it remains only to suss out the true allegiances of your cufflinks. First off, the symbols are not horseshoes. They are actually bicycle clips.

The bearers of the bicycle clip cufflinks declare their membership in the Constabulary for the Preservation of Humanity By Way of the Atomic Theory (CPHWAT). The Atomic Theory was first outlined the organization's manifesto, Flann O' Brien's 'novel' The Third Policeman. O'Brien's 'novel' is populated by policemen in a rural Irish parish whose chief activity is the theft and recovery of bicycles. The policemen are great proponents of the Atomic Theory.

The Atomic Theory proves that prolonged periods of riding bicycles, especially along unpaved roads or paths, creates excessive jolting and constant friction between the seat of the bicycle and the seat of the rider. The jolting can actually cause atoms from the bicycle and the rider to cross over, so that in time the rider begins to absorb his or her bicycle and the bicycle its rider.

Within a year of daily riding, it is possible for a bicycle and his or her owner to have unwittingly exchanged twenty five percent of their natures. Given such a terrible progression, it would not be surprising if bicycles in the guise of human beings one day ruled the world (incidentally, this has already happened in the Netherlands). The members of CPHWAT, with their dedication to promote high percentages of humanity in humans, have been stealing bicycles for years. Remember: when you return from an afternoon at the beach to find a broken lock dangling from the bike rack, CPHWAT has been there.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

burnt anakin cakes

Normally I don't talk about the Google searches that land people on this page, since so many of them are so inappropriate that when I read them I feel slightly ashamed, as if I'd deliberately set out to mislead web surfers. People use the web for a million practical uses, to help them shop, to give them factual information, to provide guidance and help them get on with their day. Aside from my bracing Ask Palinode series, I provide precisely none of these things. Imagine wanting to find a home remedy for your son's fever, only to find one of my nonsensical rants about robot vaginas or how much I hate Rapid City. I really want people looking for Nan Goldin photos to find Nan Goldin photos. I also really want people to stop coming here looking for photos by 'Nan Golden'. That person does not exist, or if she does, she's no photographer. The lesson to be drawn: the kingdom of Google does not believe in puns.

Today I checked my referrers and found my favourite Google search yet: "burnt anakin about to become darth vader". The search will lead you to a leaked photo of a crispy Hayden Christensen that made the rounds in the months preceding Sithy Revenge, but my site comes in fourth. Out of all the thousands of sites that regularly churn out info, opinion and speculation on Star Wars, my snarky-ass blog gets fourth place in the Burnt Anakin sweepstakes. I don't want to disappoint further Surfers for Burnt Anakin, so here's my contribution to the noise.

Burnt Anakin Cakes

  • 2 cups flour from Naboo or some ridiculous made-up bullshit like that

  • 2 tsps galactic baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp salt from that hot red planet at the end of Revenge of the Sith

  • 1 1/2 tsps melange, the spice that grants awareness of other dippy sci-fi franchises

  • 1/4 tsp ground Jawa

  • 1/4 cup chopped Anakin arm leg damn, there's not much of him

  • 2 eggs from spacebeast like the one that swallowed the Millenium Falcon

  • 1 cup sugar from that planet where - oh, screw it, just use sugar

  • According to Lucas' notes for the intro crawl to the unfilmed Episode 7, sour cream is under embargo by the Trade Federation, so use 1 cup healthy plain yoghurt

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda with midichlorians

Sift flour, galactic powder, hot red planet salt, melange, jawa. Lightly stir in the screaming, raging bits of Anakin, tossing to coat. In a trash compactor, beat those big eggs until light. Add delicious sugar.

Combine yoghurt and baking soda; stir into raging Anakin mixture. Avoid Force.

Preheat Sarlaac to 375 degrees. Placate Sarlaac with hapless troopers, aliens, whatever. They're disposable props in the funhouse of George Lucas' imagination. Bake cupcakes in greased baking tray for a thousand years of pain and suffering or until cupcake surface bounces back lightly to the touch (~25 to 35 minutes). Do not overburn. Cupcakes may destroy you.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

hare golfer

gee thanks, Wikipedia
Let me tell you a story.

One afternoon in the summer of 1986 I met a German Hare Krishna on Yonge Street in Toronto. He had a golf cap over his shaved-head-and-queue, wore a madras shirt tucked into khaki trousers, and looked startlingly normal for a Hare Krishna. In the mid 1980s his shaved head set him apart, but today he would be indistinguishable from any early middle-aged man in the city, although perhaps a bit touristy in his cap and light clothes. His name was either Horst or Rolf, and he had the sharp jawline and clear eyes that all the Horsts and Rolfs seem blessed with. He greeted me with a big smile and asked me if I'd given some thought to the reincarnation of souls.

I was fifteen that summer and I must have looked like an easy mark, because I got hit up for money or propositioned at least three times a week. Horst or Rolf came along in mid-July, when I was just getting aquainted with my newfound powers of attracting predators and proselytizers. By early June I had lost my fear of them and had decided to enter into limited engagement with each, stopping short of the point when I would be expected to sign up for weekly chanting or sell my body hair (true story - remind me to tell you some time). So when Rolf/Horst the Hare Krishna, the one with startlingly clean tennis shoes, stopped me on the street to discuss the soul pinned to karma's wheel and kicked through the spacetime continuum, I was, as they say, game.

Being fifteen, I knew all that I needed to know about Hare Krishnas, most of which I had gleaned from the elementary school playground. They wore colourful dhotis and sandals, danced around in parks, hassled people at airports. Their chief mission was to invite people back to 'the temple' for a meal, where they would drug the food and brainwash suggestible guests. How they avoided ingesting these drugs themselves, I didn't know, but I was damned sure that Horst/Rolf was not going to lure me to 'the temple'. You had to get up pretty early to fool fifteen year old me.

Rolf/Horst had clearly anticipated my prejudices with his disarming dress and even grin - he had one of those smiles that didn't curve upward but simply stretched clear across his face in a straight line, a feature that should have been creepy but was somehow relaxing. Nor did he try to hustle me into a car with tinted windows and ferry me into the dark depths of 'the temple,' although he gave me a card and told me to come by some Tuesday (did they marinate the food in drugs on Monday? Was Monday the Drug Marination Day?) and 'check things out'. It turned out that what he really wanted to do was read me selected passages from the Bhagavad Gita on the street. You haven't properly heard foundational stories until a Hare Krishna in a white golf cap reads them out in a thick German accent while Torontonians pass by, pausing briefly in pity for me before moving on.

What he also wanted to do was sell me a paperback copy of the Bhagavad Gita for three times the sticker price, which I paid, because I was fifteen years old and not half as smart as I imagined myself.

If there's any moral to be taken from this, I suppose it is that when you're busy guarding your body and soul, leave your wallet at home. Because money will often do in lieu of sex or salvation.

Update: It has become apparent that a few people have misunderstood the tone of my post and offered me corrective information on the Hare Krishnas - namely, that they don't drug people. MY ASS THEY DON'T. I mean, of course they don't. I was in no way trying to misrepresent Hare Krishnas, whom I'm willing to bet are exceedingly nice people, and all those rumours about them recruiting people by means of poisonous blow darts and promises of getting people backstage passes to Creed concerts are all a load of hooey. Likewise the rumours of them sodomizing priests, fixing construction contracts, and flushing the toilet when you're in the shower are totally unfounded.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

the people of csi new york dwell in an unspeakable netherworld of shifting forms


"Feeling sleepy, foxy lady? Can I put a little Folger's in your cup, if you catch my drift?"

"I beg your pardon, asshole?"

"Whoah. Could've sworn you were an attractive woman just a moment ago".



"There. How you like me now, brown cow?"

"I think I liked it better when you were a woman".

"I kind of liked being the black guy".

"You did have a better goatee".

"You know, I'm still up for some Folger's in my cup".

"Can you turn into Gary Sinise?"

Friday, September 22, 2006

for the friday few - you happy few

You know who reads this site on Friday? Nobody, that's who. So if you're reading this, be congratulated then, on naming yourselves amongst the nobodies, the ghostly few pushed so far to the margins that even to themselves is their own existence up for debate. This is my scattershot Friday list for you, my blog subalterns at the wet drippy end of the workweek.

  1. I didn't really catch on until today that this is the best possible time of my whole life to become a gambling addict. I work right across the street from the casino. I don't even have to walk outside; by pedway and pedway I can amble on over and empty my pockets. I work in government offices connected to a hotel, and most of the hotel patrons are of a mind to gamble. I've listened to them in the lobby and in the hallways, husbands and wives going over their gambling strategies, clutches of conventioneers convinced that they've got a handle on the best machines, the surest things on the floor. They are all losers. They have come here to find that out.

  2. I just went downstairs to the lobby to get a cup of coffee from the cafe. When the barista took my money and tapped out the order on her touchscreen, the clicking of her long fake nails on the plastic screen sounded like insects knocking in hte walls of an old house.

  3. It turns out that I have a turtle-related secret. Today for the first time in two weeks I spotted the turtles in the fountain again. The one with the dark green shell was sitting under the waterfall, submerged maybe half an inch, his belly resting against a tile slab and his limbs floating relaxed in the water. He (all turtles are males to me until proven otherwise) was letting himself be rocked back and forth by the waterfall, in much the same way that swimmers let their bodies be nudged by competing ways.

    As I was watching him, the shy turtle, the one with the bright orange shell, swam out from underneath the waterfall and pushed its head out of the water for some air, before submerging again and kicking off for other parts of the pool. When I turned my attention back to the darker turtle, he was staring straight at me, his little crenellated seedpod of a pod swivelling to track my movements. I leaned closer and saw the little black balls of his eyes, but I must showed too much interest. He backed away in little increments until only his head and front limbs were visible. Then he retreated to the other side of the waterfall.

    I stopped to talk to a staff member who had seen me watching the turtles. There were six at one point, but apparently most of them have been stolen. The staff believe that only one is left. How many people know about the existence of the shy orange turtle? I must be one of the only people who stops to watch them on a regular basis.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

all alone

I don't generally post a person's work in its entirety, but I found a Stevie Smith poem on wood s lot today and it's too damn angry and gorgeous to leave alone.

Alone in the Woods

Alone in the woods I felt
The bitter hostility of the sky and the trees
Nature has taught her creatures to hate
Man that fusses and fumes
Unquiet man
As the sap rises in the trees
As the sap paints the trees a violent green
So rises the wrath of Nature’s creatures
At man
So paints the face of Nature a violent green.
Nature is sick at man
Sick at his fuss and fume
Sick at his agonies
Sick at his gaudy mind
That drives his body
Ever more quickly
More and more
In the wrong direction.

I love the idea of a 'gaudy mind'. I also recommend what is probably her best known poem, Not Waving But Drowning. Oh no no no, it was too cold always.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ask Palinode #5: evil teeth

I'm beginning to see that, although the number of questions that can be put to me are infinite, the actual number I'm getting is really, really finite. On top of that, the subjects are finite as well. Cenobyte, who recently entertained us with her question regarding love, also has a question regarding dental work. The question goes a little something like this:

Hi Palinode,

A friend of a friend asked this's not *me* of course, it's a friend of a friend. Er. What does a person have to do to get one damned tooth pulled?

cenobyte (on behalf of a friend's friend)

Before we go on to the helpful answer/advice section, I have to ask: are you absolutely sure that the tooth in question is damned? Many dentists will refuse to fill or pull teeth condemned to the lake of fire, either through ignorance or for a lack of sufficient coverage. Make sure that your dentist is broad-minded, and check your health plan for hellbound limbs, members and other parts. Most plans limit coverage to the naughty bits, but Freudian insurers correctly identify teeth as potent sexual symbols in dreams, and therefore dirty and condemned to hell.

Warning: some Christian dentists will perform an exorcism on the tooth prior to extraction, an expense that is never covered, plus there is loss of work to factor in as the exorcism typically takes several days and involves being tied to a chair while people in hooded robes scream at you.

Once you've verified that the tooth in question is indeed Satan's property (check the deed of ownership to the tooth - a copy can be had via a Freedom of Information request. If you are a US citizen, your request may be interdicted by the Department of Homeland Security, and then you may be indicted on suspicion of Interfering with Dental Infrastructure), you're ready to do what a person has to do to get it pulled.

First, in order for a person to do anything in our modern society, a person needs a name and a body. This person is a man named Randy Spicoli and he drives a secondhand Porsche 911. Everybody is surprised by the mileage it gets in the city. The fuel efficiency of his car gives Randy a certain sense of pride, and over the years he has developed a skill in steering any conversation towards the subject of his Porsche's "really great, really okay" mileage. He tends to dress in loose sports jackets with T-shirts, as if in imitation of Miami Vice, and in fact he has been dressing in this fashion since 1986. His hair is dark brown with subtle blond highlights, carefully swept back from his forehead. It's starting to thin at the crown. He quit smoking a few months ago and misses it less than he thought he would.

Nobody likes him.

He does not care.

Now armed with a name, a body and a personal history, Randy can get a damned tooth pulled. This, in fact, is Randy's business, one lucrative enough to afford him his secondhand Porsche - although it was a lot cheaper than anyone suspects (this is another source of pride). He is a Freudian dental insurer. Although Freudian dental insurance was never Randy's childhood dream, he ended up getting into it at about the same time that he developed his taste for pastel T-shirts under sports jackets. "I saw a niche and just went for it," Randy says, clearly pleased by the attention. "No one wants a damned tooth, and I'm the man to see when you need it out of your mouth". He appears relaxed and confident, leaning lightly on the hood of his car.

When asked if he sees any conflict between the principles of psychoanalysis and a theology that posits an afterworld of endless pain where a big red demon sits on a throne for all eternity, Randy offers up a self-deprecating grin.

"Get thee behind me, molar!" Randy laughs. "But seriously," he continues, "those teeth are bad. They deserve their punishment".

All het up and bit to distraction over an unaswered question? Want that question told up good? Ask Palinode! Email askpalinode @ gmail . com.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ask Palinode #4: the love of images

If you were a 2nd century Gnostic tooling around the streets of Rome on an ass, you'd probably regard emails as a kind of emanation from the Godhead, not electronic impulses transmitted from one magnetic substrate to another. That's why they didn't make computers 1800 years ago; they were just that dumb. But I like the Gnostics, with their freaky cosmologies and their sassy demeanour. They were the Christians that even the Christians couldn't stand! With that in mind, my friend Cenobyte brings me this week's question:

Is it so difficult to make a movie/program/book/ poem/song/left-hand turn without a damned love interest somewhere in there? Not everybody cares who has the hots for whom. What's the problem here? Okay, really, that's two questions, but they're kind of connected.

As far as I can tell, Cenobyte, that's not a question at all. I checked my Language Arts textbook from grade 4 to confirm, and the verdict is in: questions end in a question mark (the book says they are interrogative sentences). Your question ends in a period. So what I'm going to do is, I'm going to ignore the sentences that don't end in question marks and treat them as auxillary appendages. Like flippers. They're the deformed limbs of your question to me, and as such make me uncomfortable. Suddenly I'm flustered, like maybe I'll ruin a perfectly innocent answer but with an inadvertent reference to trained dolphins or Alvin Law. Maybe I'll alienate my thalidomide baby fan base. Maybe I have an inner child who was deformed by thalidomide poisoning, and now he'll be super pissed at me. That'll leave me out of touch with my precious inner child. I'll end up unloveable and dysfunctional and walking around with the hurt inside me all the time, with my inner child going, I Have Phocomelia, and taking it out on my loved ones. I can't have that.

So instead of suffering the awkwardness of avoiding the vestigial flipper limbs of your question, I'm going to be upfront about it and openly acknowledge and celebrate the limbs. Because I understand that's refreshing and honest in this overly polite age of political correctness.

And I'm going to honour your flipper-limbed question by answering it, which is what you wanted in the first place, and is the respectful thing to do in such an awkward situation.

Love in the flesh is one thing. Love in the imagination is an unfulfilled entity straining at the tight pants of desire to burst out into reality. Love in art is the faint but enticing promise of naked people. And that's a promise worth keeping. Let me expand.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics (the First Law pertains to parking) states that disorder increases in a closed system. Well hot damn - we're living in the biggest closed system there is. Entropy is the worm at the heart* of reality. All the things of this world - trees, rocks, dog turds, mayoral candidates, action memos - are moving into a state of disorder, dispersing heat with each exchange until they are cold and dead. Sand is the corpse of rocks, loam the corpse of trees, and dead mayoral candidates the corpses of live mayoral candidates.

I know what you're thinking: Well, duh. But here's the thing. We are born into this closed system, bearing witness to a universe drifting into the cold dark dead corners. Our bodies are small machines sent out to counter the constant push of entropy and create order. That is our bodies' mission - to fight against the conversion of live mayoral candidates into dead ones, and to replace them with future mayoral candidates. If the living bore a flag when they entered this maze of death, it would be a bright banner with the image of a smiling mayoral candidate, ready to lay out a platform and run a city (and that's where we get municipal politics).

Is it a losing battle? Only on the individual scale. Inividuals who enter the machine must work according to the machine's rules, which is one rule, which is death. So we appear and die, appear and die, seeming to observers like sparks from a fire flaring as they shoot upward.

As our bodies resist death, so do our imaginations, throwing out images that reconstitute and recreate little pieces of the universe, keeping these little pieces constantly circulating, building on these pieces, building an edifice against forgetfulness where imagined mayoral candidates can sit under imagined trees. These images want to break through their quasi-existence and join the phenomenal world, where the dog turds and action memo and we dwell. They possess their own will, a sovereign grammar that says one thing only: Remember us. Repeat us. So they reiterate their desire in the language of bodily desire, the inaugural act of entropy's reversal.

So yes, it's very difficult to have literature or film without the love interest. And even though not everyone cares who has the hots for whom, the collective images that emanate from We Warriors For Future Mayoral Candidates compel us to carry their messages. And as I stated earlier, films with a love story commonly feature hot people taking their clothes off. Which is, you're going to protest against that? Well okay, but the latest studies say that it's healthy in moderation.

Note: those of you familiar with Gnosticism will see that my answer had nothing to with Gnostic beliefs, and nothing to do with thalidomide, phocomelia, or politeness. As I've stated in previous posts, though, my science is impeccable on account of the long white lab coat that I wear when I type up my answers, not to mention the beakers and crucibles and shit that I got going on over here.

*For some reason I've always believed that the image of the 'worm at the heart' came from William Blake's poem "The Sick Rose," but when I was called on the phrase (see the comments) looked at the poem I realized that the word 'heart' appears nowhere. It's a 'bed of crimson joy,' which doesn't quite sound like a heart to me, if you follow. Has anyone encountered this heartworm phrase before, or is my brain just silly?

Have a question? Want the damn thing answered but good? Ask Palinode at askpalinode @ gmail . com.

Thursday, September 14, 2006



Two days ago I bought lunch at a cafe in the mall. Lunch cost $7.07. I gave the cashier $10.10. She gave me back $3.03.

Without a doubt, that was the most satisfying exchange of money I've experienced in my whole life. My brain went apeshit at the symmetry of it. The chunky unrelatedness of the numbers 3, 7, and 10 almost tasted better than the sandwich I bought.

Ask Palinode

Thanks to you suckers ardent supporters, Ask Palinode is going swimmingly well. There's currently a backlog of about six questions, so if you're wondering about the status of your question, rest assured that I will get to it. In order to maintain a decent turnaround time and the standard variety of postings that you're used to, I may have to sacrifice some of the inventiveness/churlishness that I've been lucky enough to provide so far. I'm currently working on a way to get around this that doesn't cut into the tiny sliver of personal life that I'm afforded every day. 'Nonlaziness' is the best solution I've hit on to date.


The Globe and Mail's contribution to the Dawson College shooting is a giant above-the-fold headline "Carnage and Courage". That pretty much sums up the temper of the times, doesn't it? Over the last five years we've acquired an appetite for blood and heroism. Is that what we've learned from September 11th? A medieval mindset with a revisioning of monsters and knights roaming our urban spaces? It's like we're living in a Terry Gilliam film.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ask Palinode #3: the sweetest taboo

Saviabella, she of the smartness and the purtyness, puts to me a tough question:

Dear Palinode, what is the sweetest taboo?

An informal survey of people at the bar returned a 100% result for anal sex.

That is nonsense. 'Sweetest' implies the introduction of sugar or some kind of sweetener - a beaker of Equal, a ramikin of Sugar Twin, a blenda' full of Splenda, a sack of saccharine, a dose of Sucralose, a concert hall full of Xylitol, all the secret names of Aspartame. What kind of freaky perverted anal sex are the kids having these days that they need a shaker of sugar or a bottle of high fructose corn syrup to get it on? I'm thinking that having anal sex is like reading Thomas Pynchon - everybody talks about it but precious few have actually done it. Do people talk about Thomas Pynchon anymore? Maybe there's a vogue now for claiming never to have picked up Gravity's Rainbow. I think it'll be a while before it becomes fashionable to claim not to have had anal sex. If that happens, maybe there'll be matching baseball caps and sweat shorts. You know, activewear.

[image of activewear with "I didn't have anal sex today!" slogan]

[not able to upload my sketches of anti-anal sex activewear from work computer]

[also unable to find appropriate anti-anal sex activewear on the internet]

[please imagine activewear here until I get home to my scanner]

Clearly the ol' butt boogaloo (Scronkin' Two: Butt Boogaloo) is not on the menu. I recommend that we go to the source to determine what this 'sweetest taboo' is.

In her song "The Sweetest Taboo," singer Sade refuses to specify what this taboo thing is. Obviously it's so taboo, this taboo, that even to mention the taboo is taboo. That's pretty taboo, people. Clearly we're dealing with interdiction on a grand scale. And yet this taboo - whatever it may be - causes Sade (is her name itself a clue?) to fall in love with its provider. Let's look closely at the lyrics to see what they reveal.

If I tell you, If I tell you now
Will you keep on, Will you keep on loving me
If I tell you, If I tell you how I feel
Will you keep bringing out the best in me
Note the hesitation in the speaker's voice, her compulsion to reformulate and restate her words. Her difficulty with language hints at the presence of the purely abject, a prohibition so implacable that language itself teeters over the abyss. In her forceful repetition, however, she realizes that cannot find better words or more suitable phrases - that if all language is useless in the face of the abject, then any language will do. I applaud the speaker's courage in pursuing discourse in the face of such nihilist odds.

I'm also curious about her anxiety over having 'the best brought out of her' - is she a drug mule? Perhaps she's rethinking the risks involved in the venture, but doesn't want to tell her partner about her misgivings. Because clearly he's got the laxatives.

You give me, you give me the sweetest taboo
You give me, you're giving me the sweetest taboo
Too good for me
The more I study these lines, the more I'm convinced that the speaker is a drug mule with a bellyful of heroin-filled condoms. The sweetness must refer to the laxatives, most likely chocolate ex-lax, or one of those more economical knock-off brands.

There's a quiet storm, and it never felt like this before
There's a quiet storm, that is you
There's a quiet storm, and it never felt this hot before
Giving me something that's taboo
(Sometimes I think you're just too good for me)
I'm starting to think that this drug mule-laxative motif may be a bit off the mark. The other person is a storm? Not to be harsh, but what the fuck? Is Sade some kind of hippie? She's singing to some clouds and wind or something? And if she is, why would the storm need to be told that it was a storm? Is the storm so desperate for validation? I expect better from a storm, especially one so unprecedentedly hot.

Nor do I buy into the implied philosophical argument in attributing The Good to a storm. I call bullshit, Sade.

I'd do anything for you, I'd stand out in the rain
Anything you want me to do, don't let it slip away
Here's a casual question for the folks at home: what do you look for in your average expression of devotion? I'll tell you what I look for - a promise to do more than hang around outside and get damp. Again, I don't want to be harsh, but I'm pretty underwhelmed here. If I give you the sweetest taboo, I expect a little more than some wet-weather outdoors action, if you catch my drift.

Of course, it's possible that the 'rain' she refers to is coming from the 'storm' above her, which suggests some kind of golden shower situation. That's assuming that the 'quiet storm' is actually a human being, which makes no sense at all, but we're talking about a hippie drug mule with a laxative addiction here, so who knows what kind of junk is bubbling around in her marijuana-destroyed brain?

You've got the biggest heart
Sometimes i think you're just too good for me
The biggest heart? We're expected to believe that a storm has a heart? Gross.

Every day is christmas, and every night is new year's eve
Will you keep on loving me
Will you keep on, will you keep on
Bringing out the best in me
Ah damn. I'm sorry folks. If I'd given the lyrics a careful once-over I could have cleared up this whole thing immediately. Sade and her lover are caught in an accelerated seven-day time loop, in which the space between December 25th and January 1st, a span of 168 hours, is experienced in only (presumably) twelve hours. I can't tell from the song how it came about, but I surmise that Sade and her lover are physicists who took a time travel experiment too far.

In theory, the lover could travel from point A (Christmas Day) to point B (an arbitrary point between Christmas and New Year's Eve), go on in regular linear time to point C (New Year's Eve) and then return to point A, where he is transformed into a kind of atomic 'storm cloud' by the terrible energies unleashed. When the lover lands at point B, he understands that the return trip will kill him, but he takes the trip anyway out of a stubborn belief that this time he can control the forces involved for a sucessful return. He never does, and is forced to repeat the experiment for all eternity.

The experiment creates a separate 'bubble' universe in which Sade and the lover are condemned to go through the holiday week repeatedly, with Sade declaring her love to a disembodied storm of atoms. For reasons that may have to do with its size or some other formative condition, this is a higher energy universe in which time moves at a rate fourteen times faster than our own. This would explain why Sade feels so hot, since the increased rate of time means faster molecular movement and therefore more waste heat thrown off. Unfortunately, there's a paradox between the closed temporal loop and the second law of thermodynamics, but let's not carried away with the science here.*

It would also explain why standing out in the rain becomes such a crucial measure of devotion. In Sade's closed universe, rain would fall fourteen times faster than ours. If the average non wind-driven raindrop falls between 7-18 miles an hour, then she would be exposing herself to beads of water traveling up to 252 miles per hour!** And that's not factoring in wind speed, which in a storm could be considerable. I'm no meteorologist, but I'm guessing that prolonged exposure to heated water at such speeds could well be fatal. It turns out that she's willing to die for her disembodied lover. I am humbled, people.

Mind you, I'm not so humbled when I consider that the time travel experiment was probably concocted as a means of smuggling those heroin-filled condoms into the future.

Also consider that we live in a cynical age in which open and uncomplicated displays of emotion are considered sentimental or laughable. In such an environment, it may be love itself which is the sweetest taboo.

Although it's probably anal sex.

*I understand that some of my readers may not be scientists. I would like to assure you that all the science in my weblog is unassailable and totally correct, and if you disagree with any of it, you are from Satan and no one will have sex with you.

**This figure is also completely correct and cannot be gainsayed by human minds. It will blow up your brain in your head to try and dispute it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ask Palinode #2: teeth in space and time

From the depths of Ask Palinode, where the blind fishies flap and the bathyspheres bump, comes a question from someone named Schmutzie. She claims to be my wife, which explains a lot about the last five years. She asks:

How many of your teeth are false? Because, even though I'm married to you, I have never known for sure.

That's a good question, Schmutzie. I do have mysterious teeth. The short answer is: I have one and two halves false teeth in space and fifty six in time. Let's tackle the spatial teeth first.

Somewhere in the autumn of 1981 or '82 my friends and I invented a game. This game had no title, but the rules were clear: 1) Run like hell up the staggered concrete steps of the highschool. 2) Don't trip. A young rebel who played no one's game but my own, I broke the second rule with great velocity and maximum impact. My feet slipped on some loose gravel and flew backward. I still remember, twenty-five years later, the sight of the concrete step rushing at my face. I stood up, too shocked for pain, a thick rope of blood and saliva swinging from my lip. My left front tooth lay in a puddle of blood on the step.

I took a breath and the cool inrush of air flowed over the exposed nerve in my mouth.

That hurt some.

When you've smashed your mouth up, keep it closed.

The dentist, a man with a bad temper, a big red beard and eyes so deep-set that they seemed to peer over their lower eyelids, glued a discoloured cap over the little bit of root that remained. In six months' time the cap had started to loosen and wobble over the little stump of actual tooth. I would sit in class and tune out, pushing the cap back and forth with my tongue, until one day it fell out of my mouth and pinged off the top of my desk. Class stopped while I searched for it under my classmates' desks.

Back I went to the dentist, who declared that the dead root of my broken tooth had been almost completely reabsorbed by my body. Apparently the blow to my tooth and subsequent capping had persuaded my body that the remaining stub was a foreign body. My killer defenses had gone to work on the offending bit of nerve and pulp in record time. The dentist told my parents that he had never seen such swift root resorption in his life. He intimated that I was a kind of medical-dental curiosity. Oddly enough, I think my parents were proud of my body's perversity (although they may not have been so proud of the money that my clumsiness was costing them).

The dentist fitted me with a rudimentary denture. It was a piece of pink plastic shaped to fit the roof of my mouth, with metal clamps to hook onto my molars and a single front tooth set on the end. My name was set into the plastic, conscientously misspelled as "Aden," which allowed me the singular fantasy of pretending to be a Middle Eastern city with a missing tooth.

Because I was eleven and in the prime of my shithead years, I decided that my new fake tooth was good for grossing out my classmates. I learned how to manipulate the plastic plate so as to wiggle my tooth up and down in my mouth. Sometimes I would grin at passersby and then open my mouth slowly, letting the tooth drop down as if I were releasing a latch. I got everything from doubletakes to looks of horror.

The partial denture also gave me a sibilant lisp that has never quite gone away, despite the best efforts of the school speech therapist. Please note all efforts were on the therapist's part, who would try to force my tongue to stick to the roof of my mouth whenever I uttered words like Sassafrass or Saskatchewan. I would produce a stuttering, gagging noise that in no way sounded like an s. The therapist gave me exercises to do at home, which I did not do. I had no desire to gag on my own tongue every time I tried to say Sunday or Suffering Succotash. Eventually the therapist, worried about my lack of progress and surmising that I was developmentally challenged as well as possibly gay, contacted my parents to ask how the speech exercises were coming along. They were as surprised as she to find out that I'd been throwing the exercise sheets into the ditch on the way home.

At the age of twenty I finally went to have the retainer exchanged for something that I didn't have to keep in a glass at night. As you can imagine, it puts a serious dent in your adolescent love life to have a partial set of dentures. The dentist fitted me with a bridge, grinding away at the two adjacent canines until they were no more than stumps, then fitting three false teeth over the spaces left - or more accurately, one and two halves.

That takes care of the spatial issue. Now for the temporal question.

A few years ago I had some dental work done on a package vacation to Tralfamadore. For those of you who haven't been there,* the planet of Tralfamadore is a mecca for earthlings seeking medical procedures that they cannot afford at home. The Tralfamadorian economy is based on displays of exaggerated but heartfelt courtesy. Not surprisingly, any goods purchased there are subject to murderous duties upon return. Therefore, services have become the mainstay of Tralfamadore's export business. Also, because Tralfamadorians exist simultaneously along every point in time (and therefore space), you can contract a life-threatening illness on Friday and find yourself cured the previous week.

The Tralfamadorian dentist kindly filled every single one of my teeth that had ever or would ever require a filling, and then, because I was so solicitous and polite - I inquired after the health of the dental assistant's family - he fitted me with two full sets of false teeth. He installed one set thirty minutes in the past, and the other exactly ten years in the future. This has a few advantages, particularly if I get in a fight with someone; if I need to bite my opponent, he'll have already been bitten half an hour beforehand. That way I always get in the first blow. And ten years later, long after he's forgotten the mysterious double bite, the argument and the fight that resulted, and perhaps even my name and face, he'll get bitten again by my future teeth. The chief disadvantage rests in my inability to enjoy fast food, which is always eaten half an hour before I order it, and then again ten years later. Trust me when I tell you that if you don't enjoy your big mac now, you'll like it even less in 2016.

*Because of the peculiarity of Tralfamdore's relationship to Earth in time, there's a good chance that if you haven't visited Tralfamadore yet, you never will. If you are fated to visit the place, you will already remember going there.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

phoque generator

Almost forgot. Via the multi-funnied Isoglossia, here is the Official Seal Generator. Pick your colours, your text, your clip art and your border. Here are some examples of mine. They make me happy.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Ask Palinode: Inaugural Edition

Success! Ask Palinode has gotten off a rip-roaring start, with not one but three questions on my plate. Things seemed a bit rocky at first, what with some people having trouble reading the FAQ, but I feel confident that the coming weeks will witness a smoothing-out, a laying of hot asphalt over troubles, and we will all drive around - wait, let's stop this sentence and move on.

Our first question comes from Brent Wagner, who asks Palinode:

If it takes 2 chickens a day and a half to lay three eggs, how long
would it take a one legged monkey to kick the seeds out of a watermelon?

This has been nagging at me for years. Hope you can help.

Brent Wagner, stop hoping and get ready for hope's surcease and a promise of rest, because I have come up with the authoritative definitive answer for this one. I also appreciate the nerdiness of the question. I'm not implying any nerdiness on Brent's part, but his question is stuffed to the blowhole with nerd, which gives me the opporutnity to indulge in my nerdy side. It's a fit, handsome, hard-working, hard-drinking nerdy side, but nerdy it is.

It's also a tough nut to crack. In order to answer this one, you need to be able to determine what is truly being asked here. Usually it's best to take a text at its face value and see where a literal interpretation leads you, but there's so much subtext in Brent's question that it overwhelms the literal text, one which involves the averaging out of motile monkey strength and the assumption of a sliced watermelon.

Let's be real, Brent. There are no chickens here, no eggs. There's no monkey. No watermelon. And dare I point it out - no seeds. This question does not occupy a discursive space contiguous to the real world. Instead, it's a fractured thought experiment, a genre-bending parody of a question, a strategy that subsitutes noise for signal and then challenges the observer to sort the semi-random groupings for an authentic pattern. You thought that we were the monkey, Brent Wagner, but we are no monkeys. Even though they share most of our genes and they look even better than humans do with their little vests and caps.

Brent Wagner, that monkey is your penis. Here's how.

In order to pull out this question from its parodic wrapping, let's first consider the genre that it spoofs. This is a take on the mathematical word problem, so often characterized by the 'two trains' approach, ie. "Train A leaves Station 1 heading east, while train B leaves Station 2 heading west". The atmosphere evoked is the classroom, that weird ant farm in which a roomful of adolescents is forced, despite all instincts to the contrary, to sit still and perform mildly boring tasks. At a fundamental level, these questions, when addressed in memory or parody, are not about the mathematical content; they are about boredom and the promise of release, the barely tamped down raging of the adolescent body.

Brent tips his hand by introducing chickens and eggs into the first half of the puzzle.

Chickens in this instance recall the classroom, insofar as they call to mind the barn, or henhouse. The evocation of the chicken forces us to remember the close association between the classroom and its original model, which can be found in mass animal husbandry. It is also the model for the factory floor and the office. Chickens represent the unconscious fear in the adolescent male of bodily functions: reproduction, respiration, excretion. Furthermore, chickens are obedient and overwhelmingly female - the use of chickens in riddles is part of a misogyny inherent in our agricultural roots. For the adolescent male, women's bodies and feminity are a source of mystery, desire and authority that seeks to confound his attempts to understand/possess/disobey. Thus we see a hegemonic wall of femaleness arrayed against the questioner.

Enter the monkey, the furry homunculus, the trickster. Instead of a fox in the henhouse, which introduces the too-graphic notion of eating offspring (eggs) or the parent (hens), we have a chaotic, libinous agent out to stir up some shit. A monkey in the melon patch, which can be seen as the gendered inverse of the first part of the question. It is also pretty clearly a sexual act, with the grotesquely emphasized leg standing in for a penis (Brent's penis, in this instance) - the repeated 'kicking' of the 'leg' eventually 'kicking' all the 'seeds' out of the 'watermelon'. The image of flying pulp and seeds evokes the battering of the flesh and an ejaculation all at once, a conflation of physical and sexual violation culminating in an orgy of gore and sperm. Yuck. Yuck! The question of duration refers to sexual stamina.

So the question, properly translated, runs thusly: Given that I'm inexperienced with women and that my body is filled with strange conflicting urges towards them, how long do you think I'd last in bed with one?

Since this question has bugging you for years, Brent, it's pretty safe to say that you're way beyond this stage and now enjoying a healthy adult sexuality (If sexuality ever gets truly healthy). But since this question is adolescent in nature, the answer should be as well.

Answer: Dude, don't you know? I scored with so many chicks already, I'm embarrassed for you. They were all so hot too. They all go to different schools. So you wouldn't know any of them. They're sluts. And they wouldn't talk to you anyway. And even if they did they wouldn't know who I was because I used a different name and I had my moustache and it was dark and they were wasted. Way wasted.

Do you have a question for the Palinode? Ask away! Send an email to: askpalinode @ gmail . com.

Friday, September 01, 2006

new service: Ask Palinode

From what I can gather, human knowledge is incomplete. Therefore you have questions. Questions of all possible kinds, from the moot to the grand, profane to profound, personal to not personal. A sample question may be, What up? or Why did Wanda Mosher dump you in the ninth grade? or What was the chief result of the Diet of Worms? Whatever your question, I will answer it.


Are you saying that you will answer absolutely any question put to you, no matter how inane, as long as the question is in English, and even then you will do your best to provide an answer?
I am not saying. I am writing. But yes.

Why are you doing this?
For the betterment of humankind, so that they may not toil in darkness, but may know more stuff than they did before they asked me.

Will you provide diagrams, technical illustrations or doodles?
Fuck yeah! If I feel like it.

Can you draw?
No. But it's all in the journey.

What is the correct format for asking questions?
Send an email to the following address:

askpalinode at gmail dot com.

What's the turnaround time for answers?
Generally I'll try and get around to it within 24 hours within 7 days whenever.

Where will the answers be posted?
Here. I may generate a spin-off site if the response is good enough.

How many questions can one person ask?
As many as you can think of. A ton of questions all at once will result in shorter answers, though.

Will your answers prove accurate, as they say?
I doubt it.