Monthly Archives: November 2007

The Shroud of Tur-engh

    We meet in Prague. It wis in that time-band of 1997 somewhere; I should go and check but nevermind. Nowadays, since NS Time has been graped by even the “You are wanting fries with that?” kids, the exact displacement is not so critical. And I continue here with the old tenses, to be back-compatible for any challenged readers.
   Sooo.. yes, me in my rags and Olin, well he did look a bit more “likely to succeed” stepping off of Air Force 2 at the VIP Terminal. My old high school buddy, we’d been neck and neck in most events; He’d had a better time in the half-mile, but I, for my part blew him, (and most of Pennsylvania) out of the water on the SATs. Big deal. I always feel kinda odd around him, try to remind myself that yeah, so he did negotiate the NAFTA for Bush the Dad, so what, he still has to decide what he wants on his pizza. Anyway, after a quick catch-up, he was whisked away to the Intercontinental, while I took a taxi to my old haunt, the Kafka Hotel. Familiarity breeds content, or something.. I’ve gotten used to waking up as a giant bug, plus the breakfast is adequate. But this night I barely slept. We had a mission, a quick adventure to venture. Olin Wethington, fluent in enough Oriental languages to slay a dragon, had somehow arranged with the Mongolian Embassy to let us and a Danish forensics whiz-kid have a first-hand look at a relic which has fascinated those who knew about it for centuries.

So bright and early the three of us set off for Ulan Bator. I did somehow pity Olin’s having to travel sans the perks of first-eschelon US State Department big-wigs. Ok, he looked a tad silly in his new back-pack. I kidded him “If you hadn’t copied my Poli Sci homework, I might never have thought to drag you into this.” At that he laughed in his noblesse oblige mock-sheepishness. He could have said no, after all.
Bombay and North. Seven modes of travel in six days, including, for the final ascent, our Sherpa, Ninezig Oyweh, without whom we would have surely died, I’ll admit. Out of breath, faces sun-burned and lips cracked open we arrived a day late at the Mongolian border. The Ambassador was all handy-shaky but his first words were “Why is so long coming?”
“Because it was there, I guess” I joked, pointing South toward the Himalayas. This was 1997, remember, before the Hilary Breezeway was cut through K-2. At any rate it was a relief to climb into the Royal Land Rover for the trip to the capital.
A word on the Object. Found lying out on the steppes, near the ancient Mongolian village of Tur-Engh by a wandering yak herder, the brick-like artifact was immediately recognized as something strange, wrapped as it was in an almost microscopically finely woven.. well.. shroud of yak hair. It weighed more than anyone thought it should, among other anomalies, and so its first incarnation was as a religous relic for the Yawouz worship prevelant in 2nd century Mongolia. Thought of as a brick left over by Yawouz from the building of the Great Yurt, it was kept guarded for more than a hundred years, until a monk chanced to see what seemed to be inscriptions, through the fabric of the shroud. I owe a debt to Olin’s father, a lifetime scholar in these matters, for furnishing me with Figure 1, an artist’s rendition copied from the earliest drawings. As you can see, there was something compelling, a message, obviously from on high, in the geometrical markings then visible at the top right.fig1 And so it was that the Yawouz panopoly was ‘enhanced’ to incorporate this new revelation. Best sources have it that the solid figures in the three boxes represented states of man: The right side was Mastery, the figure trapped in the center represented Slavery, and the object in the left position represented a limbo, an uncertainity, a fate to be selected by others. A new Grand Yurt was even built in Ulan B’Tur, named incidentally for the Tur of the object’s discovery, now a small-town Mecca known as Ulan Tur-Engh.
But all was not well. You have certainly heard of the hordes of mongrel Mongols with their herds of yaks, yakety-saxing down from the steppes to vanquish the Saxons, the Vandals, and even the Visigoths, who were known for their penchant for seeing and being seen on the scene. And as the various Atillas and Schmatillas had their day, so the Shrouded Whoozie-whatsie found its way into other hands, oddly enough the rabid clutches of an off-the-wall religous sect in 15th century Prague. For them it was the Be-all and End-all, the crowning jewel. Their cosmology posited an (at first) Ineffable Divine Entity, a female goddess with suspiciously brick-like build. Called disparagingly “The IDEers” by the local doubters, they too had problems with the Divine Brick and its ethereal incarnation. See, Miss IDE, in a turnabout on the Virgin Birth, turned out to be only too ‘effable’, and was discovered by their prophets to in fact have had a Daughter, by unknown means. The leadership quickly rolled with the news and announced the New Duality, to the amusement of unbelievers. Who ever heard of Dual IDE’s? But luck was with them; in just a few decades, during the Defenestration of Prague, as the rains poured through the newly opened windows, the Shrouded One somehow was allowed to ‘get wet’. (Not the most respectful word-choice for a Holy Grail-let, but so it was. The monk who had been charged at the time with keeping it safe was re-castrated,then beheaded, and finally whipped publicly. However, a week after his hasty demise, his replacement was astonished to see new markings on the Shroud. Readily readable, though none-the-less open to interpretation, they were plainly legible as the Ambassador led us into the Hall of the Shroud, with its climate-control and subdued lighting. But let’s finish our history, shall we.
  Glance again at Figure 1 and agree that one could not blame the new safe-keeper for seeing the letters: “C”, “G”, a greek Omega, and “D”. This was obviously a cryptic message: “See the Infinite God, Who is Good. So it remained, un-challenged, until a daring Bulgarian team stole it in 1787. What happened to it for the next roughly two hundred years is anyone’s guess. Somehow word got out to the West in 1988 that it was back near its discovers, in Ulan Bator. And with the development of both better investigative techniques and also a warming of relations, a fund was organized to finance the solving once and for all of The Mystery of the Shroud of  Tur-engh. All that was needed was a little diplomatic string-yanking by my good friend Mr. Wethington. So let’s fast-forward to the impromptu laboratory, where Lars is now surgically cutting open a seam in the shroud. Absolute silence, please! We wait, breathless behind the thick glass. Finally, he pinches the object with the swedish-steel pliers and ever-so-carefully pulls it, for the first time in 2000 years, out of its shroud.
And I laugh out loud! I can’t stop myself.
“Is some funny thing?” The Ambassador, his face immune to contagion as I bravely hold my hands over my face, trying to stop. Olin looks at both of us. I have to tell him.
“That’s my old “C” Drive! I’d recognize it anywhere. See where I wrote “C-Good”. It was only two weeks ago, I swear to God, I’d just downloaded some wacko Time-Machine plans, a link from Sceptic.com, they called it a particularly silly joke. The next morning the hard-drive was just gone! I thought someone stole it, Oh god, I wonder if it’s still got my e-mails on it , I mean, it’s been 2000 years…. or has it?

Guns, Drugs, Computers, and Bad eyesight..

    Ah, nothing like typing at the kitchen sink, on a sheet of plywood; Hey I ran out of where to put all these computer setups. But read on…
Guns: Well, “Guns don’t kill people, bullets do,” so ban bullets. A man who needs a gun to feel virile will do just fine without the annoyance of bullets hanging around. End of that subject
Drugs: Ok, in the throes of induced panic, caused by hours spent getting a system to work and suddenly seeing a black or blue death threat on the screen, (more on that shortly) I chanced to remember a packet of Paxil ®(paroxetine) some girl had given me to test out; she said it made her feel panicky and suicidal. So I tried one, wrote down the time (10:40 AM) and waited. Sure enough, after a half hour I felt like demons were threatening me from all quarters, felt like yes, maybe the best thing to do was to go with full-gas, close my eyes, and hope to take out the maximum body-count of evil Israelis along with my doomed self. Luckily, I’m such an old hand at pharmacology that I resisted the siren-calls and just spent twelve hours in mute nostril terror, emerging, (five minutes ago) relatively un-scathed. The stuff is sold as ‘Take this little pill for panic attack”. Yeah, like my running joke about the guy who bought special shampoo ‘for oily hair’ and sure enough, his hair came out oily, just like it said. Moral: I threw this ‘Better living thru Chemistry” in the trash can. End of ‘Drugs’
Computers: Ugh. I call it my ‘Manhattan Project’.. as in: “Man-hat-an-uff computers for the rest of his life. Anyone watching me in the last four days would be certain that my goal was to try out all 8 million factorial possibilities/ combinations of 20 mother-boards, 40 hard-drives, 30 screen-caeds, twenty-five sound cards, 19 network adapters, not to mention keyboards and mice. It was a binge, plain and simple; I have an addictive personality-inclination. I shudder to think that before I got ‘drunk on processing-power, I was actually doing things in life. (Here’s the perfect place to apologize to dear Xangans who write posts for my tiltilation, only to discover that I somehow haven’t yet read them. All is not lost; it’s midnight, but I may yet get a chance to give compliments all around.) End of computers, (like the sound of that).
Eyes: Well, the real Manhattan Project succeeded because God decided that beta-decay in Uranium isotopes releases free neutrons, each one capable of instigating the fission of a nearby atom, until.. until it kinda sorta gets out of hand, let’s say. So ditto with a  gullible isodope (like me for example) who modestly complains to a doctor that he, like, can’t see stuff. Test one leads to Tests 2-5, each of which sires four more tests. My life revolves around tests. every day, seems like. I shouldn’t have opened my mouth. I mean, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder are my heroes, and I seriously think I could get used to a world built on sounds and smell. A test-free world, at least.
So Money, guns, drugs, computers, and eyesight, and the greatest of these is, like “None of the above”

Say it ain’t so, Joe

Anybody wanna know what I’m doing lately, my neighbor gave me twelve dead computers. And another twenty hard drives, a box of cards, and about a hundred pounds of assorted peripherals. So, since I’ve been having unexplainable bad luck with crashes, I decided to go with a new plan: MP^3.® That means “Massively Paranoid Parallel Processors. I now have 7 computers working, each with varying degrees of a full complement of files and programs. All kinds of stories to tell, though:
Of the twenty hard drives not in dead machines, I tried each, after scotch-taping a tag on him, to write down quickly the verdict. Well, who would have thought that each one gave me a different BIOS error message, like, “Error loading Operating System“, “Disk Read error“. “No ITDLR“, “Missing Operating system“, or “Error loading Operating System“. In the end I had two left. a cheap-looking little POS and my “Great White Hope, “Joe“. I counted on Joe to have died and left me a working OS. No luck. Joe comes back “Invalid System Disk“. Damn! So “Invalid”, that’s cool, I’m half an invalid myself, lemme see a splash screen already. In the end, the very last drive had Windows 95. Great. Some nice lady from Ra’anana, her father died, she had a kid, her husband left her, she paid too much for new counter top: I feel like I know her, but yes, I erased it all, including 200 game program stuck on ‘autostart’. Now I have a nice clean 400 Megabyte hard-drive with win95, which loads in its entirety in 21 seconds. Back in those days men didn’t have time for no damn Wizards, it’s so refreshing, the style of the OS. I might choose to use it as my main system, but the competition is two Celerons (at 400 and 700 Mhz clock), a Pentium I and a II, and my ‘find’, a Pentium 4 at 1.8 Gigahertz, whom I called ‘Lightning‘, because it installed Win98 in 11 minutes, but then claimed for a day or so to have ‘No Keyboard Present’. I just yelled at it, “You have a freaking keyboard, idiot!”. That worked. Jesus, I’ve been spending more time down in BIOSes then on the actual OS. But I have to remember: All this fun is roughly equivalent to a carpenter polishing his hammer. What counts in the end is getting back to actually USING the machine to DO SOMETHING, STUPID. At least now I have eight (?) hammers. Blue Screen of Death, Where art thy sting?!!
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“So I think the question you’re gonna wanna ask yourself…”

“…is how deep cats should be buried.”
Oh, and yeah, “Do I feel lucky?”
And you should, of course. Because ,as I like to say, IF U CN RD THS, you are a reader (at least) of English, a language just precise and rich enough to take over the world, (sorry, don’t have 2 Gigabytes free for Mandarin language support), but ambiguous enough so that we can play with him anytime we want. Like right now.
       We do however have a cat to bury. “I did not know the deceased..”, but she was lying in the plantings in front of our local Real Estate office. I’ve seen who works there; they do everything by phone, apparently, and so my departed friend’s fate is in the hands of anyone who still knows how to use a shovel. Of couse we still have that nagging question, about  “…how deep cats should be buried.”

I know, don’t say it: “The same as shallow, superficial ones!” I disagree. Deep cats deserve a deeper send-off. This one, all black and bohemian, probably mused around the clock on the Meaning of all Nine Lives, I can tell.
   And to the wise-guy who ‘corrects‘ the question: “It’s ‘How deeply cats should be buried.’.. you heard of adverbs?” well, yes in fact I have, and I will rephrase it:
“So, will someone please tell me how deeply emotional cats should be buried?”
The answer(s) are obvious; Garden variety emotional cats should be buried about a half a meter deep, but deeply emotional ones, well I’d like to see an appropriate headstone, and hear a eulogy or two before the ‘A’far le a’far’ (‘Dust to dust…’)



   But there is still one more question, maybe not so sneaky, but an open issue none-the-less: “What am I digging in?”
Seems like every term I can come up with has ‘side-issues’.
“Dirt”? How would you like to be buried in dirt?
“Earth”? Well, it’s sure handier than shipping the pensive feline off to Mars, where presumably they will dig her a grave in the mars.
“Soil”? Isn’t that what babies do to their diapers? We’re going for ‘respect’ here, remember?
“Ground”? Not an awful choice, but I get this picture of the cat being ‘ground’ up, like in a blender, or worse, in a mortar, and with a pestle at that. (That’s pestilence, by the way).

So I suppose I shall just dig wordlessly, let’s (not )say, “down-ward”. (The Martians would call it “upward, toward Australia”) and put the poor sweet girl in a comfy position, say the ‘bracha’ and walk away, hat in hand. Some things don’t need to be thought to death.

If you have a new shirt on, approach from the right

    Weird, I know, but to continue with ‘how do I look’, it seems like the medical people are united in asking “How does he see?”. Every human has a ‘blind spot, where the optic nerve exits the retina. There are some interesting web-sites where you can appreciate just how much the brain “fills in” the missing information at that point; adds rungs to ladders, puts flowers on stems, etc. Really. But according to the Field-o-vision test, I basically can’t see to the left in either eye. I don’t see a ‘hole’, I just can’t find anything new in that direction. Like I said, Weird. I may be slightly exagerating when I claim that “anyone approaching me from the left is always wearing the same shirt he had on yesterday” but, looking at the test results, I now know why I can’t find my tools on the floor. They weren’t there yesterday, duh. The C-T shows a normal, if over-large, brain, and we’re waiting for the CD of my Carotid Arteries: “Pumping on Ultrasound Remix“, plus the DVD of my EEG for clues. My earlier theory (that I’m just so sick of what I see that my brain is on strike here) might just make sense. The up side is that I can taste, feel, and hear a lot better lately. Oh, and “How do I smell?” Better on the right than the left, I guess.

“It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look..”

“…and dahling, you-a look-a mah-velous!”. I’m not sure anybody remember’s Billy Crystal’s routine, I think it was on SCTV, that perfect show back in the 80’s, with John Candy and a host of other ‘unknowns’ doing incredibly knowing skits. Yeah, the 80’s, I’m guessing, because I remember taking the catch-phrase as a comment on the Disco Era, as I sat in my hotel dressing-room spellbound, watching the show, in color for a change. They’d usually send the drummer to tell me “You’re on in ten minutes!”. He had two sticks in his hands, but sometimes, ‘if she was good’, I’d just mutter, “Start without me.. do a drum solo, whatever, I’m tied up.” Anyway that’s just a lead-in thought-let.
   Think of how it would be if, every time you met someone for the first time, about one in four of them would say “You look like that actor/actress… um.. you know..”. I’ve taken to just giving them a code number; “You’re number One hundred fifty eight, and thanks.” Well “Thanks” might be a bit stupid, as it assumes I’m getting a compliment. Ok, most actors are chosen for at least not looking utterly repulsive. My Guy, by the way, just happened to be fixing the plumbing in a little local theatre when they asked him if he could fill in for a sick actor. Don’t know if he even had a speaking part. And besides, he’s now been in Actor’s Heaven for twenty years or so, and even with heavy make-up… Yeah, guess they mean “You look like him when he was your age.” I hope so.Speaking of which, I told my father, the World’s Youngest 90-year old Man about it:
“Everybody who sees me says I look like..”
He finished the sentence, “…says you look like Lee Marvin. They’ve been telling me that for forty years.” and added “and I don’t even like him.”
“But Dad, you don’t know the real guy, we’re just watching him pretend to be whoevever they’re paying him to be. You’d love him in real life, I’m sure.”
So I got out some pictures of my father, and of course the resemblance is pretty strong. In fact, everyone on his side, his brothers, his father, they all look like the guy. I have pictures of five generations of us, from the invention of the camera on, and before that, paintings, artist’s conceptions, and cave-wall sketches back 17 generations, all Solbergs, and we all look like him. I found our town, there in the Emmental in Switzerland. Some Schveitzer Yuppi’s probably living in my house; I’ll have to kick him out someday. We bought the place fair and square, from the Cro-Magnum Man, I guess. Well maybe we beat him up a little first. They were all “Crow” and not enough “Magnum”. Or maybe it was the Meanderthals, milling about aimlessly while we chopped down trees with our large-brained proto-makitas.
   They’re finding new stuff stored in the genes every day, and I’m sure old Abraham Solberg was thinking, among other things, “Son, you can marry whomever you want to, but your kids are still gonna look like Lee Marvin someday”
  So on my way out of here, the taxi-driver, in the dark, the first thing he said was “A’tah do’meh le’ha’sakh’kan ha’ze!” (‘You look like that actor’)
“Yeah”, I admitted, “Om’rim li” (‘They say that’) and we went on to other interesting subjects.   But the really suprising one was coming back, at Ben Gurion/Tel Aviv’s not too conversational Passport Control, when the stamping-girl, whose face radiated all business, just had to break out of character to stop me and say… you guessed it. “You look-a like-a dat…um.. dat ‘sakh’kan.. mah shmo?” (‘…that actor, what’s his name?’)
“Na’hon, ve’todah lach” (‘Correct, and thank you’) I replied, hoping they didn’t intend to talk about back taxes or anything. She just smiled and waved me on through. I’m a VIP, I guess.
Coming up, the proof; (or judge for yourselves).

What you see when you don’t have a camera..

     Life’s been so photogenic lately.. no that’s not the right word, “picturesque“? Nope, don’t like that one either. It’s just that I see a lot of dumb stuff worth immortalizing, is all. And it’s not like my new digital, in spite of its 179 page owner’s manual, would be too much to bother with; it’s light-weight, and if you put it on ‘Auto“, (and take the lens-cover off), you got yourself a picture almost every time.
     So I come out of the hospital to wait for twenty minutes like the technician told me; You get a free C-T scan here if you tell your eye-doctor that you can’t read Hebrew anymore. Ok, confusing, sorry. The truth is, something in my left field of vision is going like, ‘away’, and in Hebrew,reading ‘backwards’, I just never can see that the word keeps going on.. leftward. I stop in the middle of a word or a sentence and pause for a second, thinking “Well that didn’t make sense!” or “So, what happened to the duck?” English (left to right) is no problem; I don’t need to look at what I just read, plus it usually makes sense and the duck finds his Mommy at the end.
   So I actually wait twenty minutes, to see if the radioactive whatever they put in my veins kills me. I’d asked the doctor what happens when it does, and he reassured me that “We take care of them right here, on-site.” Great. So I relax and read a new thousand-dollar sign announcing… well.. apologizing (!) to the citizens of my fair town on the delay in opening some new wing, some medical-center-appendix. The second line of the Hebrew text states that the place now will be open on November 27, 2007. But wait: They slyly throws in a “B’ezrat Ha’Shem”, (‘with g-d’s help’) just to cover their butts.

We do that here. Like if you told a guy you’d get him a bid-price by Wednesday, but Tuesday at midnight you still didn’t feel like writing it up, well, he’ll understand… See, it’s not like you’re lazy or irresponsible, it ‘God’s Will’. Yup, “God just chose not to help me this time, guy, whatcha gonna do?”
   Ok, but the point is that the lower half of the sign translates the announcement into fairly respectable English, by local standards, but something’s missing… You guessed it, the ‘disclaimer’. I guess, stylistically it would have seemed out of character on an english sign to see “We will open on Nov. 27th, with God’s help.” I mean, writing ‘maybe’, or ‘kinda’, or ‘with any luck’ would’ve been equally odd, so they didn’t put that in, either. Sorry for the lack of photo-documentation, god-willing I’ll take my camera next time, but while we’re on the subject:



   I’m driving home from work today and on the back of a bus, the view partially blocked by traffic, is an advertisment for a school. I see the name and a logo, but at a distance it’s hard to tell what they teach there. I get closer and realize it’s not what I thought. The small print gives a phone number, and adds, “For all ages and levels” Refer to my crude rendition below, and agree with me that probably no other language can be so inexpensively graffitied. The difference between ‘swimming‘ and ‘drinking‘ is a Med-fly sitting at the wrong place on the sign. Can’t believe some wise guy hasn’t ‘doctored’ the sign yet. You could do a thousand of them with one Magic Marker, and have ink left to pen in “Yeah right?!” on the hospital sign.

school of drinking  

So yeah, camera and felt-tip pen: Don’t leave home without them.