More than zero

Despite all that’s going on in the world right now — the births, the car smashups, the business startups, the deaths — I face two realities all the time:

  1. The quickly decreasing number of Earth days until we have a permanent Martian colony by 6th May 2050, and
  2. Every ten days out of fourteen, I devote myself wholeheartedly to the business of saving lives with blood products.

In a way, nothing else matters, but then everything matters because our planet is intertwined with the two realities above in everything we do here below, even if we are completely unaware how, why and when.

Therefore, I am rewarded everyday when I wake up, able to look back at the life/lives I’ve led (having written many books about my separate lives and those who’ve shared theirs with me) and realise how fortunate I am to be here right now.

Meanwhile, the International Space Station celebrates 15 years of continuous operation, the Antarctic is adding ice faster than it is losing it, dirty rocks (asteroids/comets/planets) bounce around the solar system and I face the prospect of sleep next to my wife, with a cat snoozing between my feet and then tomorrow a Sun-filled day of blood product pickup and delivery.

In this day and age of instant ostracising by social media, I hope some of us keep our heads straight while focusing on the big picture and longrange planning, oblivious to the winds and whims of popular culture movements that blend into forgotten history like summer grass that become humus which feeds centuries-old trees.

You see, it’s like this:

I don’t know which life I’m saving today that will lead to the first child born on another planet.

That’s the strange paradox about the healthcare industry.

I want to know which life is more important than another but I never will with absolute certainty.  Sure, some lives will have more prominence than others.  Many of us will be forgotten before we die.

However, all of us were pebbles of one sort or another thrown into the pond of life — our ripples create patterns that may take generations to create a full effect — for instance, your great-great-great grandfather is just now having an effect on this society because of you.  Your grandniece will create a new industry that no one has yet imagined.

That’s why I enjoy what I do, why I’m willing to sweep and mop our lab floor, drive a car for hours, handsort bags of RBCs (red blood cells) over and over again.

Every life is important.

Every headache, every sore neck muscle, every tired shuffle back home is worth the effort of saving lives one by one.

All because I want us to spread life as we know it farther and further into the galaxy, starting with the electronic tentacles we call satellites launched into space, followed slowly but surely by us and whatever we’ll be in the centuries ahead.

Good night, all.  Papier the Cat says it’s time for bed!


Guest historical pop poem du jour

The Raven
by Edgar Allan Poe

First Published in 1845

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
” ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore,.
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore,
Nameless here forevermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
” ‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is, I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you.” Here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word,
Lenore?, This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word,
“Lenore!” Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
“Surely,” said I, “surely, that is something at my window lattice.
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore.
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.
” ‘Tis the wind, and nothing more.”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven, of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door.
Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door,
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly, grim, and ancient raven, wandering from the nightly shore.
Tell me what the lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore.”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered;
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before;
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster, till his songs one burden bore,—
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never—nevermore.”

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
                                       Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath
Sent thee respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!–prophet still, if bird or devil!
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted–
On this home by horror haunted–tell me truly, I implore:
Is there–is there balm in Gilead?–tell me–tell me I implore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil–prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that heaven that bends above us–by that God we both adore–
Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden, whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting–
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming.
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!


Out of context?

My wife and I watched the film “Big Eyes” last night.

In it, a major character relates to the following words:

2 Timothy 3:1-5King James Version (KJV)

3 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

Question: has the director, Tim Burton, found religion?



JUNE 8, 2015
Time Travel: The Stairs


Time travel belongs not to the realm of realistic possibility but rather to fiction, and within that world it is part of a genre involving dreams about the realization of desires, like a genie in a bottle, or a pact with the devil, or, in the present case, a proposal by the editor of a magazine. In literature, if these desires come to pass, they almost always lead to regret, or to hell. I think I know how to avoid such hapless ends.

I would start by asking this magnanimous potentate if she were willing to transport me far, far back in time; for example, to the most remote stretch of prehistory, when the world was new and man had barely started becoming man. Once I received an affirmative response, I would strike a deal.
I would propose exchanging this trip spanning millennia for the same amount of time, only divided into small trips to the immediate past—an hour ago, two, three, a day at most. Bound by her word (which, for a genie, the devil, or an editor of a magazine, is unbreakable), she’d have no choice but to grant me my request.

With this simple maneuver, I would change a frivolous opportunity to see a historical spectacle that would be of no use to me at all (and whose outcome I already know) for a practical power that can make my life easier. These small jumps will be more useful, more useful than any other thing I could possibly have. They will allow me to go back each time I’ve made an error, and fix it; or when I’ve said something I regret, and not say it; or when I haven’t found an adequate answer to a question or a sufficiently intelligent response, and show off with one that I hatched after some further thought. I will be in a position to overcome what Rousseau called l’esprit de l’escalier, the ingenious phrase that occurs to us when we’re leaving the house where we should have uttered it.

Jean-Jacques had good reasons to assign a name to that all too common circumstance, not because of his awkwardness in company but because of the extraordinary genius he could deploy when he had the time. The original anecdote that gave rise to the expression can be found in his “Confessions.” At dinner with important guests, a woman asked him, either out of malice or ignorance, if he had children. Everyone knew that he had five, and that he had put them up for adoption. In the anxious silence that followed, Rousseau managed only to stammer in the negative, and he spent the rest of the night stewing about it. But when he left, repairing down those fateful stairs, the perfect response struck him: “Ma’am, that is not a question to ask a bachelor.” (I suspect that Rousseau wrote the eight hundred pages of his “Confessions” just to deliver that phrase, and thus to find peace.) If only he could have availed himself of the time-travel device that I’ll be getting, he’d have gone back and had some relief.

I will be able to re-climb the stairs as many times as I want—not only to show myself to be ingenious in conversation, but also to repair all manner of irreparable errors, which will become magically fixable. I will avoid traps, accidents, unwanted encounters; I’ll be able to go back repeatedly to an important occasion until I’ve corrected every detail of my behavior and made it all perfect. (This will be especially useful for sex.)

And what a relaxed life I’ll have then! I’ll have suspended the need to take care of what I say or do: I can recover that infantile fearlessness of saying everything that enters my head. The calm that this power will give me will insure that I do everything well the first time (because I believe strongly that the secret to success and happiness consists in staying calm and relaxed), and so I’ll rarely have to rely on those trips back in time.

They’ll tell me that I’ll miss the incredible and unique chance to go see Napoleon on his white horse, or Nefertiti presiding over her court, or the dinosaurs, or Rimbaud in Africa. I’m not sorry. For those visions there are books, paintings, the imagination. And, anyway, I am sure that any one of those destinations would be a letdown, because the past would lose what gives it its poetry and charm: its condition of being past. It would become the present, and the present isn’t poetic or charmed; it’s practical, incomplete, and confused, filled with the interminable work of staying alive.

(Translated, from the Spanish, by Jonathan Blitzer.)