Friend


Out of nowhere, he walks up to me and asks: Can I be your friend?
“Who are you?” I asked, “Do I know you from somewhere?”
There is no response.

It is too easy, in the world of electrons and light,
their trillions and quadrillions
organized into patterns for our feeble, macro senses,
made to do our bidding.

Cajoled by forces of nature controlled by forces of Man,
they whirl in their unseeable complexity,
interacting more times in an impossibly small moment
than a man can count in a lifetime.
Counted, then, by others like them,
living as they do in that universe of strange forces.

Too easy, by far, for another sentient machine like you
to click and press buttons
and ask to be my friend.
They do not care to what purpose they are put in our world,
or what words are formed in our minds
by the patterns we make of them.

And yet — they dance their quantum dance, beyond our view,
but not beyond our reach.
And they ask, on your behalf: Can I be your friend?

16 Jan 2011, Los Angeles
Friend
©2011 by Oz. 16 Jan 2011, Los Angeles

Out of nowhere, he walks up to me and asks: Can I be your friend?
“Who are you?” I asked, “Do I know you from somewhere?”
There is no response.

It is too easy, in the world of electrons and light,
their trillions and quadrillions
organized into patterns for our feeble, macro senses,
made to do our bidding.

Cajoled by forces of nature controlled by forces of Man,
they whirl in their unseeable complexity,
interacting more times in an impossibly small moment
than a man can count in a lifetime.
Counted, then, by others like them,
living as they do in that universe of strange forces.

Too easy, by far, for another sentient machine like you
to click and press buttons
and ask to be my friend.
They do not care to what purpose they are put in our world,
or what words are formed in our minds
by the patterns we make of them.

And yet — they dance their quantum dance, beyond our view,
but not beyond our reach.
And they ask, on your behalf: Can I be your friend?

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Quotation: “A human being should be able to…”


A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert A. Heinlein.

Random Musing: Poetry of Necessity


Was just thinking on the nature of short messages, like Twitter’s 140-character limit. Facebook used to limit status updates to 160 characters, but increased it a couple of years ago to 420 — still not a lot.

This made me think about the old telegram. You know, those yellow-papered, stencil-worded, nearly cryptic hand-delivered messages one would see in old films from the 30’s and 40’s in particular. There was always a lot of drama surrounding the receipt of a telegram. A breathless delivery boy arrives, announcing with a firm exclamation point: Telegram!

Christmas Telegram from Woodrow Wilson

Christmas Telegram from Woodrow Wilson

With a slight hesitation, glancing at his companions first, our hero takes the folded paper from the uniformed lad, and the tension mounts as he unfolds the paper. His eyes can be seen, scanning the few, impact-filled words. The reaction on his face tells all! Dreadful news, or triumph? Often, the story’s major plot twist, set-back, or final resolution is triggered by such a message.

Telegram from Walt Disney to Brother Roy

Telegram from Walt Disney to brother Roy, after losing rights to an early animated character. The idea for Mickey Mouse was formulated on the train trip from which this telegram originated.

And, much like now, people would use their then-form of instant messaging to troll a friend. When John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize, he received this congratulatory telegram from author John O’Hara: “Congratulations. I can think of only one other author I’d rather see get it.”

And, much like our own texting and other “instant messaging” methods, telegrams had their own special language, loaded with abbreviations. The reason: Telegrams were expensive. Around the time of World War I (1917), the cost in the United States was a penny per word. At http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm, you can calculate that money could buy in 1917 about 18.6 times what it bought in 2010. Chances are, the real buying power was much higher, especially as official inflation numbers now exclude both energy and food costs.

But let’s round it to 20 cents — each word costs $0.20, or 5 words for $1.00. I don’t know about you, but I’d be using the longest words I could think of. “Gone fishing” would become “Sojourning Piscatorially”. And still, that would be 40 cents! Walt’s telegram, above, would have cost the equivalent of $4.20.  In comparison, the same email is about… free. Or factor an email into all the other communications you use via the internet, against your monthly internet cost, and it is a minuscule expense – very likely a fraction of a penny.

Western Union is the company I identify with telegrams. There were many companies, but Western Union was the telegram company in my mind. I wondered about the modern status of the telegram, in an era when I can pick up my phone, or use Google Voice on my computer, and just type in a short, nearly costless message, to have it appear almost anywhere in the world, within seconds, in the phone of my intended recipient, complete with an announcement in sound and/or buzzing, at the discretion of said recipient.

I was a bit saddened, but hardly surprised then, to see that Western Union had discontinued telegram service in 2006. Well, actually I was a bit surprised that the service had survived so deeply into our era of personal instant messaging. Here is the very last Western Union telegram ever sent, January 26, 2006:

The Last Western Union Telegram

The Last Western Union Telegram

Not good news, I’m afraid, but then, what to expect from the final breath of a 150 year-old beast?

Still, there was something more personal and magical about the old telegram, with its use of “STOP” instead of a period (i.e. a “full stop”). I wonder what the story is behind that? Perhaps the period itself did not have a way to be sent by the oldest electronic messaging system (Morse code or similar), and so it was spelled out, and became custom. Or maybe it allowed them to collect one more penny per sentence. I don’t know, but it gave them a feel and rhythm unique to that kind of communication – a poetry of necessity.

electronically lured to the digital rocks


it steals all my thoughts
before they are formed
and freezes ideas
so they’re never warmed

it makes things too easy
so I never try
for anything further
than what’s standing by

and though I know better
i may just give in
and join the collective
despite my chagrin

for its song is quite lovely
its form so sublime
and the mast I was tied to
has crumbled with time

January 24, 2011, Los Angeles

Various Haiku


My heart broke again
pieces scattered all over;
I’m still finding them

I saw the light you
carefully shroud with your hands
too tightly. Dark now.

 

Looking for the sun,

wings beating to pass the sky –

had it all along

A monk looks down and
sees sky somehow far below.
Earth laughs merrily

seventeen million
souls in the southern desert.
only two awake?

I found a magic
wand and tried some secret words…
tell me if it worked


December 25, 2008. Los Angeles

sigh


the great sun hung in airless space

and sighed

(bursting burning exhalation)

(loss of some tiny bit of itself)

(message sent through time for distant and unknown eyes)

and afterwards, resolved again,
looked out at its far and lonely brethren and burned on.

January 2, 2009, Los Angeles

A World Away


Phase shifts, for a moment,
A phenomenon of quantum realities
Following its own logic,
Defying at the same time
All that we know by that name: Logic.

Mist lifts, reveals a shoreline,
Avalon’s fabled tor rising to the sun,
Stark rocks marking the place
Where a moment before had been
The monastery of Glastonbury.

Strange force, finally stable,
Allows existence of coincident, rarely congruent spaces.
I look across the inexplicable glade
Where you, looking back,
Seem unafraid of my appearance.

Goddess source, ever changing,
Its study having been my life’s work,
Nevertheless did not prepare me,
For your appearance in Her glade,
A sign I could only read as change.

Visor lifted, I meet your eyes,
Something in them alarms and attracts me.
My tactical display tells me
What I already know:
There is no protocol for this engagement.

Sight gifted, I see far more
Than just the gray trouble in your eyes,
And sense the power that brought you here.
But the Goddess is silent,
Though Her presence fills me.

Alarm squeak, weapons offline.
I look away to read the diagnostic message,
And jump to find you near me
A moment later, when I look up.
I have no defense. My training fails me.

I speak, and ask your name,
For I see you wear armor unlike any other,
And I fear the answer I now expect.
I do not fear your hand,
Not in this place the Goddess made.

Question asked, her voice, recorded.
Translator pauses. Latin and Welsh, it indicates.
But it works; I understand.
Though it cannot matter, I say:
“Arthur. I am Arthur Regis.”

I am aghast. Two voices speak,
The second not from his mouth, but similar enough;
I hear the same name in both.
I see his brow wrinkle with worry.
I know both voices speak true.

She fades. For just an instant,
As if a cloud’s shadow had passed over us.
The cerulean sky is clear.
There is only a moment remaining.
I reach into my sample pouch.

Demon shades! They mask the light,
And suddenly I know that, again, you will not remain.
The mist takes you back to your repose,
Leaving only a strange flower,
Which I carefully tuck into my sleeve.

7 February 2011, Los Angeles