Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Golden Tractate of Hermes Trismegistus #3

Sons of Science ! For this reason are philosophers said to be envious, not that they grudged the truth to religious or just men, or to the wise; but to fools, ignorant and vicious, who are without self-control and benevolence, least they should be made powerful and able to perpetrate sinful things. For of such the philosophers are made accountable to God, and evil men are not admitted worthy of this wisdom.
Know that this matter I call the stone; but it is also named the feminine of magnesia or the hen, or the white spittle, or the volatile milk, the incombustible oil in order that it may be hidden from the inept and ignorant who are deficient in goodness and self-control; which I have nevertheless signified to the wise by one only epithet, viz., the Philosopher's Stone.
Include, therefore, and conserve in this sea, the fire and the heavenly bird, to the latest moment of his exit. But I deprecate ye all, Sons of Philosophy, on whom the great gift of this knowledge being bestowed, if any should undervalue or divulge the power thereof to the ignorant, or such as are unfit for the knowledge of this secret. Behold, I have received nothing from any to whom I have not returned that which had been given me, nor have I failed to honour him; even in this I have reposed the highest confidence.
This, O Son, is the concealed stone of many colours, which is born and brought forth in one colour; know this and conceal it. By this, the Almighty favouring, the greatest diseases are escaped, and every sorrow, distress, and evil and hurtful thing is made to depart; for it leads from darkness into light, from this desert wilderness to a secure habitation, and from poverty and straits to a free and ample fortune.

E. Bruce Godfrey,
USU Extension Economist

Since the early 1980's the price dairymen have received for milk has been above the government support price. But, passage of the 1995 farm bill resulted in a new environment that has led to increased volatility in milk prices. With the passage of this act the government became essentially an inactive player in the purchase and storage of commodities (primarily non-fat dry milk, butter and cheese). The private sector for the first time in several decades became the primary holder of these commodities. This change was anticipated, but there have been adjustments in meeting the demand for stored products. Thus, when milk production in many areas declined in 1996 and the demand for stored commodities increased, prices rose to unprecedented levels. This was followed by a period of increased production and declining demand for stored products with a resultant decline in milk prices. For example, the average price of milk in Utah peaked at $15.60 per cwt. in September of 1996. This high was followed by a bottom of $11.20 per cwt in July 1997. This change of more than $4.00 per cwt. in 10 months was the largest change in milk prices within a year that I have found in the historic data for Utah. This is one of the consequences of moving from government controlled prices to prices that are determined primarily by market forces. As a result, dairy farmers now have some feel for the adjustments to the market system that has occurred in the eastern Europe and the Soviet Union since the collapse of the communist regime. While large changes like those experienced in 1996-97 are not expected in 1998, prices are not expected to be stable in the coming year.

(from a manuscript by Isaac Newton)

NOW in the days of my youth there was a Wise Man, who had lived to a Great Age; and he had a Stone called the Philosopher's Stone, wherein he looked and Saw Strange Things, and Understood Great Mysteries. And all men Wondered what he would do with the Stone when he Died. And it came to pass that he sent out Messengers to all the Prophets and Sages and Soothsayers, and said unto them:
Behold, I go the way of all flesh; and before I go I shall give this Stone to the man who is to Follow after me. Come ye, then, all who are wise, and let me discover which of you is Worthy, that he may Inherit this Stone.
And most of those who were Reputed Wise began to make Excuse, for they Feared to Come, lest he should Lay Bare their Folly; and they sent him Messages saying that they had Previous Engagements, but hoped that he would send them the Stone by Parcels Post, and they would pay the Freight.
But there were seven men who went, from seven cities; and they came before him. And he sat in his Chair, and he had a long white beard, and he commanded the seven wise men to stand before him. And thus he spake to them—
This Stone, which was brought to earth by a Meteor, and found by a man who was a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, I shall give to the man among you who Returneth the Right Answer to the Question which I shall ask. Are you ready for the Question?
And certain of the Wise Men Answered and said to him, We are ready. Ask us whatsoever Question thou wilt. Ask it in the Firmament or in the Earth; in the Land or in the Sea; in Things Movable or Things Immovable ; lo, we are Ready.
Then, said he, I will ask you this Question: What is the Best Way for a Man to help a Woman over a Fence?
And they were all Dumb for a season, for truly he had put them up against a Hard One.
Then answered the first of the Wise Men, and said, He should stand with her upon the nearer side, and with his right hand under her left elbow should gently lift her the while she climbeth.
And the second answered, and said, He should kneel upon one knee, and let her step in his hand, as if she were to mount an Horse.
And the third said, He should himself climb over first, and offer her his hand, while she Gracefully Steppeth down on the Farther Side.
And the fourth said, He should indeed climb over first, and she should climb to the Top, and when she Sitteth There upon the Top of the Fence, he should put up both hands, not permitting her to climb down, but should cause her to Leap Boldly and Gracefully into his Arms.
And the fifth said, He should assail the Fence, and carry it away as Samson did the Gates of Gaza, so should he make an highway for her to pass through.
And the sixth said, The way for a Man to help a Woman over a Fence is to Walk with her till they find a Gate, and open the Gate and walk through with her; and the Lovelier the Lady, the farther should it be to the Gate.
Now when they had all spoken, they waited for the Ancient Man to award the Stone. And he said, Have ye all spoken?
And they answered and said, We have spoken.
And they had forgotten me, for I was the youngest of them all. But the Ancient Man had seen me. And he beckoned with the hand, and I drew near and he said to me:
Young man, what sayest thou? With Which of these Six Men dost thou Agree?
And I answered, With none of them.
Then said he, Speak thou, and tell us what is the Best Way for a Man to help a Woman over a Fence?
And I answered and said, The Best Way for a Man to help a Woman over a Pence is for him to cross over, and go on a little space about his Business, yet not too far; and let her Climb over Any Old Way that Pleaseth her.
Then were they all silent.
And he gave the Stone to me. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Predictability and Contentment #1

Lack of predictability is dangerous. On some level we all know this. It goes back across the centuries to, for example, when we lived in the shadows of great castles, daily expecting a drunken and half-insane baronial lord to emerge and do something to destroy our lives.
This, and a million stories like it, explain the urge to gated communities, to identical malls, to burgers that taste the same across the planet. They are predictable. secure and safe and they are indirectly part of the drive for happiness.

Actually the word happiness is wrong here, When we refer to the tepid glow we get from all our stuff and mechanisms we have to keep safe, to keep our families ever-smiling, surrounded by air bags both real and metaphorical, we mean contentment.

And the dirty secret of our contentment is that we know, again on some deep level, that it's the best we've ever had it. Our ancestors were grindingly miserable. Worse that that, they were survivors and survivors are rarely pleasant and well-adjusted people. As a result, every person alive believes in their genes in the twin ideals of predictability and contentment.

As far as our genes are concerned there is no purpose in our living beyond the age at which we can safely have children

If you're over thirty you are, genetically, a waste of meat. Hence the steady rise in genetically related diseases as we grow older. Genes aren't against us, They are indifferent.

Predictability short circuits this that tendency to early death by removing the traction that genes have in our lives. Those sinuous medical malls  (a dermatology clinic next to a general purpose MRI lab, the two separated by green plants and water features) are engines of predictability. The horrors the store fronts carefully fail to address are made to seem predictable by their being placed in such familiar and safe surroundings. If the horrors are predictable we are content.

I have a theory that there is only one mall in the world. They all look the same and carry the same goods after all. If we were to open one of those anonymous looking cleaning staff access doors and walk through we would find we would find we had walked through a door at the back of Lakeline Mall, Austine to the corresponding door in the Waverley Centre, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Similarly I believe all oil rigs to be one rig, connected by disused access doors, surrounded by dusty cable runs and mislabeled pipes.

The possibility of the same being true of medical malls suggests that medical care leaks from location to location. For some reason this makes me uneasy.

The world is an endless twisting mall.

The outer edges of the vast, ever growing, parking lots are marked by restaurant chains.

The sky is an endless bleached blue with an agonizingly white sun.

No night anymore.

The mystery of the dark shadows, the awe inspiring stars are too unpredictable for this changeless world.

But we can't hold onto it. We take a strange turn and the ceiling of the mall becomes higher; the stores penetrate deeper; the plant and water features become more complicated and wilder.

The mall becomes wider. The stores, hugely way off to left and right, are dark, selling incomprehensible wares.

The floor is grass beneath your feet; the ceiling (vastly high above) is a blue so deep you could fall into it.

You exit the end cavern of the mall and see you are at the top of a huge cliff. At the base is a wild forest stretching as far as the eye can see.

You look behind you hoping to see the mall but instead you see an avenue of standing stones stretching off into the mist.

You have wandered away from the predictable and can never be content again. It's only small comfort to know that everyone else is following the same route.