enlightenment, flowers, history, humor, language, photography

Lion’s Tooth

I like the scattered violets that appeared in my lawn some years ago.  In the spring I let the grass get high before I mow, so that the violets will have a good chance to set seed.  The delay also gives the dandelions a good chance to set seed.  Fine.


Would the dandelion have a better rep if we had translated (rather than anglicized) the Old French name?  Not likely.  Every flower is the same bright yellow, so there is no variation for plant breeders to coax toward white or red and then offer “Snow Ball Lion’s Tooth” or “Fire Ball Lion’s Tooth” in seed catalogs.  Any klutz can grow dandelions, so they give gardeners no bragging rights.

Nowadays the French have a derogatory-sounding name for dandelions.  Were the royal gardeners frustrated by the plant’s defiance of the oppressive formality of the plantings at Versailles?  The Germans have kept the good old phrase “lion’s tooth” (in their own language, of course), as have the Italians and the Spanish.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

When many people see a dandelion, they see a weed.  I don’t.  I see Löwenzahn, the Wagnerian Heldenblume that thrusts green and gold into the grayest and grimmest of our cityscapes.  I see Dent de Lion, the Enlightenment philosophe whose call for liberty and rationality rides the wind.


I do pull weeds; I do not pull dandelions.

Flower of the Day – July 20, 2018 – Dandelion

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haiku, history, humor, politics

Rhyming Haiku: Couplet and Triplet

I enjoy smuggling rhymes into blank verse but have not yet gotten all 3 lines of a haiku I really like to rhyme.  My response to Carpe Diem #932 silk tree is a pair of all-new haiku.  I do like the one with a couplet.  The one with a triplet (plus an internal rhyme in the title at no extra charge) is submitted in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s corny jokes during the American Civil War: I laugh so that I will not cry.

Sound of Sunlight
|Rushing waters bring
|joy to those who hear them sing
|and see them sparkle.

Silly Rhymes for Scary Times
|A rhyme in blank verse?
|President Trump would be worse.
|Vote Dem or you’ll curse.


Image Source

A public domain image of the American flag has been turned upside down to reflect the current state of US politics.

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haiku, history, humor

Time for a Haiku about Time

Historians give us the next best thing to traveling backward in time, so as to look over the shoulders of our predecessors and see how they coped with their predicaments while planting seeds of ours.  Of course, we cannot really do that.
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The protagonist in H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine travels fast forward in time, temporarily (!?) separating the passage of time in his own life from the passage of time in the world at large.  Of course, we cannot really do that either.


On the other hand …

Is Time Travel a Fantasy?
|No.  It just happens
|(whether we like it or not)
|on a fixed schedule.

The still from the 1960 film version of The Time Machine that appears here has been cropped to fit well on this page; it appears in an interesting post on TimidMonster.com.

haiku, history, humor, politics

Long After the Sixties

When will things slide …

from liberty to anarchy?

from growing to shrinking?

from bravery to bravado?

from firmness to fascism?

from hope to rage?

The answer, my friend, has blown in on the wind.

The answer has blown in on the wind.

Fiscal Responsibility
|Debts rise; incomes fall.
|Hard times demand bold action:
|tax cuts for the rich!

haiku, history

Motion in Haiku: 2 Surprises

The [Menu] button (atop the vertical black bar) reveals widgets like the Search box.  Typing just the [Enter] key into the Search box is a way to browse WordPress blogs.

Some fine haiku were among the few good things to come out of World War I.  My experiment with one of them provides a response to Carpe Diem Perpetuum Mobile #2 rainbows sparkle (or movement in haiku).  While refining my nuanced stance on the 5-7-5 Rule ( Helpful guideline? Yes! Firm requirement? No! ), I tried tweaking a few classic haiku that broke the rule.  Could something that was already good be improved by revisions to comply with 5-7-5?  In particular, I considered a World War I image by Maurice Betz.  Neither the French original nor the straightforward translation on page 50 of The Haiku Handbook (2013 edition) obeys 5-7-5.  This post ends by quoting the translated Betz haiku (which is utterly static) and my [5-7-5]-compliant version (which has both fast and slow motion).  I was surprised twice.Duck-Rabbit_illusion_439x242

  1. The history of the shell hole can be narrated succinctly within the confines of 5-7-5.
  2. I do not have a stable preference for either version.  Like someone viewing the classic ambiguous image that can be seen as a duck facing one way or as a rabbit facing the other, I flip-flop between the still photo by Betz and the movie by me.

© Maurice Betz
|A shell hole
|In its water
|Held the whole sky.

Redemptive Trickle
|A shell exploded!
|Water slowly filled the hole
|and held the whole sky.

Image Source

  • Jastrow, J. (1899). The mind’s eye. Popular Science Monthly, 54, 299-312.
  • The soft copy used here has been downloaded and cropped.


haiku, history, humor, photography, science

Moving the Earth

Sometimes the Earth moves, quite apart from the constant motion in orbit around the Sun.  No, I am not using hyperbole to describe a big, screaming orgasm.  I am considering an even rarer event.
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Sometimes a really big idea challenges and ultimately transforms deeply held beliefs about the fundamental nature of human life.  Centuries ago, the idea that the Earth does indeed move around the Sun was such an idea.  Oh shit, we may not be at the center of the universe!  Astronomical humble pie from Copernicus has been pretty well digested; some people still cannot swallow humble pie that was pulled from the oven in 1858.

Already know what happened in 1858?  Please don’t leave.  I will keep it brief, keep it light, and put my own eccentric spin on the story.  (Honestly now, when was the last time U saw the phrase “big, screaming orgasm” in the 2nd sentence of a note on the history of science?)  Sources are thanked at the end of this post.

Back in 1858, there were no search boxes.  No Google.  No Wikipedia.  No e-mail!  Anything called a “manuscript” really was a collection of sheets of paper on which letters and symbols had been written by hand.  Want to show it to somebody U cannot visit?  Put it in the mail and hope it eventually arrives intact.  Want to have a backup copy in case it gets lost or damaged?  Write it out all over again before mailing.  No scanners.  No soft copy.  Yuck.

I am old enough to have lived and worked in a hard copy world, albeit with gadgets like electric typewriters that made it less painful than in 1858.  Collaborating with somebody several time zones away was agony in my early days and impossible in 1858.  In some important ways, doing science in my early days was more like it was in 1858 than it is now.  So I can imagine how Charles Darwin felt when he read the mail on 1858-06-18.

Correctly anticipating that his concept of evolution by natural selection would ignite a firestorm of controversy when published, Darwin had spent some of his time over the previous 20 years thinking about possible objections or misunderstandings, devising ways to answer or avoid them, and organizing a mountain of evidence.  Already an A-list biologist, Darwin was in no hurry and wanted to dot more i-s and cross more t-s before the firestorm.  Naturally, he wanted to wait a while before publishing his big idea.

The letter and manuscript that Darwin received on 1858-06-18 came from Alfred Wallace, a younger colleague then roughing it somewhere in one of the places that would now be called Indonesia or Malaysia or New Guinea.  Wallace sought advice about how to publish a new idea: evolution by natural selection.  Tho Wallace did not have a mountain of evidence, his pile was plenty high enough to justify publication.

Wallace earned his living by collecting natural history specimens for sale and was being hassled for the amount of time he devoted to nerdy “theorizing” when he should be killing things.  Naturally, he wanted to publish his big idea soon.  Naturally, he sought the opinion of a senior colleague with whom he had already exchanged a few letters on smaller matters.  He did not know (and could not know for months) that he had independently come up with the same big idea that Darwin had been quietly refining and supporting for years.

How could the differing priorities of Darwin and Wallace be reconciled?  How could Darwin respond to Wallace in a way that was fair to both of them and feasible in 1858?  No e-mail.  No conference calls.  Darwin consulted a few friends.  More than a century before the exhortation to

Let it all hang out!

enjoyed a vogue, they decided to do exactly that.  Those who attended the meeting of the Linnean Society of London on 1858-07-01 were treated to an explanation of the unusual situation, a reading of a summary of Darwin’s work, and a reading of Wallace’s paper.  Wallace was still in the boondocks and did not even know that his work (presented for him in his absence by one of Darwin’s friends) was sharing the spotlight on equal terms with Darwin’s.

Wallace did eventually return to England, make further contributions to biology, and enjoy a long friendship with Darwin.  Yes, they disagreed on some points.  Yes, creationists took such disagreements at the frontiers as an excuse to claim that the whole enterprise was “just a theory” with no greater plausibility than an extremely literal reading of Genesis as translated from a translation of the original ancient Hebrew.  But the Earth had begun to move again.  Oh shit, we may not be descendants of a pair of idle nudists who took advice from a snake!

Archimedes in 1858
|Darwin and Wallace
|found a lever long enough
|and a place to stand.

Greater Bird of Paradise
Greater Bird of Paradise


      • The brief biography of Wallace by Andrew Berry in the September 2015 issue of Natural History is very readable and provides some details I had not known.  No access to that issue of the magazine?  Pasting a few phrases into search boxes will compensate nowadays.  I have zoomed in on June/July of 1858 to elaborate on collaboration technologies (then and now), Darwin’s fairness predicament,  and why I applaud the way he resolved it.

    • Tim Laman’s many bird of paradise photos are featured in the September 2015 issue of Natural History.  The photos that appear here have been cropped to fit well on this page.  The originals (and many other splendid photos) can be seen on Tim Laman’s website.  Prints can be bought.

  • The concluding zinger about Adam and Eve is believed to be original; it is inspired by the edgy absurdist humor in Eric Wong’s blog.