This is my 1980s journal.
Also available: 2003 2002 2001 2000 1990s
Everything on this page:
Copyright 1985-2002 by Thane Plambeck, except where obviously not.
Monday 18 Jan 1988 18:32:47 PST
Diary of a Vanishing Man
1 jan 1988 : Woke up this morning with a bad hangover. Standing up from my futon, noticed I was invisible from the waist down. Went to take a shower, saw my arms vanish too. In a full length mirror I was able to see only my retinas. Hard to pick up things at first but getting used to it.
Wed 27 Jan 88 01:31:58 PST
Diary of a Vanishing Man (continued)
10 jan 1988 : This awesome power of invisibility must not corrupt me. I have resolved to tell no one of my new abilities. After work, went invisible and took some photographs of myself in a mirror. There were no surprisesonly my retinas were visible, and these only barely. Of course you could see the camera.
4 Feb 88
Diary of a Vanishing Man (continued)
Next, I am in a sewing machine shop looking for a Knit Picker and I suddenly realize: I can fly. Levitate may be the proper term. Confined by Singers and Elnas but with no attendant in view I somehow know that although my emancipation from gravity is complete, it is not certain what translational abilities I possess. So for the moment I am satisfied to rise a bit above the carpeted floor. That no one seems to notice reassures me, and I descend. I don't want to exaggerate. It was strictly a six to eight inch kind of thing. Yet I am certain that at least floatationally, my power is great, and still largely untapped. Horizontal movement does seems to require that I touch the floor though.
On Dr. Seuss
As an ankle-biter I found the Doctor's illustration a bit disturbingthe teetertotteriness of those fishbowls balanced on the end of sticks perhaps. Is it really true that he coined the word "Nerd?" If so, what references can be given? The Grinch who stole Christmas is OK but as usual, the Mephistophelean character takes center stage. Ever since Paradise Lost it has been a big problem.
16 January 1988
Noxious Weed Busting
I once worked as a member of a "ground crew" whose assignment was the extermination of noxious weeds. The Nebraska State department of Agriculture has an official list of weeds it classifies as "noxious." Not every weed is noxious. For example, some familiar weeds, such as dandelions, are not.
To kill a dandelion is nothing. The noxious weed is a real opponent. You cannot kill a noxious weed with your bare hands. You need a weapon.
On my first day at work, I was introduced to Zane Roper, a seventy year-old man who had been fighting noxious weeds for decades. He gave me a terse introduction to noxious weeds and the weapons that would be at our disposal.
"We're going to spray Thistles today. You drive the jeep, and I'll walk behind with the gun. Don't get too goddamn far ahead of me. Take those jugs of 2,4-D. I'm going back for the long hoes and the keys to the loader; you fill the tank with diesel, put on these gloves, pour in two jugs and start the mixer. On the way out, remind me to tell you what Shattercane and Texas Sand Burr looks like. If Gordon comes by ask him what the hell we're going to do with the tree spade...."
I was overwhelmed by the terminology. "Long hoes?" Wasn't 2,4-D some kind of toxic chemical? The names of the weeds seemed particularly sinister. If Zane was going to carry a gun, would I be issued one too?
Every year, each of 97 Nebraska counties elects a Weed Control Deputy. The position is not one to be taken lightlythe Deputy's responsibility is nothing less than to ensure that it is people who rule in his county, and not noxious weeds. Travelling through Nebraska, one might conclude that it is entirely natural that corn should grow there. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Noxious weeds governed Nebraska for 50 million years before man arrived. The modern farmer has only recently driven the noxious weed into eclipse, and it requires all his ingenuity to keep the weed down.
The first Europeans, hoping to find arable land in the American west, had experienced weeds before: so they thought. They had given names to their European weeds to indicate their qualitiesShepherd's Hat, Dandelion, Mock Carrot. Finding a weed in his field, the farmer simply reached down and pulled it out. But when these weed-naive farmers arrived in the Great American high plains, they found the way completely blocked by weeds so horribly unfamiliar that a new genre of hellish names was invented for their description: Binding Grass, Witches Bristle, Shattercane, Musk Thistle, Texas Sand Burr. The agricultural journals kept at the time are filled with long passages about the horrible weeds. Farmers went bankrupt and starved, unable to conquer them.
Nebraska law requires farmers to keep their land free of noxious weeds. Although most succeed, there are inevitable delinquencies and pockets of weeds where even the diligent farmer is overwhelmed. Noxious weed control boards, governed by their deputies, are formed as a sort of agricultural Special Weapons and Tactics team.
Zane and I were just a small part of one team, working in one county, concentrating on one principal opponent: the Musk Thistle.
A stand of Musk Thistle may be briefly described as a cornfield in hell. Where sweet corn stands straight, green, neatly arranged in rows and wafting in the breeze, the Musk Thistle stands twisted, densely packed, spiky and rigid, with a hideous purplish eye at the top. A corn stalk may grow to nine feet; Musk Thistles can stand twelve. A naked man, standing amongst a few hundred Musk Thistles, could hardly hope to escape alive. He would be cut into fine slices in the attempt. It is a fertile weed: where 200 Thistles stood on Monday, 1000 might stand on Wednesday. There is no animal that can eat a noxious weed. Insects are repelled by them. All of modern agricultural technology is required to defeat just one.
To kill a Musk Thistle, I was to learn, one burns, poisons, and uproots it. All three operations are necessary. A burnt and poisoned thistle will recover. An uprooted thistle will reroot itself. One does not hope for victory over the Thistles. The best satisfaction comes in knowing that you have at least delivered them a blow.
Zane had been fighting them his entire adult life.
After we had loaded all the equipment, Zane paused for a moment
and pointed at the ground beneath us. "Do you see that?
That's a goddamn watermelon sprout. Looks the world like
Witches Bristle, but it isn't. It's the sort of thing
we're up against. Try to figure out what's a weed, and what isn't.
It looks like a hot day. We'll have the miserable bitches curling by lunch."
I started the jeep and we pulled away from the Weed Shed, pulling 100 gallons of a highly toxic mixture of diesel fuel and 2,4-D. Zane had a crude map drawn on the back of a Malathion advertisement which was to direct us to the site of our first engagement with the Thistles. We had barely driven half a mile into the rolling ranch land when Zane raised his hand. It was his signal to stop the jeep.
"There's a Thistle," he said in a cool tone. He pointed ahead over the hood of the jeep. I saw a five-foot high stalk with the purple eye fixed on us, and was momentarily transfixed. Still, I gathered my courage and began to get out of the jeep.
"Where are you going?" Zane asked. "Run it over with the jeep, then I'll finish it off."
There were to be many times when I would turn to Zane
in the jeep, admiring him; this was a man who knew how
to kill a weed. I put the jeep into gear and plowed over
the Thistle. Pausing triumphantly, I looked to him for
my next orders. But Zane was already
out of the jeep, standing silently over the now horizontal
thistle. He held a freshly-sharpened long hoe in his
hand. By the time I had gotten out of the jeep, Zane
was working violently over Thistle, in apparent victory
yet striking at it sharply with the honed edge of the
long hoe, splitting its stalk into dozens of fragments.
The original plant was unrecognizable in the pulp of stalk,
ooze and thistle-points. Still Zane seemed unsatisfied,
and he pointed to the 100 gallon trailer we pulled behind the jeep.
Creative Writing: Haiku
Has everyone tried his hand at Haiku? You remember good ol' Haiku. Was it Japanese, or Chinese? What were the rules exactly? There were some numbers involved. The first line had to be one word. It was the subject. Or was it one syllable? Hell if I remember. Well, let's go for it, anyway. Haiku was nature poetry, right? So you picked a one syllable nature word to kick things off.
RocksGood enough, good enough! The second line, what was it? Two syllables, or two words? Or was it some other number? They had to be adjectives, describing the subject.
Hard, unyieldingDamn good progress so far. That's 2/5ths of a Haiku poem (or possibly some other fraction). In any case, we've got our subject; make no mistake about that. “Hard” and “unyielding” are right on the mark too. If some Dunderhead comes at me, trying to say a rock isn't hard and unyielding, I'll be all over him.
We need three words now. What did they have to say? Or was it three syllables? “Situate the subject in nature.” Who said that?
In my handThat's a double winner, words and syllables! We've got some real momentum rolling now. Four somethings next, further elaborating on the subject in some restricted way. Anybody remember?
I'll throw them nowWe need the one word finale. Has to be a nature word. Ha! I've got it.
Introduction to Literary Criticism
In junior high school I was taught the three major “literary themes:”
1. Man versus man,Provided one could also identify
A. The protagonist, andone had a powerful analytical tool with which questions of the form
"Let's see, now, Hamlet. Was that man vs. man, or man vs. himself?"could be answered with a satisfying and sweeping critical finality. Useful also was the distinction between
I. External conflict, andIn class, these complexities were treated something like this:
“Now, class, we need to know the difference between external conflict and internal conflict. External conflict is perhaps the simpler concept. Let's say a man takes up a club and hits his neighbor. That's external conflict, pure and simple. Now, what about internal conflict...Which only goes to show that there is no royal road to literary criticism.
Harmful Effects of the Sun
Who has been distributing those gigantic square face-wrap sunglasses to everyone over the age of 65? Is it fashion or merely prescription? I find them unsettling.
Harmful Effects of the Sun (continued)
His thyroid condition has increased President B's resemblance to Pat Riley. Agreeing on the hair gel, they could achieve indistinguishability. Each of them is getting entirely too much exercise, and time in the sun.
Steve Norman writes:
This is from King Lear, Act II, Scene ii:
OSWALD: Why dost thou use me thus? I know thee not.
KENT: Fellow, I know thee.
OSWALD: What dost thou know me for?
KENT: A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch; one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deny'st the least syllable of thy addition.
(For this outburst, the bad guys put Kent in the stocks).
From today's San Francisco Chronicle, with headline "How Religious Groups Stopped Partners Law," by Don Lattin:
.....before and after yesterday's hourlong worship service, McIlhenny continued his steadfast refusal to make any comment to the press on the petition drive or the domestic partners law.These religious types can be *so* stubborn! I'll bet if you asked McIlhenny for a few remarks on his refusal to comment on why he refuses to comment, he would really clam up.
A Theory of Smell and Inhalation
Thane Plambeck, Esq, Investigator & Philosopher
PART I : The Role of the Nose.
That the nose, by providing an aperture for both smell and inhalation, plays a central role in these processes, is plain; indeed, where some commentators have sought to look down upon this vital orifice in their inhalatory theories, we have found their efforts singularly unconvincing. Yet even in granting the central role of the nose, we must take care to remember that to view the nasal organ as anything more than an inhalatory orifice, is to be led away from a proper understanding of it.
Draw in a breath, mouth closed. Clearly the nose has participated. But what is the role of that participation? Recall that the respiratory process depends upon the difference of pressures across the lung and external world boundary: it is only this difference, and nothing more, which makes breathing possible. To inhale, one expands the chest cavity; to exhale, one compresses it. It will be seen that the nose, playing no role whatsoever in either of these processes, is a passive participant only. Again: if the inhaler assigns to the nose the least credit for his success, he errs; the nose deserves no credit at all, and if in sudden inhalation we perceive the nostril flanks drawn in as if to aid us, we must not be fooled, and will insist that the nose withdraw its claim, yielding to the diaphragm and muscles of the chest what credit it would take for this most vital of respiratory processes.
PART II : A theory of Smell
That a scent is in reality the action upon the nose of particles diffused from the object smelled is a point upon which most theorists agree; still, there remains some confusion to be addressed. Imagine a mass of fecal matter, isolated in its environment, yet inside the scenting radius. Notwithstanding whatever niceties earlier writers have succumbed to on this point, we must affirm: that if fecal matter be smelled, this is only because fecal matter has diffused into the nose; and if we imagine that in standing away from the offensive object, we remove ourselves from it, this is only a useful fiction. If shit be smelled, there is shit in the nose, wrote Dr. Nase as early as 1840, and we could not agree more.
The Forward Pass
In the early days of American football's forward pass it was called a "forward lateral" and there was some discussion whether it should be legal or not. The innovators won out in the end of course. The terms forward lateral and forward pass have the same meaning. However the "forward lateral" term is often used in practice to denote the illegal act of forward passing beyond the line of scrimmage. It is perfectly legally for the QB to "pitch" the ball forward, provided he does it behind the line of scrimmage, and provided no more than one such forward pass takes place in a playthere can be unlimited backward passes (The Play).
Throughout the Big Eight conference intramural touch football is played with the convention that a forward pass may take at any time, including beyond the line of scrimmage. This tends to make all blocking somewhat superfluous and it reduces injuries. Stanford should make this change (somebody was paralyzed a couple of years ago I think).
The Kennedy's football games followed these rules. A forward looking family.
A sentence I once had the pleasure of overhearing:
"Golf courses don't have to be flat; that's why there's no cricket in Scotland."I'm still not sure what it means, exactly. If there were cricket in Scotland, then golf courses would have to be flat? Or if golf courses had to be flat, then there would be cricket in Scotland?
From John Muir's The Yosemite:
"If I were so time-poor as to have only one day to spend in Yosemite I should start at daybreak, say at three o'clock in midsummer, with a pocketful of any sort of dry breakfast stuff, for Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, ...."
[details of an incredibly long hike omitted...]
"Another grand one-day excursion is to the Upper Yosemite Fall, the top of the highest of the Three Brothers, called Eagle Peak on the Geological Survey maps; the brow of El Capitan; the head of the Ribbon Fall; across the beautiful Ribbon Creek Basin; and back to the Valley by the Big Oak Flat wagon-road...."
[by my figuring, this hike is over 25 miles long over the roughest terrain...]
Who is this Muir guy trying to fool? THREE O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING? A pocketful of "dry breakfast stuff?" I hiked to the summit of the Upper Yosemite Fall last weekend, and was a broken man when I reached the top. But this is only the start of Muir's hike. To complete his hike, I would require 15 sherpas to carry water and some sort of all-terrain vehicle, minimum. The man must have been some kind of goat. He did have that long beard.
Palo Alto Architecture
Birge Clark was the "Mister Palo Alto" of architects. He designed the big building at Cowper and Lytton for example, also all of Ramona between University and Hamilton except for one building, also the post office on Hamilton and quite a damn many houses and other buildings in Palo Alto. Probably he did the New (old) Varsity but I'm not sure about that one. For example on University between downtown and 101 there are at least 4 Birge's. If you count sidestreets say in a 4 block radius you would probably reach a count of 40-50 Birge I would guess. Now what are the characteristic design elements of this apparently ominpresent architectural force you may be asking yourself. I think they call it the "california mission style" or something like that. Anyway look first for the deep-cut at the front door, it should be recessed at least 2 feet or so. Some kind of ornament over the door if the owner hasn't blown it to hell somehow with an improvement or something. The focus of a B.C. is toward the rear of the house so you find small windows perhaps even with iron bars on the side that faces you. But if the house has a big window in front you will probably be able to spot the lucky owners enjoying decaf and the Wall Street J in the small courtyard-like area behind the house. When a B.C. goes on the market the realtors resemble so many barracuda going in for the blood and the price gets jacked deep into center field (please substitute your favorite mixed metaphor here).
Field trip: there is a Birge Clark tribute plaque on Ramona near the entrance to Pearls. I don't remember what it it says though. I think he died in 1970 or so and he got to be pretty old and retiring so anyway I dont think any really recent buildings are b clarkian. As in so many other human enterprises things get shot slightly off whack and we end up with neo-birge clarkian approximations, as I said, at Univ and Ramona. Again, stand at the corner of Univ and Ramona, and look toward Hamilton. On the right you will see real b clark, on the left half-real b. clark with the 50% monster closest to you. As you contrast the opposing avenues ask: "Which of these architects had an idea, and which simply poured his inadequate aspirations to Largeness into a vessel too refined and inadequate for his purpose?" Or something like that.
14 May 1989
Think Locally, Act Globally: Meeting Minutes
Tom thanked everyone for coming and noted that although the group was still small no one should think we arent going to have an impact in the end.
Cicily apologized for being late to last week's meeting. It turns out her car battery was dead.
Mike suggested a tri-continental boycott of Sears and that DieHard brand.
Cicily said her battery wasnt a DieHard.
Mike apologized and said OK we should consider energy broadly construed. Mike said he could get the names of some energy companies from the phone book.
Tom reminded Mike that he was thinking globally and acting locally, not the reverse.
Mike said he didnt get it, how can we act globally without at least a little local action first? Tom said that was the challenge we all faced. He then told a long story about Zen and inward reflection, something about a butterfly being stepped on ten million years ago and then Hitler never existing.
Mike said that sounded like a bunch of crap. Maybe we should be thinking globally and acting locally?
Tom said you can think and act however you want but said Mike should probably go buy that inane bumper sticker if he feels he must embrace absurdist philosophies.
Of course it's not hard to stand on the sidelines and carp about other people's musical attachments. Just keep in mind that if anyone asks you what you like, the answer is “oh, I like all kinds.” Or say that you like jazz and immediately follow up with imaginary groups, perhaps Scarf McGuppy or the Norton Sampson quintet. It takes a strong person to admit he has never heard of the Norton Sampson quintet. There is a coolness factor and sometimes it can be hard to ante up. In the 1970s it was at least enough to know that Steely Dan was a group and not a person.
Animal, mineral or vegetable? That's a good way to answer when musical topics come up. In Transcendental Meditation they give you a personal mantra not to be repeated to anyone but the secret is that everyone gets the same one (ommmm...) If it is live classical music then a good comment is “the violas seemed a bit scratchy.” Which brings up the crude Sir Thomas Beecham put-down that everybody knows and which I won't repeat unless someone asks [or clicks]. (Note added 24 March 2002)
I walked into the downtown Palo Alto Bank of America brandishing my Visa Card and $7.50 in penny rolls. They asked me if I had a checking account and I said no. But I did have a shiny card with B of A, my name, and VISA written on it. I wanted change; did they want the job? Only if I wrote my phone number on each roll and took an 8 cent hit on every 50 cents.
So I called the teller a "pirate." He said he was only doing his job. "Which is to say, piracy," I said. So then I'm talking to some manager and she suggests I try another bank.
I got my change at the Stanford Credit Union. Maybe I should change banks? Is it Wells Fargo where you get the ATM Secretviewer? I mean that thing that you can rotate to your own eye level. How does the damn thing work? It's very exciting to me. "FIRE ONE!!" I think I might blurt out or something. Or does it work something like Uhura's communications prong or whatever the hell she stared into? Or was it Spock who used the Viewer? As always, I retain a healthy interest in the new technologies. "YES, I CAN SEE HER NOW, CAPTAIN, SHE'S COMING OUT OF THE FOG AT 231 MARK 17...ITS MY KEOGH OR 401K PLAN...FIRE THREE!!!
Point of Confusion, I
Call it paradox, coincidence, or irony, I dont care, but for me, I have always confounded CARLTON FISK and THURMAN MUNSON. Which one died in the plane crash? It's not a good thing, particularly for someone whose father only last night (Wednesday) was on the Larry King show correcting LK about baseballiana. Did anyone catch his call ("Kearney, Nebraska, hello!")? YOU ARE (or AREN'T) LISTENING TO THE LARRY KING SHOW.
Point of Confusion, II
Making one's blood run cold: the sudden realization that for perhaps several years the words "entomology" and "etymology" have along with THURMAN MUNSON and BUNSEN BURNER suffered a certain intertwining of meaning. It's a fine line between sense and nonsense. The idea is to approach it always staying just on the right side (i.e., nonsense). Or again: perhaps it's only "picaresque" and "picturesque" was never a word at all except in that Readers Digest section? What does "picaresque" mean, anyway? Do I ask too many questions?
Point of Confusion, III
In one of the Chronicle columns I was pleased to see that somebody referred to the name “A. Kitman Ho,” (appearing in all the “JFK” adverts) as “an obvious pseudonym.” I had identified it as such a few weeks ago and perhaps others can confirm that indeed Gloria and I have been referring to our cat by this name for a few weeks already. It acts as a symbol of all that remains unexplained by the Warren C. In an earlier thread we discussed the spindly semantic nets bound up with THURMAN MUNSON, and indeed the possible confounding of EARL WARREN and WARREN BURGER offers another interesting starting point. Which one is the low-fat thing you can order at McDonald’s?
If you don't understand this paragraph that's OK.
Point of Confusion, IV
Joe Pallas asks: what is the contrapositive of “if you don't understand this paragraph, that's OK...”?
Applying the known Laws of Grammar and the technique Semantic Inversion, I obtain “if that's not OK, then you do understand this paragraph.” Strangely, the technique sheds no light on my original meaning, which although radiant and clear as a sunspot to me when I first wrote it, nevertheless proves elusive now in a moment of quiet reflection. It can be difficult to gather one's thought. For example I find that the repeated use of the expressions “Wait, let me think...” and “OK...wait...” interspersed with nervous giggling and eyeball batting do little more than draw out the time before I have to eventually say, OK, I have no idea what I am talking about. Sometimes waiting and thinking don't seem to accomplish very much. The man of action does very little waiting and when he thinks, it is strictly on the fly. At least that's what I always thought. But wait, let me think....
Two months earlier, I am in a bar talking to some blowhard who has written a book about a Supreme Court justice. He wears glasses and even as he fragments me with the self-congratulatory remark
"Yes, I suppose I have accomplished a lot in my life,"I make an important discoverywhat reflects back from his curved glass lenses doesn't quite match what it should be. It's a suspicion that I have long held about reflecting surfaces: yes there is diffraction and angles and everything else but the important thing is that even admitting all these mathematical principles when you look closely you will see that what is in the glass darkly is not quite what it should be. I checked it in a sequence of home experiments and believe me you should too. I don't know what the hell to make of it. Try it out looking at various reflecting objects: store fronts, computer terminals (turned off), maybe a lake just after you have dropped in a stone. Look at it very carefully, take some photographs. You will find that there are certain inconsistencies. There will be a little light spot where there shouldn't be one for example. Or there will be some kind of shadow down about 1/3 of the way down. It's always something.