Wonder-ing Woman

One thing I’ve noticed in my trivial research of subatomic particles is that they are very hard to find. Gluons, quarks, the omega minus, Higgs-Boson. All very difficult to pin down. They are tiny. They move fast. Some aren’t even particles at all. Some are more like an electrical mesh that other particles fit in, allowing bits of energy to acquire mass. What I’m saying is a person would be hard-pressed to recognize one when they are out and about, running errands, doing yard work, or playing video games. They belong in a different dimension, and there they stay. They are all around us, yet absent.

Almost as difficult, apparently, is finding a woman who holds a top position at the United Nations. Even in the twenty-first century it is still an old boys club, steeped in a patriarchal heritage, slow to adapt to a modernized world. I was reading about some of the challenges facing female security council members, how there seemed to be an embedded disdain among the old guard toward the opposite gender, and how the glass ceiling at the organization had been reinforced with concrete and wood. “A shame,” I thought, as I flipped the page and read the next headline.

“Wonder Woman named U.N. Ambassador.”

I flipped the page back to the previous article. “Women finding it difficult to integrate into male-dominated U.N. culture.”

I flipped the page forward.

“Wonder Woman named U.N. Ambassador.”

I flipped the page back. “Women finding it difficult…”

I flipped the page forward. “Wonder Woman named U.N. Ambassador.”

Back and forth I went like a ping-pong ball. It caused me to be late to everything that day, as I was stuck in a loop of confusion at the two stories. At first I thought it was a playful way to inform the public that Lynda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman on the seventies sitcom, had been appointed. No, in fact it was the comic book character.

A canny and shrewd move on the part of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, I thought, or whoever made the decision. What better way to ignore a female security council member than to appoint a fictional one. While they were at it, they could’ve thrown in Betty Boop, Jessica Rabbit, Wilma Flintstone, Jane Jetson and Minnie Mouse. Why not? There would be no awkward confrontations on the floor. They wouldn’t have to shell out the extra money for translators, and it would not be an undue burden on the U.N. commissary. These women would not create any diplomatic crises. They don’t exist, after all.

My own experience with the United Nations goes back some years, when a good friend of mine from college lived over on the east side of Manhattan about two blocks up from the Dag Hammarskjold plaza. I drank heavily back then, and it was no small accomplishment for me to avoid being smashed by careening limos with little flags perched over the headlights as I tried to negotiate the two blocks between my favorite Irish pub and the safety of my friend’s apartment building. Anytime I saw a set of tiny flags on the hood of a car closing in on me I knew it was time to get my ass in gear. These drivers don’t mess around. They are terrified of an ambush. The last thing you get to see as you fall under the wheels of a speeding diplomatic Mercedes is the flag of the country that is about to run you over. They do not get parking tickets, or moving violations, and they probably would emerge unscathed from running down a pedestrian. I’d come out of this Irish bar good and tuned up at about three in the afternoon and have to make it past two city streets like I was the doomed amphibian in a game of “Frogger.”

I knew from then on that the place was vicious. If the traffic around the building was that bad, I couldn’t imagine what actually went on inside the joint. I was relieved when my friend moved up to Scarsdale.

“I have kids now,” he said. “And you can’t trust those U.N. chauffeurs. They drive like they are in the crosshairs of a sniper.” Which may have been true. Another reason to leave the neighborhood. Political assassins. Now the local residents may have to endure the constant arrival and departure of Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.

Apparently some groups are not happy with the appointment of a sexy comic book character to the U.N. roster. They were particularly outraged when Ban Ki-Moon made an announcement that all female staff members, “Would now have to wear a golden tiara, matching gold cuffs, form-fitting bodice, fishnets and knee-high boots. Just so, you know, Wonder Woman doesn’t feel too self-conscious or anything. We all know what it’s like to be the new kid on the block. You women must show some solidarity. By the way any of you sweet biscuits want to tie me up with a golden lasso, I’ll be in my office.”

Maybe it’s not a total wash. Maybe some good can come from all this. Consider that Wonder Woman could turn into, not so much Wonder Woman, superhero icon, but “Wondering” Woman, as in female who wonders about why the hell the whole world can’t stop the incredible unrest stretching across Europe, the Middle East, and Central America, say.

“I’m wondering why Aleppo has been wiped off the map.”

“I’m wondering how the U.N. introduced cholera to Haiti.”

“I’m wondering how the use of aggression is justified to an accepting populace.”

Like quarks, gluons and other micro-particles, wholesale slaughter seems almost impossible to isolate, even though officials are aware of its presence. It’s everywhere and out of reach. It’s there, yet it’s not.


More Alembics to come.


There are two ways I’d rather NOT be remembered. The first is by way of “Tsantsa,” which is a peculiar process of preservation. First my head would be lopped off my body, which is an immediate indication that things are bad and about to get worse. Then my facial skin is removed until I am a loose bag of derma. Hot rocks and sand are poured in to shrink my head down to the size of a baseball. My lips would be sewn together to prevent my soul from escaping. Then some type of beaded string would be passed through my ears. Thoroughly humiliated, I would then be placed around the neck of some rotten Jivaro tribal elder to be worn to parties and council meetings, staring out from between his nipples in what could largely be considered defeat.   

The other way I’d rather not be remembered, which is almost as embarrassing, is to have my last name entered into the English dictionary as a verbal insult. There is no more intimate association to a person than their surname, and to see it in bold print as a definition for something filthy, vulgar and depraved is probably as bad as it gets.

This is what happened to Vidkun Quisling, the head of the Norwegian government during the Nazi occupation. His last name is now in every English dictionary with the definition, “A traitor who sells out his country.” The allied history is certainly no fan of Mr. Quisling. He can only die once, technically, but every time a person opens a thesaurus to find that special word that really hammers the point home about how treacherous and  underhanded someone can be, there he is. “Quisling.”

Quisling is almost as bad as “burke,” a word which also appears in the dictionary based on someone’s past behavior. The definition of “burke” is weirdly specific. It is a verb that describes murdering someone, but in such a way as to preserve the body for dissection.  Named after William Burke, Irish grave robber and murderer. That is quite detailed. Not only is Mr. Burke shamed for subsequent generations, his whole lineage is branded, right up the line. It is unsettling to think that today’s roll call is tomorrow’s string of epithets. My grandfather would be pissed if the word “hull” suddenly took on an added meaning in the modern lexicon.

Hull–(1) Outer husk of a fruit. (2) Body of a ship. (3) Casing of a rocket. (4) Total fucking idiot.

Speaking of “Tsantsas,” I toured the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia some years back with a friend of mine. The place is not for the faint of heart. It is a museum of medical oddities. It showcases nature’s wild experiments on herself. Everything from conjoined twins to people with horns growing out of their heads to a lady who turned into a huge, five-foot bar of soap when she died. My friend humored me. I insisted on going and he obliged. Such is the nature of friendships anchored in immovable earth. My friend lingered in front of the “Tsantsa” exhibit for a good while, reading about the mysticism, the process, the voodoo. When he turned to walk off he stopped in front of me and said, “I think I’ve now seen the rudest way to treat someone after they die.”

For some reason I laughed, even though he hadn’t meant it as a joke. People looked at me for snickering like I was crazy. Of all the places to express mirth, being surrounded by a roomful of vacant skulls is not one of them. But that was the point. Was our modern setup any different than the Jivaro? We had this stuff on display too. Was it more dignified because it was in a glass case?

I kept up a practice for about six months or so of looking up certain words to see whether they were taken from actual names of people for exaggerated behavior and characteristics. A word like “squeamish” seemed to me to have possibly been derived from a notorious puker. “Named after Ned Squeam, guy who couldn’t ride a horse and buggy for two minutes without retching all over the place.”

“Shit”–horrendous fecal material. Named after Edmond Shit, this British fellow that nobody ever really liked.

“Taboo”– named after Lionel Taboo, who liked to watch his sisters undress, and found the sight of dead bodies erotic.

I eventually lost interest. It was a tedious exercise, and I found it more fun to invent the provenance rather than study it. In fact, I even developed a theory that wet dirt was just wet dirt until Dr. Samuel Mudd was found guilty of complicity in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, lending his medical expertise to bandage the leg of John Wilkes Booth after he leapt from the balcony of Ford’s Theatre. After that someone probably said, “You know this wet, filthy gunk that gets caught in everything after a rainstorm? It needs to be known as mudd. You know what? Take that last ‘d’ off of the word. Don’t want to give him too much notoriety. Mud is too good for the man. Now if we can just come up with a word for a guy who likes to grab women by the vagina.”

More Alembics to come.

The Electric Spermbot

I admit this is getting ridiculous. What will hence be known as my “Electric Trilogy” (See The Electric Monk, September 23rd and The Electric Caterpillar, October 1st) has arrived for its third installment in a way so absurd that I hesitate to elaborate on it. Even David Lynch, the famous cult director, would say, “Too weird, man.” Jean Arp, the father of the Dada art movement, would say, “Nein!” And Cecil Taylor, the freeform jazz pioneer, would simply slam his hands onto his piano in order to drown out the foolishness.

The worlds of micro-science and nanotechnology have outdone themselves this time. German engineers, which for some reason is fitting, are putting tiny motors on the tails of sperm cells to boost their swimming power in an effort to help with conception. I’m not sure what your definition of sloth is, but when your sperm cell needs an outboard engine to fertilize, you know you’ve crossed a barrier of laziness so profound that there is no hope for redemption.

The modern world moves fast. It doesn’t slow down for anyone. It is dangerous. There is hazard everywhere. It requires energy, stamina, perseverance. Thus the first big elimination trial, that is human fertilization, is critical to the individual’s future success. If science starts to rig that competition there is no telling what the consequences will be. Imagine walking down the street and seeing a well-dressed man stretched out on the sidewalk, completely inert, and having him call out in a lofty British accent, “Excuse me, but would somebody be so kind as to lift me up, carry me down to the coffee shop, purchase a double espresso and pour it into my mouth. You see, I’m feeling quite logy today, and I’ve never been effectively prompted to perform these tasks myself. Anyone. Anyone.”

It would be obvious from the cut of the man’s fine Italian suit and his articulation that his family was wealthy enough to purchase a tiny motor for his gamete’s wonky flagellum, and ever since then he would conduct himself like a human jellyfish, just riding the tide. He would be one more thing to trip over. One more thing to avoid. His contributions would be minimal, at best.

I was a breach birth, myself. My mother has often chided me, saying, “Even from the start, you never had to do any work. They cut me open and lifted you out and you’ve been lazy ever since.”

“Well fine,” I would defend. “I’ll have you know, though, about nine months before I was lifted out of the womb I competed in a nasty little swimming race with a hundred million other contestants and I won. So take that.”

My argument would fall short, though, were I to learn that my “swimming race” was bought, that I had an unfair advantage, that I cheated, that I didn’t deserve to win. It is undignified. It is embarrassing. It would be as uncomfortable as watching that hunchbacked freak John DuPont pinning other, better wrestlers who were bribed to let the billionaire win. DuPont was not better off for these farces. Some might say it actually made his delusions of grandeur even worse. The DuPonts are the kind of family that could equip every gamete with a big hemi engine, and a generation of slugs would result.

Lucky for the rest of us, early spermbot trials seem to be failing. Apparently one scientist attached a motor with way too much horsepower to a test sperm and it shot through the egg, the fallopian tube, out the back of the woman, through the wall, into the neighbor’s house and somehow impregnated the family cat. Back to the drawing board, as they say.

Once again I have been snubbed for the Nobel Prize. I’ll take any one. I’m not picky. Physics. Literature. Dancing. Juggling. Congeniality. Whatever else they give them for, I don’t care. I’ve decided to go abstract for next year’s awards ceremony. It seems the trick is to be engaged in experiments that nobody else really understands, and so I’ve been tinkering in matters so arcane that I am baffled by them, and by the end of the day my results are so nonsensical and random that even the great mathematician David Hilbert, if he were alive, would be scratching his head and trotting off to the saloon to count his toes, pinch the behinds of the barmaids, and build some weird theory about the relationship of it all.

Superconductivity, which, because of the name, I assume is better than regular conductivity, may be the future of my studies. It has to do with matter in certain extreme states that offers no resistance. Because I needed some funding for my project I tried to contact Bill Cosby, whom I heard has shown great interest in substances that offer no resistance, but his legal team has threatened serious action if I persist in my requests.   

The physicist winners this year are molecular topographers. Their big discovery is the theory that, “There is no such thing as half a hole. Holes exist singularly, as integers.” I’m pretty sure I could’ve come up with that one myself. For now I will toil in anonymity. I will go blind with simple contradictions like, “I am unprovable.” If the statement is wrong then my logic is inconsistent, if the statement is true I don’t actually exist. Or my favorite paradox of all time: This sentence is false.

The title of my autobiography.

More Alembics to come

The Electric Caterpillar

Unshakable is the axiom, “If you can imagine it, somebody has probably already done it.” Once again the old truism has reared its tiny, robotic head. 

Whilst reveling in all my clever absurdity last week in regards to my previous blog entry, (See “The Electric Monk” September 23rd), specifically the part about the spider who owns a bunch of tiny robot spiders to build webs for him in order to increase his moth-based wealth and influence, I happened upon a real science article about a research institute in Poland that is currently building tiny robot caterpillars.

I felt myself reflexively annoyed at the odd coincidence, even though one thing had absolutely nothing to do with the other. It’s not like I was going to be denied royalties, or somehow lose my place in the pantheon of hallowed satirists. Firstly, there is no place to lose and secondly, odds are any plagiarism charge would surely be leveled at me, since the robot caterpillars have probably been in the development (larval?) stages for years, while my conjuring of a mechanical spider arrived haphazardly last Thursday after a night of heavy drinking, and required nothing more than a little imagination and a few written lines for it to spring into theoretical action. If actually tasked to build a robot spider I would have no clue where to start.

The best part of the robot caterpillar article, though, was when the Polish scientist was asked WHY someone would build a tiny robot caterpillar, the fellow seemed to get all defensive. He lashed out impatiently that they could probably be used as some kind of “medicine delivery system.” I immediately had the image of a bulky pill strapped to the back of a slinky inchworm as it trundled its way up to somebody’s front door and with a tiny knock, announced the delivery of ONE tablet of aspirin.

“But I ordered two,” the customer would complain.

“Ah jeez, alright,” the inchworm would say. “This really messes up my delivery schedule. Now I have to head back to the pharmacy, fill out some paperwork, and then I’ll be back with the complete order.” (Checking his wristwatch.) “You’ll receive your second tablet of aspirin right about this time next year!”

The scientist clarified that the delivery system he envisioned had to do with targeted organ systems within the body. Which seemed a bit more reasonable, until it was pointed out that the robot caterpillars are powered by solar energy, which would mean that the tiny creature would run out of juice somewhere around the uvula, at which time the person could simply swallow medicine, caterpillar and all, and have it delivered the old-fashioned way.

The scientist was getting fed up. He finally erupted that he was a genius, the rest of the public were damn fools, and why did everything always have to do something, and with a few Polish insults he ran off, strapped a set of colorful wings to his back, and clumsily flew away, only to be hit by the windshield of a speeding bus about a hundred feet up. It took like thirty wiper swipes and a steady stream of washer fluid to clear him off.   

Medicine and warfare are usually the two safest justifications for any scientific experiments. If an inventor wants to keep the flow of funding open he simply has to suggest his invention can be sent into the healthcare system or into battle. Which again, might be a stretch for our friend the caterpillar. They are not very good fighters. It takes them an eternity just to shuffle from one side of a picnic table to the other, and even then they usually stop in confusion at the edge and turn back around. They are ill-designed to carry artillery, and dispatching them to defoliate a forest would take fifty years. The caterpillar leads a meandering life, which has no place in the high-tech, work-til-you-drop ethos of the modern world. They are in no rush. They don’t cower to anger, urgency, or sarcasm.

“I move faster with two feet than you do with a hundred feet,” a belligerent foreman might yell at them when productivity is lagging.

“It’s not the feet slowing me down. It’s the big asshole in front of me,” the now unemployed caterpillar would murmur, heading off to drink himself stupid at the nearest saloon.

Like many people in middle management, the caterpillars seem to have no specific, pragmatic purpose other than to just be there. They are not great predators, nor are they great artists. Maybe that is the point. I might be interested in buying some robotic caterpillars to show me a zen alternative to all life’s stress and worry. They don’t freak out. They take their time. They rarely appear agitated. And even when they change into magnificent robot butterflies they can fill my backyard, turn it into a kind of serene paradise. I could spend my days in white shorts, knee socks and a panama hat, catching them in a net, getting my fill of fresh air and genteel exercise. On second thought, Mr. Polish Scientist, I’d like to invest. We could call them “betterflies” instead of “butterflies.” We could employ local artists to design wing patterns. We can sell them to every spring wedding around the globe. Now I’ve just got to wait for the scientist to heal up and emerge from his cocoon of a full plaster body cast so we can get to work. No time to lose. We’ve got insects to mass produce.

More Alembics to come.