|Excerpted from Don't Buy the Numbers (filed under "Articles")|
Most of the numbers in the world are wrong and always have been. Government agencies ceaselessly and shamelessly revise their figures. Scientists and engineers "refine" theirs. Economists "massage" their data and finally turn the charts upside-down or sideways to make the numbers match reality. Banks are never wrong, of course, but tellers are always short. Make one tiny mistake in your checkbook and every number from then on is wrong. Let your watch get one minute fast and it will tell you a lie a minute -- 1,440 wrong numbers in the next 24 hours.
When was it any different? Eratosthenes deduced the circumference of the earth, missed it by 3,880 miles, and everyone had wrong numbers for the size of the planet for the next 1,800 years. Then French astronomer Jean Picard calculated a more accurate measurement, which was also wrong but close enough for Isaac Newton to use in figuring out the wrong numbers for gravitational attraction of the planets.
I once heard a physics professor explain how small a molecule is. He said if the molecules on the head of a pin were each enlarged to a grain of sand, there would be enough sand to fill a three-foot by three-foot ditch from New York to San Francisco. Sure. If you had performed that calculation and your ditch stretched from New York to, say, Yuba City ... wouldn't you be tempted to fudge a few miles to the coast?
Things appear for reasons.|
Reasons appear for things.
The ring announces there's a bell,
so there's a bell. And sure as hell,
if there is a bell... it rings
It's a call to mate or to salivate
or to fold with a pair of kings.
To the ding-ding jingling clang or gong,
the trains pull out and the planes take wing,
the boxers box and the singers sing
and everyone sings along:
jingles for soap and for soda pop,
so the shippers ship and the shoppers shop.
It's all arranged at the stock exchange,
and you can't sit still for long.
2. Nature & Nurture
If cradle training taught you well,
you learned which bell's for you:
when you counted ribs or the bars on cribs,
noting nipples, inscribing bibs
with what was what and who was who,
learned on your fingers the proper things
your own bell tells when you hear it ring,
how you go to hell if you hear the bell
and you don't know what to do.
But how, pray tell, do the ringers of bells
know when it's time to ring?
Things appear for reasons.
Reasons appear for things.
3. Listen to Reason|
All effects have causes,
and causes have effects
From a primal pulse in the protostars
comes time and space and the Earth and Mars
and igneous rocks and pterosaurs
with a double helix (yin and yang)
for yeast, a beast, an orangutang.
In the order of things, you're next
But why are we here? Why you?
Why is there anything at all?
Was it in the news, who lit the fuse?
Did the markets crash after the fall?
4. Author, Author
Did Newton, Darwin, and Einstein know?
Did Archimedes hold the key?
They've hidden it well, what rings the bell,
all sworn to secrecy.
In god we trust, if trust we must,
but what could it hurt to come out and tell?
William Blake, you're a perfect snake:
you promised us Plan B.
Forsaking science and mother church,
matter, reason, the law, and hell,
you heard god's voice, you say?
Saw souls, saw angels in a tree,
and prophesied a glorious day
---which never dawned. You heard your bell,
and Tiger, Tiger slunk away
5. Time Out
Through numbers and names and ritual flames,
through wizards, prophets, and seers,
through the ivied halls and Jericho's walls,
we look for the rules beneath the game
and the fools beneath the gears
Our answers are right, all right. We know.
The questions are wrong, that's all.
And the bells are tricks. We're not so thick,
just slow. We need more time
If instead of apes we had come from grapes,
we wouldn't just yet be wine
NOBODY LIKES TO THROW UP COMPARATIVES
Assuming that Cain and Abel were about the same height (four cubits or so), the great sports debate over the "little man" versus the "big man" probably began with David and Goliath, just as everyone says it did. It has continued ever since, both in fact and in legend: Beowulf vs. the giant, slobbering Grendel; Jack the Giant Killer fighting all those big, fierce monsters; Tom Thumb, who was eaten and later released by a large bird; and little Captain Ahab chasing big Moby Dick.
The little-versus-big battles in sports continue to fascinate. Fans watch with "mesmer eyes" as a wrestling behemoth pummels his smaller opponent, then they cheer wildly as the little man leaps high in the air and lands on the big man's toe. The fans are simply responding to an urge that is deeply rooted in Mother Nature, so they can be excused.
Less easily excused are the "big name" sports writers who keep stirring up this controversy. Their questions are always the same ("Is there room for the little man in basketball?" or "Is there a place for the little guy in football?" or "Is Roller Derby any place for the little woman?"); and their answer is always the same: "A good big man can beat a good little man at anything."
But haven't they forgotten Paulino Uzcudun? Paulino fought big Harry Wills when Jack Dempsey wouldn't. At upwards of six-feet-seven-and-one-half inches, Wills was one of the largest people by that name in the history of sock or of any sport; larger perhaps than Helen Wills and Maury Wills combined.
Wills was cocky because Uzcudun was so small by comparison, but he forgot that a little guy growing up in a tough neighborhood learns to fight early, especially if his name is something like Paulino Uzcudun. When they finally stood toe-to-tiptoe, Uzcudun reached up and knocked out the giant Wills while the world stood agape.
Nor was plucky Paulino the only one. There was "Little Mo" Connolly, Peewee Reese, little Phil Rizzuto, tiny Wake Forest, Bantam Ben Hogan, and Bitsy Grant. And there was Tiny Tim Mulcheusen, who would have won the 440 at the 1932 Olympics by thirty meters, had he been tall enough to reach up and break the finish-line tape. Who can forget the picture of Tiny Tim jumping up and down in helpless rage while the other runners thundered past him?
I think that sportswriters who downgrade the little man are merely confused by their own daily doings. It's common knowledge that after a game or a knockout, the writers run to a phone booth to call in the story. A good big writer generally beats a good little writer to the booth. But mark my words, the day will come when some tiny little writer with a lot of "heart" is going to get there first and grab the phone from under the noses of some of the literary giants of our time.
Science has done it again|
Chemists financed by
Ingenious devils found
to kill mosquitoes still
Over the ponds where breeds disease
substance derived from pe-tro-le-um
spreads a thin though lethal scum
All those pupa tubes
raised in swamps to suck
Out of the ground comes sour crude
refined from eons in the bog
Breathes there a tube that this can't clog?
Derricks throng the sea
filling tankers, spilling
of riches, black from the hand of man
Over the ocean spreads the scum,
wonder wrought by pe-tro-le-um
|Excerpted from Name the Moon (filed under "Articles")|
In the heavens, the Earth is accompanied by eight other planets, all of which have names and some of which have moons, and all of the moons have names—except ours.
To the best of our knowledge, no moon of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune has ever kindled a love affair or provoked a rhyme. None, however full, has ever been addressed by a wolf or reflected in the Dow Jones Industrials. None has stirred the homicide division or the psychiatric ward to action the way Earth's full moon regularly does. Yet all of those other moons have been awarded not just names but classical names, mythological names, revered namesakes, inventors of telescopes, goddesses of the hunt and the harvest—while our moon is bereft of even so much as the name of a county commissioner.
We have named its mountains in English, Latin, and Russian. We have titled every one of its nonexistent seas. On terrain features where no train ever stops, we have unleashed such flights of human imagination as Mare Imbrium, Oceanus Procellarum, the Peak of Eratosthenes, the Walls of Newton. But for the great globe itself? Just "the moon," or "luna," which means "the moon." Even in those gentle days when our culture permitted us a man in the moon, by what biblical, classical, mythological, or folklorical name was he known? "The man." In "the moon."
"If Instead of Apes
We Had Come from Grapes"
is a book of light verse
written and illustrated
by Alan Van Dine