Here’s another example of an article from the popular press that uses the potential for apocalypse (“huge tsunamis, runaway global warming, and extinctions”) as the hook. But it turns out that many researchers are skeptical about the most drastic claims, feeling that the potential of massive, microbial belches to alter the earth’s atmosphere may be completely overblown. In my view, just as with the recent Science Times article on cosmology, the “gee whiz” aspect of this story is way more compelling. One third of all life on earth, measured by biomass, may occur beneath the seafloor, in the so-called deep biosphere. This life consists of archaea and primitive forms of bacteria: microbes for which oxygen is poison, because they evolved before the existence of green plants. The final paragraphs of this article are worth quoting in full. From the cover story of the March issue of Discover magazine, “20,000 Microbes Under the Sea,” by Robert Kunzig:

“The researchers found microbes in all the sediments they examined. There were more under the coastal waters of Peru than in the open Pacific; more near the seafloor than 1,400 feet below it. But there were intact microbes everywhere. In the upper layers, typically, they were reducing sulfate; in the lower ones they were making methane; and in between they were oxidizing methane.

“The existence of the deep biosphere is established – but it remains an astonishing paradox. ‘From all we understand about the energy requirements just to stay alive, it’s much higher than the energy they have,’ says Barker Jørgensen. If the deep microbes spend as much on maintenance as the surface microbes do, he says – repairing radiation damage to their DNA, keeping their membranes intact – they should have nothing left for the microbial prime directive: divide and multiply. Barker Jørgensen’s expedition looked for some new energy source in the sediment, some exotic new combination of fuel and oxidant, and found none.

“[John] Parkes thinks the microbes’ secret is their slowness: ‘These things are dividing every thousand, every ten thousand, every hundred thousand years. There’s nothing to eat them; bacteria near the surface have to grow fast because they get eaten by protozoa and ciliates, but we’ve not detected those kinds of organisms in the subsurface. So bacteria there can concentrate on maintenance, rather than wasting energy on division.’ And they must have lived long enough and divided often enough and mutated often enough to evolve through natural selection, because they are well adapted to their environment. Parkes has found microbes in deep sediments that grow best at precisely the pressure at which he found them. ‘They are responding at geological timescales,’ he says. ‘That’s the fascinating thing.’

“Microbes living under the seafloor today, Parkes speculates, may have survived the growth and splintering of continents, the opening and closing of oceans; they may have been buried, subducted, frozen in hydrate, and spat out of a mud volcano, only to be buried, subducted, and spat out again. While we were waiting for our evolutionary fast lane to be paved, racing through all of human prehistory and history in the time it takes one of them to divide once, they have been living in time with the planet’s deepest, slowest rhythms. They have been living almost like rock, which is precisely what made them so easy to miss. They have always been there, from our deepest past, but only now have they fully penetrated into our awareness. Given their collective influence, it’s about time.”

In the course of some research this morning for a possible blog post on Indo-European concepts of fate, a note on a website led me back into one of my all-time favorite works of literature, Egil’s Saga.

I was also reminded of Egil, and the poet-protagonists of other sagas (especially Gisli and Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue), a week or two back by an essay of Eliot Weinberger’s that referenced the extreme complexity of oral composition by Old Norse poets. The essay, called What Was Formalism?, concludes with a detailed description of the eight-line stanza form that Egil specialized in.

“Viking formalism meant, for example, that to write a mere epitaph of ordinary statements and sentiments for a tomb – such as ‘Here lies a warrior famed for his virtue. Denmark will never know a more honorable sea-captain, or one stronger in battle’ – one began with a common stanza form, such as the dróttkvatt.

“This stanza form had eight lines, broken into two half-stanzas of four lines, each expressing a single thought, that were, in turn, divided into two couplets. Each line had six syllables; only three could be stressed (and Old Norse, as one can imagine, had genuine stresses). The first line of each couplet had to have two stressed syllables that began with the same sound, which was also the sound of the first stressed syllable in the next line. (The other stressed syllables could not be alliterate.) The two stressed alliterative syllables in the first line could not rhyme; but the first stressed alliterative syllable in the second line had to rhyme with another syllable in the same line to which it was not alliterative.

“The word order was completely unlike that of prose. For example, the structure of a normal prose sentence of 16 words (taking 1, 2, 3, etc., as the words in their proper prose order) looks like this in a relatively simple half-stanza:

2 4 5 3
1 8 9 6 7
12 10 13 14
11 15 16

“In a more complex poem, poetic syntax is further stretched by fragmenting and reassembling the clauses. For example, back to the sea-captain and the first half-stanza. (‘Here lies a warrior famed for his virtue . . . ‘) The poet employs a kenning, or epithet, for warrior (‘the one who carried out the work of ížrudr, goddess of battles’), and the whole sentence reads literally: ‘Under this mound is hidden the one who carried out the work of ížrudr, goddess of battles, whom the greatest virtues accompanied; most men knew that.’ (Though the Old Norse only has 15 words.)

“The poem (keeping the literal English prose syntax) breaks this into something like:

Under this mound / whom the greatest
most men knew that / virtues
accompanied / the one who carried out the work of ížrudr
goddess of battles / is hidden

” The pattern of clauses is:

1 3
4 3
3 2
2 1

“This was merely a tombstone epitaph, not a particularly memorable poem. It was written, as all poetry was, in a single line. (The ragged right-hand margin is a by-product of the availability of cheap paper.) There were no spaces between the words. The form of the poem was musically, not visually, evident – and evident to all its readers or listeners – and was only one of many such forms, most of them even more complex.”

What Weinberger fails to mention is that verses were typically composed in one’s head, ideally off the cuff; they were written down only to preserve them or to enhance their power. As in many other cultures where poetry is or was highly prized, strong memories and performative skills continued to be emphasized long after the introduction of writing systems. (Think of the classical Arabs and the Chinese.) It is not that Norse poets were illiterate – in fact, their skill in rune-carving was an integral part of their mastery of word-magic, as the following excerpt from Egil’s Saga demonstrates. This is the translation by Kneva Kunz in the massive, single-volume collection The Sagas of Icelanders (Penguin, 2000). Kunz’s translations of the verses in particular are an improvement over earlier English editions. Minimal notes explaining the kennings appear in the margin to the right; here, I’ll put them in brackets immediately following each verse. From Chapter 44:

“Bard told Egil to stop mocking him and get on with his drinking. Egil drank every draught that was handed to him, and those meant for Olvir too.

“Then Bard went up to the queen and told her that this man was bringing shame on them, always claiming to be thirsty no matter how much he drank. The queen and Bard mixed poison into the drink and brought it in. Bard made a sign over the draught and handed it to the serving woman, who took it to Egil and offered him a drink. Egil took out his knife and stabbed the palm of his hand with it, then took the drinking-horn, carved runes on it and smeared them with blood. He spoke a verse:

“I carve runes on this horn,
redden words with my blood,
I choose words for the trees
of the wild beast’s ear-roots;
drink as we wish this mead
brought by merry servants,
let us find out how we fare
from the ale that Bard blessed.

[ear-roots: part of the head; their trees: horns]

“The horn shattered and the drink spilled onto the straw. Olvir was on the verge of passing out, so Egil got up and led him over to the door. He swung the cloak over his shoulder and gripped his sword underneath it. When they reached the door, Bard went after them with a full horn and asked Olvir to drink a farewell toast. Egil stood in the doorway and spoke this verse:

“I’m feeling drunk, and the ale
has left Olvir pale in the gills,
I let the spray of ox-spears
foam over my beard.
Your wits have gone, inviter
of showers on to shields;
now the rain of the high god
starts pouring upon you.

[ox-spears: drinking-horns; rain: i.e. of spears, perhaps of poetry (or vomit?)]

“Egil tossed away the horn, grabbed hold of his sword and drew it. It was dark in the doorway; he thrust the sword so deep into Bard’s stomach that the point came out the back. Bard fell down dead, blood pouring from the wound. Then Olvir dropped to the floor, spewing vomit. Egil ran out of the room. It was pitch-dark outside, and he ran from the farm.”

I’m fascinated especially by the suggestion that poetry is something thrown up. The context here is a feast attending a religious celebration, to which Egil and his friends were not invited until the king intervened. Hence the hostility, of course, and hence also the irony of “inviter of showers.” This phrase, in fact, would seem to have a third layer of meaning, since the celebration was the disablot, or winter-time sacrifice to the disir (fates or personal guardians). Vomit as well as blood may have been a sacrament. A further irony is that, through his prowess with drinking, versifying and fighting, Egil “tempts fate” in the most audacious way – and thus serves the “the high god(dess)” far better than the ill-fated Bard.

The ancients attributed powers of inspiration to mead and any other alcoholic drink made with honey.* In fact, in Norse mythology, poetry itself is a form of mead, originally concocted by dwarves from the blood of a wise man. Odin, the patron of poets (and wise men) stole it from the giants in a way suggesting the involvement of other fluids, as well. He turned himself into a serpent, entered the bedchamber of the giantess Gunnlod, and seduced her into giving him a drink of the mead of poetry. Instead of a mere sip, however, he drank all of it in three great gulps, turned into an eagle and flew back to Asgard where he showed off his new prize/skill – that is to say, he spat it up. According to a Medievel Icelandic treatise on poetics, Snorri Sturluson’s Poetic Diction (Jean Young translation), “It was such a close shave . . . that he let some fall, but no one bothered about that. Anyone who wanted could have it; we call it the poetasters’ share.”

This belief forms the background here and in many other passages: Egil composes best under the influence.
__________

*Assuming that the translation is accurate, the drink here was probably an ale-mead hybrid called in later times a braggot, which any homebrewer can approximate with a mix of medium-dark malts, four pounds or more of honey per 5-gallon batch, and a strong Scottish ale yeast. This is a highly inebriating, not to mention nutritious, brew.

Back in the days of my mis-spent youth, my idea of fun was fairly conventional. Woodstock’s “three days of peace and music” sounded like a pretty good time. Now, as a sign of how much I have embraced what Epicurus would have considered life’s superior pleasures,* here’s an example of the sort of thing that really turns me on. Yesterday, I got a really nifty, full-size poster featuring the artwork of Remedios Vara, a kind of 20th-century Hieronymus Bosch: his “Spiral Transit.” (The .pdf doesn’t really do it justice.) The poster is an advertisement for a free, three-day conference on The Ethics and Epistemologies of Ignorance, sponsored by – no kidding! – the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State. It promises “A multidisciplinary dialogue exploring the ethical, political, and epistemological implications of the conscious and unconscious production of ignorance as it impacts practices of domination, exploitation, and oppression.” Bitchin’, dude!

A look at the program reveals plenty of rockin’ sessions. You can groove to talk-fests on “Obesity” as Ignorance: Medical Ideologies and the Fat Acceptance Movement; Schooled in Silence — Panel Presentation; White Identity, White Ignorance; Willful Ignorance: The Blissful Addiction; Aestheticed Ignorance; Farming Made Her Stupid; The Entwined Ignorance of Oppressor and Oppressed; Computers, the Production of Ignorance, and the Ecology of Knowledge; Untitled; etc., etc.

I’ll go nuts with all the concurrent sessions – like trying to decide which stage to go to at Lollapalooza! My mind is already boggling. If I’m lucky, this rockin’ conference will reduce me to a state of utterly blissful stupefaction, if not catatonia. (But if it rains, we’ll all be inside. No actual mud to wallow in, alas.)
__________

*”The flesh receives as unlimited the limits of pleasure; and to provide it requires unlimited time. But the mind, intellectually grasping what the end and limit of the flesh is, and banishing the terrors of the future, procures a complete and perfect life, and we have no longer any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless the mind does not shun pleasure, and even when circumstances make death imminent, the mind does not lack enjoyment of the best life.”
– Epicurus, Principal Doctrines

Out on my porch before first light, sipping my coffee, I think: If I were viewing these trees for the first time . . . & just like that they shift, turn strange. I’m looking back in time, at woods seen only once & apart from everything. But then a raccoon comes out of the culvert, moving stiff-legged in rapid circles on the icy crust, so much like a child’s wind-up toy, it’s hard not to laugh. After a few minutes he catches my scent. Rears up on his hind legs to get a better look.

*

Gray dawn. The chickadee stops in the middle of his feebee chant & drops half an octave.

*

I was out on the glare ice at noon; the moon was higher than the sun but completely invisible at the end of its monthly rope. The ground & the sky were like two smooth stones. In the spruce grove I found the carcass of a doe with her throat ripped open, a gash below her ribs where the succulent bud of a fawn had been folded by. A nuthatch was going tick tick tick in a locust tree. I kept to the ice so my boots didn’t squeak in the thin, here-&-there patches of dry powder. One patch was etched with lines of arrows that pointed toward wild turkeys – or rather, in the opposite direction. Crossing the field I had to squint, the blue veins reaching out from the edge & at the center a bright gash, a gaping hurt.

This morning my thoughts are itching to break from their places in the procession, to spin off, to dance, to swim, to soar, to climb walls, to descend into subterranean passages. Paradigmatic thinking is too little, narrative thinking too much. That’s why I keep coming back to poetry: at its best, it’s a way of letting thoughts be, loosening the heart and the tongue. Implicit in the neat division of thinking into rational and non-rational is the notion of order as something necessary to understanding. Cogito, ergo sum. But how does the dream of self-consistency play out? We wake up, sticky with fluids. Or the happily-ever-after: we wake up in the arms of the Beloved.

We confuse categories when we talk about natural laws. What does it mean to have a law that cannot be broken? Anything that doesn’t fit this fundamental paradigm is “supernatural,” “paranormal.” Two equally tautological choices present themselves: either we simply lack the appropriate hermeneutic key by which to explain away all apparently supernatural phenomena, or else there is some parallel order – existing in our minds and/or another dimension, perhaps – of which the supernatural is a part. Neither alternative admits the possibility that Nature is inherently recondite.

Paradigms are nets: something will always slip though. Narratives are maps: endlessly inventive, selective by design. Our minds dictate, suppress, deny, impose themselves on a world that continually rebels because it has its own ideas. In the prayer, in the poem, in the unforced performance of all necessary and superfluous work things try to speak themselves through us. The so-called creator is both medium and mediator. Cultivating awareness of this role involves us in a game whose rules, often of our own apparent invention, are constantly changing (think “Calvinball,” from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes). We are mapmakers; we are weavers of nets and matrices. Logic and narrative go together like bitter and sweet – they flavor the game. Among other things . . .

Thank you, Jesus, for my plastic ears
& my raccoon penis bone necklace,
thank you for caring,
thank you for appetite more than meat.
Thank you for tire chains & groovy tattoos,
thank you for speechless joy,
thank you for guns & a world
full of targets. Thank you, Jesus,
for the evidence of things not seen:
for superstrings & wormholes,
for neutrinos,
for cans of whup-ass & tits on a boar hog.
Thanks for the train you rode in on & for
your scarf of stars. For whiskey
before breakfast & the strength not
to drink it. Thanks for yesterday’s soup,
three ways to whistle & cash
on the barrelhead. Thanks for Knock
& It Shall Be Opened, thanks for Cast
Thy Bread. And even though
you very likely had
little to do with it, thanks for this Thank you
that keeps on waking & walking
up & down, from room to room
in my belly
& in my breast.

Here’s something for everyone who’s getting tired of winter. In June of 1995 I spent a couple of days on the Caribbean coast as part of a six week stay in Honduras. It was absolutely sweltering; the humidity was intense. I fell in with some Garifuna (Afro-Carribean people who have maintained a very West African culture and language) and smoked some really strong ganja – which instantly made the heat not only bearable, but pleasant. The ocean began to talk to me.

Postcards from the Caribbean Coast

A piece of banana leaf serves as a wrapper
for a loosely rolled joint–
Me and him have two fincas allá en la montaña
& the rastaman bundles his hair up into a topknot

*

The guidebook recommended a restaurant called
Luces del Norte, “Northern Lights,”
where electric fans are aimed at every table
& the black waitress has mastered the art of killing flies

*

A puff of sea breeze accompanies each wave
up the beach & dies in the dunes

Sitting on the sand in the stifling heat
one quickly learns how to breathe
in time with the sea

*

A pimp & three young girls from town

The sea keeps on wagging
its swollen tongue:
Todo . . . Nada . . .
Todo . . . Nada . . .

***
Note: a finca is a small farm or simply, as in this case, a large clearing in the jungle [montaña]. Most Garifuna men are fluent in both Spanish and English, and switch rapidly between the two when addressing non-Garifuna.

***
There’s something vaguely fraudulent about travel poetry: one must live in a place for some time, I think, to really learn anything useful about it. On the other hand, the visitor experiences things perhaps more vividly than a life-long resident can ever hope to. Though the tourist’s gaze may not penetrate too far beneath the surface, surfaces themselves – clothes, masks, fur, bark, surf, the trembling ground in a cloud forest – concentrate mystery of a particularly elusive sort. (See Deeply superficial, on Mark Doty’s poetics of surface, and Mask and pageant.) Then, too, there is the problem of what to leave out, how much to reserve for the notes? The following two pieces avoid this dilemma by remaining in prose form. I am deeply indebted to my brother Mark’s expertise as a cultural geographer and long-time resident of Honduras for much of the information in these essays. (Hot tip for writers of place: go on tours with professional geographers!)

***

Excerpts from a Travel Diary: The Geography of Power

You could say that Carí­as is governing us from the grave. I read somewhere that he adored birdsong, and that while he listened to the birds he often ordered an assassination or an imprisonment.
Roberto Sosa, 1981 interview (translated by Jim Lindsey in The Difficult Days)

Back in our hillside barrio after a trek through the cloud forest–a landscape so strange most ordinary terms, including landscape, don’t really fit–the backyard birdsong sounds so homey, so familiar. I hear robins almost like ours, & the breathier counterparts of mourning doves; & from sunup to sundown a pair of wrens, exuberant cousins of the Carolina wren, finish each others’ riffs with the virtuosic speed of tenor saxmen in a head-cutting contest.

So runs the soundtrack to my day-long fever, penance for drinking unboiled water in the campo. A fever that leaves me literally emptied, flat on my back & ready for at least a taste of that tropical specialty, the fever dream. Perhaps if I raked open the scabs on my legs, offered the god of mosquitoes a little more blood? I need to understand some things, like why the shadows take on such striking colors.

Because even the sun is a bit of a stranger here–sudden in its comings & goings, & omnivorous as the god of Abraham and Lot. I think of the Mayas, their storied temples collapsing into the forest, kings turned to pillars of stone like the arrogant little girl in the Hans Christian Anderson story who trod on her mother’s loaf & was swallowed up. Paralyzed in the underworld: a stinging & biting half-life of vengeful familiars with claws & tails & wings. Condemned to listen as the gears of their pitiless calendar go on grinding, driving the turbines of El Cajón, the largest hydroelectric plant in Central America.

I remember my guided tour through the bowels of the dam, after a long, winding descent past campesino shacks without electricity. It was cool and damp and full of tremors, like a cave with six heartbeats. Banks of knobs and dials looked as if they’d come from the set of a 50s sci-fi film. And the engineer in charge deferring to my friend, the park superintendent. It’s widely acknowledged how tightly the fate of the reservoir is tied to the fortunes of the cloud forests in its watershed: they act, as the popular image has it, like giant sponges. Aquifers on the peaks; the mirror images of glaciers. So when too many trees are cut–whether by desperate peasants or wildcatting transnationals–all the country’s lights go out.

And of course the city water supply is even more tenuous. Here in the barrio La Leona the water comes on once every third day, announced by a kind of death rattle way down in the pipes. No wonder the most expensive hotels, like the Hotel Maya with its foreigners-only casino, depend exclusively on their own buried generators. While the U.S. embassy, swollen lymphatic node of a more abstract kind of power, draws water from its own wells–even has its own septic system to demonstrate Environmental Sensitivity. The John Wayne behind bullet-proof glass at the cafeteria demands a You Ass passport as collateral for a drink at the water fountain.

The lush lawns of the embassy compound provide little nesting habitat for native species; only the invasive grackles and English sparrows flourish. From the window of his high air-conditioned office the ambassador must enjoy an uninterrupted view of the familiar peaks with their scruffy wet backs of cloud forest. Ah the range of possibilities on the horizon for this fledgling democracy, he may actually find himself thinking, forgetting for a moment the papers covering his desk, the thicket of bureaucratic prose waiting to be cleared with a few powerful strokes of his fountain pen.

***

Notes on the Economy of Scale in Tegucigalpa

Tegucigalpa was a mining town–& probably a colony as well–even before the Spanish arrived with their Mandinka engineers. Its name means “Hill of Silver” in the language of the Aztecs. The streets are said to follow the miners’ paths. My brother, the geographer, once saw a picture of a web woven by a spider on caffeine, & pointed out that it looked just like a map of Tegucigalpa.
*
It makes it easier if you think of the beggars as spiritual ATMs. At any hour of the day you can toss spare change to the halt & lame in hundreds of convenient curbside locations. They sit like yogis or cigar-store Indians, blanketed in diesel fumes, open hands resting on their knees. And if there’s a lull in the traffic, you might catch a bit of their patter: non-stop blessings, as gentle as an all-day rain.
*
Children here sing nursery rhymes about the black vultures. These beloví¨d birds waddle around the streets like enormous bald pigeons & eat the garbage, scouring the banks of the river–which in turn provides several essential services, free of charge, to the body politic. Across the river is a separate municipality, Comayagüela. People go there for the sprawling indoor/outdoor market, an organic accretion of very disparate parts, redolent with sweat & peppers & the cheap perfume of fresh mango peels, dangerous with garlic- & guaro-breathing drunks. Light years away from that expatriate Nicaraguan, Rubén Darí­o, & his immaculate black swan.
*
If Tegucigalpans were ever to change the name of their city, they could save trouble by choosing “Coca-Cola.” That’s what the huge, Hollywood-style letters on the mountain south of town spell out. (San Pedro Sula–Teguz’s commercial rival to the north–sports a similar mountainside sign for Pepsi). But at street level, the Coke logo is one of a pantheon. This is a poor country; why pay to paint the front of your store if someone will do it for free? In 1995, that someone seems most often to have been a hireling of the American Tobacco Company: the trademark for Lucky Strike, so uncommon in the States, was ubiquitous. Wherever in the city I wandered, I always felt as if I’d arrived. Because somewhere not far away, a big, red target marked the spot: Lucky Strike. A pictograph even the Aztecs would’ve understood.

***
Ugh! Too many ideas, too many adjectives. Now I remember why it’s best to stick to poetry . . .

Hotel Agua Azul

Held captive for the diversion of furtive
couples on weekend flings,
below the terrace a spider monkey
swings by his tail, kicking off
the tree trunk with one hind foot
while the other clings to the chain
dangling from the collar. He keeps it up
for hours, as if driven by hidden
gears & springs. But draw a chair
within range & the pendulum stops,
he clambers onto the deck & slings
a hairy palm in your face, importuning
food, trinkets. Whatever brings relief
to a life of boredom, you think,
searching your pockets, going through
your things. How friendly he seems–until
you notice the strength of his grip,
how he enrings your leg. It takes
the help of half the hotel staff
to pry him loose, & days later
the spot where he bit still stings.

A “doomsday” that is billions of years away has little or no meaning for members of a species less than a million years old. (We’ll be lucky to survive the next hundred years!) So my initial reaction to a story on current cosmological hypotheses entitled “From Space, a New View of Doomsday,” is a snort of derision. Apart from the framing, however, this story (by Dennis Overbye in today’s New York Times) is full of interest, as the following excerpts demonstrate:

“That number, known as w, is the ratio between the pressure and density of dark energy. Knowing this number and how it changes with time – if it does – might help scientists pick through different explanations of dark energy and thus the future of the universe . . .

“One possible explanation for dark energy, perhaps the sentimental favorite among astronomers, is a force known as the cosmological constant, caused by the energy residing in empty space. It was first postulated back by Einstein in 1917. A universe under its influence would accelerate forever.

“While the density of energy in space would remain the same over the eons, as the universe grows there would be more space and thus more repulsion. Within a few billion years, most galaxies would be moving away from our own faster than the speed of light and so would disappear from the sky; the edge of the observable universe would shrink around our descendants like a black hole. . . .

“Another possibility comes from string theory, the putative theory of everything, which allows that space could be laced with other energy fields, associated with particles or forces as yet undiscovered. Those fields, collectively called quintessence, could have an antigravity effect. Quintessence could change with time – for example, getting weaker and eventually disappearing as the universe expanded and diluted the field – or could even change from a repulsive force to an attractive one, which could set off a big crunch. . . .

“But the strangest notion is what Dr. [Robert] Caldwell has called phantom energy, the dark energy that could lead to the Big Rip. . . .

“While the density of the energy in Einstein’s cosmological constant stays the same as the universe expands, the density of phantom energy would go up and up, eventually becoming infinite. Such would be the case if the parameter w turned out to be less than minus 1, say physicists, who admit they are stunned by the possibility and until recently simply refused to consider it.

“‘It crosses a boundary of good taste,’ Dr. Caldwell said, calling phantom energy ‘bad news stuff.’ Phantom energy violates physicists’ intuitions about how the universe should behave. A chunk of it could be used to prop open wormholes in space and time – and thus create time machines, for example.

“‘It could lead to such bizarre effects as negative kinetic energy,’ Dr. [Lawrence M.] Krauss said. As a result, objects like atoms would be able to lose energy by speeding up. . . .

“Dr. [Robert] Kirshner said phantom energy had been dismissed as ‘too strange’ when his group was doing calculations of dark energy back in 1998. In retrospect, he said, that was not the right thing to do.

“‘It sounds wacky,’ he said, referring to phantom energy, ‘but I think we’re in a situation where we’re going to need a really new idea. We’re in trouble; the way out is going to be new imaginative things. It might be our ideas are not wild enough, they don’t question fundamentals enough.'”

O indigence at the heart of our lives,
how poor is the language of happiness!

– Osip Mandelstam (Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin, trans.)

Via Negativa is two months old today. Calloo, callay!

I started out expecting to write mostly short entries, but they’ve gotten longer and longer. I set myself the goal of going nowhere, proving nothing and avoiding relevancy at all costs, but I think I may have slipped up once or twice. I have written probably more about religion than is healthy, less about science and nature than I’d like and as much about philosophy as I can get away with without betraying my abysmal ignorance. Via Negativa has at least six regular readers and perhaps another dozen who check in from time to time. I continue to discover new blogs worth adding to my list of favorites. The writing is still its own reward. I hope to continue for at least another ten months.

UPDATE: Now we are green – for no better reason than that Change is Good. We have an Atom RSS feed . . . and no, I don’t have the slightest idea why that matters. There’s a new a la carte list of high points in the sidebar, ’cause I always like it when other bloggers do that. Please e-mail me if you think I overlooked something that should be on the list – or if I listed something that doesn’t belong there.