Monday, January 20, 2014

Evanston: dirty snow and three things on the Internet

        An inch or two of snow fell Saturday and a little more is due for the new few days, so our snow is presently pristine.
        Cities, as I have written before, are best seen through veils that hide blemishes and defects:  fresh snow, fog, night, distance.  But city snow does not remain pristine long.  All that grime from cars and trucks and trains and planes and us must be there all the time, but remains mostly invisible until a sheet of white absorbs and reveals it.
        There is in modern urban life an incessant assault of ugliness, visual and audible, of abrasions, from people pushing you on the train to sneezing on you while standing in line at a drug store, to the self-serving distortions of advertising to the self-serving lies of politicians.  While most of us do not dwell on them, do not usually even notice them unless they are especially egregious, they must take their toll on our energy and our spirits.
        I thought of Dr. Johnson’s famous quote:
“Why, Sir, you will find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.  No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
        This is a failure of imagination by an insularly urban man who must have been, as has been said in our time of Woody Allen, at two with nature.
        I can think of many aspects of life that cities do not afford, including silence and endless horizons.
        I have always said that I go to sea for the simplicity and beauty of life there.  I’m sure that others find those qualities in the mountains and forests and deserts.  But I’ve just realized that I might as well say that I go to sea to escape dirty snow.


        Three things I found of interest on the Internet today.

        Oxfam is hardly nonpartisan, but if their numbers are even close to being accurate, the fact and the trend are obscene.

        Among the many things I don’t understand is how the inanimate became animate.  Others are how the unconscious become conscious and then the conscious became self-conscious.  I am, of course, not the only one who doesn’t understand these things.

        A brief article at Ars Technica sheds some light on the first.  I can follow this only sketchily, but perhaps enough to sense my inability to imagine three or four billion years and what chance can do with the simplest building blocks over such a span.