I sometimes consider how Bertrand Russell, the
famous mathematician and philosopher, fretted away a whole year, from 1903 to
1904, contemplating this one thought:
man of Seville is shaved by the barber of Seville if and only if the man does
not shave himself.Does the Barber shave
I find difficulty in imagining an intelligent man
contemplating such a thought for an entire year and more difficult to consider
that this paradox seemingly blew out of the water all mathematical logic.But here is the paradox: If the barber shaved
himself—he didn't shave himself.If the
barber didn't shave himself—he did shave himself.
Think about that for a moment.Read the italicized sentence a few
times.Think a bit more.As I read about this philosophical and
mathematical dilemma and tried to solve the problem myself, I realized that Mr.
Russell suffered from a lack of options.I reconfigured the question posed by Russell and added a few options.
What if a woman has a mustache to shave?How does that fit?
What if the barber actually grows a beard that he
never even trims?
What if—by genetic defect or as result of auto
immune disease—a man has no body hair, and never shaves?
Is the barber of Seville technically a barber as he
strolls down the street?When he
eats?Does his shaving count if he shaves himself at home
instead of at his shop?
How much does the barber of Seville charge for a
Should you tip him?
What if you had a trench to dig...would you hire a
philosopher or the barber of Seville?
What were we talking about?
Note: I may have posted a
slightly different version of this a few years ago on this post.Also, I shave myself.
Reeder’s Alley is the oldest neighborhood in
Helena.The oldest permanent structure
in Helena—the so-called Pioneer Cabin—is just outside the entrance to the brick-paved
street that curves up through Reeder’s Alley at the base of Mount Helena.Small
red brick shops and apartments line the narrow street.
Pioneer cabin was constructed in 1864 by Wilson
Butts, one of the first prospectors to arrive at Last Chance Gulch following
the discovery of gold that same year.He
constructed his cabin little more than a stone-throw from the gulch that would
eventually provide $19 million worth of gold in four years—the second largest
placer find in Montana.The mining camp
that eventually became Helena, Montana soon grew around the small cabin.
Louis Reeder, a skilled builder from Pennsylvania,
arrived in the mining camp in 1867.Keen
to advantage opportunity, Mr. Reeder began constructing small but sturdy stone
and brick apartments and bunkhouses in what was then mostly a tent and shanty
camp.He wisely built his neighborhood
next to the Butts cabin on stable ground just above the raucous and ever-changing
My own ancestors (seeking fortune in the gold mining
camps) arrived in the Helena area at the same time as Louis Reeder.They ended up settling near Marysville, just
a few miles northwest of Helena, and worked underground.I think about all of that history every time
I walk through Reeder’s Alley.
Yesterday, I went to Reeder’s Alley to see my friend
Dundee.She operates a barber shop in
one of the small street-side buildings.Her business sign is at the center of the photograph I posted today.I
captured the picture with my much-smarter-than-me phone.The street was spring-warm and the light
breeze sweeping up through the trees smelled earthy and vital.The day felt old and young at once.
Yesterday (while I was naked in my hot tub, which I
swear is unrelated) the thought occurred to me that I have never kissed a woman
just because I liked her voice.And then
I got to thinking about all of the women with nice voices.Maybe it is never too late to start.
One of my cats came in through
the back door, flopped on the floor in front of me, earnestly licked his ass up
and down, got up again, waddled over to the front door and meowed until I let
him out front.I would estimate his time
in the house at something less than two minutes.I'm not going to pretend that I understand
such behavior, but it would seem that he came in with the idea that I might
enjoy the privilege of watching him lick his butt.
—Domesticated and feral housecats are thought to
have caused the extinction of 33 species.
—The average cat sleeps for 70 percent of its life.
—Since 1955 Disneyland has been continually accommodating
around 200 cats and allowing them to rove the park at night to control the rodent
—Police in Misiones, Argentina found a lost
one-year-old boy in the company of seven cats.The officers speculated that the boy survived several nights of freezing
temperatures by cuddling with the animals.He also ate food that the cats had scavenged.The cats became defensive and hissed at the
officers who found the boy.
—A single pair of cats and their offspring is
capable of producing 420,000 kittens in only seven years.
Some people will never see the glass as
half-full.Instead, they imagine a
faceless alien captured in a jar.The
alien talks to them.Sometimes, the
alien tells them to drive to the nearest grocery store and just stand in the
soup section staring at chicken soup labels.
The one joke I remember came to me when I first woke
this morning.The joke is from Steven
Wright, arguably the best deadpan comic ever.The joke goes like this:
you sleep well last night?No, I made a
couple of mistakes.”
Thinking about the joke, I started laughing
The joke was funny because I made a mistake while
sleeping last night.I slept with my
left arm angled awkwardly underneath the sprawled-out rest of me.I awakened to find my left arm feeling like
a dead eel attached to my shoulder.I
could not move it.My nerves were
playing tennis in my fingers and racing fast cars up and down the length of my
I flopped around on my bed, continuing to laugh and trying
to shake sense back into my arm—trying to force the nerves and muscles back in
“What a dumbass,” I thought, “you cannot even sleep
Most of the time, I try to understand everything
through science.I want to understand
the wavelengths of light we don't see with our eyes, the light that makes our
flowers prettier to butterflies and bees.I desire to know why squirrels and chipmunks run from me in the woods,
and why their bones are built just so.How long has the water I pumped from my well been coursing deep
underground?How does a whirligig beetle
determine the direction of its spin?Why
don't deer sing like meadowlarks?Is
there a good reason why they shouldn't?
Is there a place where the clouds stop moving?
How, chemically, does love arrive and depart?
In the strictest science of things, we, and all that
surrounds us, are primarily open space.The atoms comprising the densest stone I ever lifted in my hand are a
dither of tiny particles flung free to dance in holes and cavernous space.They are not, as I once imagined, packed like
sardines inside a can. If I could take
a single atom from the metal of one of our kitchen spoons, and somehow enlarge
the atom until the electrons were the size of baseballs, I would have to walk a
mile or so away from the nucleus to find the nearest ones circling—all the rest
is empty space.Nothing.
In the gray-black darkness a wan blue light pulses at
me from another room—something electronic is grasping out to reach a distant
tower.The hydronic baseboard heater in
my bedroom ticks softly for a few seconds and then drops abruptly to
I have fully awaked after only a few hours of sleep.The moon has once again failed to melt
through the clouds.My cats have abandoned
I remain curled in my nest of pillows with my eyes
open, sleepless.Three years ago, within
two days of this date, a doctor informed my wife that she had incurable cancer.That sort of thing leaves permanent
footprints across your heart.
A new season
and Afraid started on the Discovery Channel last night.As far as reality television programs go, you
could not ask for more (or less if you are a fan of naked).In Naked and Afraid, a man and a woman
who have never previously met are taken separately to a remote location—say a
jungle island or a remote desert— with no food or water.Once at the designated rendezvous spot, they
remove all clothing and are then released into the wild meet each other and
attempt to work together as a naked survivalist team.They must survive in the environment for
The show really is pretty interesting.A typical episode begins with a guy who is
like “hey I get to be with a naked woman!I hope she is hot.”The woman is
usually all “I hope the guy is not a total pussy and can start a fire.”Within three or four days in the wild, the
man often turns out to be a big cry-baby and has had something bad happen to
his winky—as example a bug bite.The
women are often better at starting fires and are generally pretty hot.Meanwhile, here at home on my sofa, I am
still hoping the technicians who keep blurring the woman’s exposed body parts will
fall asleep at the switch and accidentally expose something for me.
I will admit, at some point I honestly forget to
concentrate on the fact the survivalists are naked and a kind of true concern
for them begins to take footholds within me.On a few episodes the man and woman have clashed and bonded poorly and
struggled greatly.I much prefer the
episodes where the man and woman form a sold bond rather than when they clash.Survival depends on cooperation.
I think that one of the reasons Will Rogers never
met a man he didn’t like is because he never met that creepy guy at the Mexican
restaurant who took a whole handful of toothpicks and didn’t leave any for
Though you would not likely suspect Montana as the
skinniest place around if you rattled your shopping cart down the cookie aisle
at some of the local groceries I often inhabit, the latest Gallup-Healthways
research poll ranks Montana as the state with the lowest rate of obesity in the
That’s correct.We can now claim to be “the skinny state.”
Montana, with an obesity rate of 19.6 percent, was
the only state below the 20 percent mark on the obesity scale.The poll revealed that Mississippi (a state
already gluttonous in the consumption of certain letters of the alphabet) led
the pack with an obesity level of 35.4 percent. The national average for obesity tended upward
to a point above 27 percent.
The polling information I read did not suggest any
reason for why Montana is at one end of the obesity scale and Mississippi is at
the opposite end.For my part, I
completely avoid the cookie and potato chips sections when I shop.If I go there, I will buy!
My thoughts wander backward through events as I drive
home late from a busy day.One wrong
word said, but no real harm done.A new “wife”
joke I have already forgotten how to properly assemble.Nothing on the jetliner that vanished in the
air after leaving Malaysia for China.The songbirds once again frenzied in daylight trees.
Entering the ranchlands, my headlights brush a
golden fringe across last year’s tawny grass just beyond the winter-plowed
shoulders of the gravel road.On the hills
and along corners, the beams of light slit open the cobalt darkness to reveal green
entrails of bull pine, juniper and sage.
The roadway stretches out ahead of me—stark and
friendly at the same time.
Suddenly a bouquet of reflective eyes springs forth
from below a cluster of trees.Mule
deer. A dozen or more bedding together, pregnant
does no more than twenty feet off the road.The night closes around them again as I drive on, up the last hill, and
then to my house, right there where it belongs, below what seems a fountain of
stars frozen in place in the endless night sky.
About ten years ago, I worked on a job where an
entire set of freshly poured concrete steps had to be jack-hammered to bits and
replaced.Human nature and a building code
violation led to that.The problem first came to light because all
sorts of people were stumbling when they tried to climb the steps.I almost fell on my face when I tried to
ascend them while carrying a box of electrical parts.
As it turned out, the steps were poured with a rise
of about 8 inches on the first two steps.Most building codes adopt a maximum rise of 7-3/4 inches.No inspector caught the infraction, but so
many people were tripping on the steps the superintendent on the job checked
the measurement and discovered the problem.
The stairs had to go.
We are all accustomed to lifting our feet to clear a
maximum of 7-3/4 inches.An increase of
only 1/4 inch is enough cause us to stumble and create a hazard.
Yesterday, I saw my first bluebird of the year and
was reminded of those steps.
As always, I felt pretty thrilled about the bird sighting.Bluebirds are the most certain sign of
spring.This year’s bluebird was looping
around the birdhouse I fastened to the post in my front yard a few years ago.As I watched the bluebird, I noticed that he
was swooping down to the entry hole in the front of the house fairly often and
picking away at the opening to make it bigger.I have noticed in past years that bluebirds have shown interest in the
house but never actually used it for nesting.
Curious, I checked online to find plans for building
mountain bluebird houses.After looking
through a few plan sets, I discovered that they prescribed entrance holes with
a measurement of 1-9/16 inches.Instilled
with this information, I went out to measure the hole in the birdhouse when the
bluebird flew off to grab something to eat. Sure enough, I had a bluebird code violation
on the house.The opening in my house
was about 1-1/4 inches—about 1/4 of an inch off.
That’s when I thought about those concrete steps.
Mind you, this was not the same as an elephant
trying to squeeze through a cat-door.I
watched the bird go in and out of the house several times.I have seen many other bluebirds do the same.They seem to fit in the opening, but codes
are generally codes for a good reason.
As soon as I discovered the violation, I grabbed my
cordless drill and made a code-compliant mountain bluebird hole in the house.I am hoping for a family in the house this
year.Final inspection by the female is
Yesterday afternoon, after a long day of work, I
drove two-hundred miles from Kalispell to my home.I drove through the Swan Valley alongside the
frozen lakes linking through the forested swales, often the only car on the road
for miles.The snow alongside the
highway was three or four feet high but melting fast.The Swan Mountains stood sharp and white
against the sky.I had to stop once just
so I could stare at the chevron peaks for a while in admiration.“That snow is a good look on you,” I told
I really enjoyed the drive.At times, I turned up the music on my CD
player and sang with stupid abandon.I
saw sun-glowing elk on an open hillside and a string of sleek whitetail deer
crossing the ice at Salmon Lake.
The sun settled beyond a distant gunsight pass just
as I emerged from the final knot of mountains and found myself entering the big
valley in which I live.The quality of
light, the muted colors, the clarity of view, the network patches of
snow—everything struck me as perfectly serene once the highway stretched out
straight in front of me.
I stopped once again so that I could go stand by a
fence and look out upon the place I call home.I am posting two photographs from that last stop.They are not particularly beautiful in any
regard, but they “feel” good to me.
NOTE:There is a convention in contemporary poetry
that does not insist that a poem makes sense literally.A poem, under this convention, might simply evoke
emotions or seek to bend the language a little and create a rather musical
cadence as you read.This poem (which
has been kicking around in my archives in various fashion for about twenty years)
falls into that category of poetry.I understand
that not everyone will appreciate this.This sort of poetry is generally an acquired taste.
No, Anhedonia is not a failed state bordering
Patagonia.Not a kind of flower that attracts
ants.This is not an affliction that a
mix of sulfur and extra virgin olive oil will cure. Anhedonia, more specifically musical
anhedonia, is the absolute inability to find pleasure in music.
Some people simply do not like music.They will not buy the next Miley Cyrus album—no
matter how naked she gets.The sounds
leave them cold at best and annoy the hell out them at the worst.That is musical anhedonia.Research conducted at the University of
Barcelona and published in Current Biology just this week
identified this condition in people who are otherwise quite normal.
Musical anhedonia appears to be very much a physical
thing—a lack of response, if you will.People who enjoy music (most people) display certain physiological
responses as they listen to songs.They
will exhibit a slight increase in heart rate when hearing music they like.Music lovers will sweat a little at the sound
of a well-placed drum solo or an exciting guitar riff.People with musical anhedonia have no such physiological
response, whether hearing the National Anthem played by a full orchestra or
Bruce Springsteen performing live at their neighbor’s yard party.
The idea of musical anhedonia is difficult for me to
grasp.I am somewhat addicted to
listening to music.I crank up the music
before I brew my coffee in the morning.I am listening to the Afghan Whigs as I write this!
I guess we are all hard-wired in different
fashions.Some of us hear the sound of a
different drummer drumming and some of us are simply annoyed by the drums.
I must come clean.I hereby admit that I spent several minutes yesterday afternoon standing
outside my house watching snow melt.
The event was way more exciting than you would
expect.The warm sun felt like someone hugging
me with cotton arms as I stood there watching giant rafts of snow slip from my metal
roof and crash into my front yard.The
sheets of snow landed in heaps in my yard with a sound that was like an ugly
shotgun marriage between a thud and a plop.
Inside, my cats ran off to hide under chairs fearing
that the sky was falling.
Outside, a rather drunken moth fluttered up right in
front of me, having emerged from someplace unknown.The moth looped once at my face and then tumbled
out over the all-snow landscape as I stood there watching.
One afternoon a man and a lion were walking together
in the woods, when, suddenly, the lion flopped on his side and began to cry
while examining one of his massive front paws.
“What’s wrong?” asked the man, stopping to kneel
near the creature.
“I’ve stepped on a thorn,” the lion roared, “and I
cannot pull it out from my pads.Perhaps
if you helped me, I won’t eat your children in the dark of night.”
The man considered for a moment.“I have a better idea,” he said.The man grabbed a large stick from nearby and
clubbed the lion to death.
Later, the man ran into a black bear walking the
other direction in the darkest part of the woods.The bear stopped the man.“I have been looking for my friend the lion,
have you seen him?” asked the bear.
“Yes,” answered the man, “but only for a moment.”
Note:This is something I wrote quite a few years
back.I thought I may have posted this previously,
but did not see it on a quick search back through my blogs.My apologies if the blog is back there someplace
and you have had to read this for a second time.