Friday, June 3, 2011

Parallel passages

(Admin note: last night the archives of some Brazilian politics blog posted to this blog's rss feed. Hopefully this is a one-off glitch; this post is meant in part to see if it is; if this persists I shall either have to learn Portuguese or move the blog to Wordpress. Sorry about the inadvertent spamming.)


a. John McPhee on New Orleans ("Atchafalaya"):

Every drop of rain that falls on New Orleans evaporates or is pumped out. Its removal lowers the water table and accelerates the city’s subsidence. ... A child jumping up and down on such a lawn can cause the earth to move under another child, on the far side of the lawn.

Many houses are built on slabs that firmly rest on pilings. As the turf around a house gradually subsides, the slab seems to rise. Where the driveway was once flush with the floor of the carport, a bump appears. The front walk sags like a hammock. The sidewalk sags. The bump up to the carport, growing, becomes high enough to knock the front wheels out of alignment. Sakrete appears, like putty beside a windowpane, to ease the bump. The property sinks another foot. The house stays where it is, on its slab and pilings. A ramp is built to get the car into the carport. The ramp rises three feet. But the yard, before long, has subsided four. The carport becomes a porch, with hanging plants and steep wooden steps. A carport that is not firmly anchored may dangle from the side of a house like a third of a drop-leaf table. Under the house, daylight appears. You can see under the slab and out the other side. More landfill or more concrete is packed around the edges to hide the ugly scene. A gas main, broken by the settling earth, leaks below the slab. The sealed cavity fills with gas. The house blows sky high.

b. Steven Shapin on corpses:
The corpse begins its dissolution into evil-smelling liquids and gases soon after death, and depending on temperature, moisture and other conditions, the stench becomes inescapable within two or three days. (The ‘worms’ – as the schoolyard song has it – really do begin to ‘crawl in and out’, bacteria, bugs and their larvae aiding in decomposition.) The release of gases – including hydrogen sulphide, methane and ammonia – makes the corpse bloat, and the pressure build-up can cause liquid to ooze out of the body’s orifices. Before we’re dust, we’re a cheesy mud. Sometimes the mud blows up: ‘Gas pressure is capable of bursting the thoracic or abdominal cavities,’ Cantor writes. ‘Before embalming was common, sealed coffins sometimes exploded’ because of it. There is a story that the corpse of Elizabeth I – retained for more than a month before burial – blew up, shattering the wooden coffin and lead sarcophagus in which it was being kept.


a. R.D. Laing, "Conversations with Children"

b. Jen Campbell, conversations with customers:
Customer: Do you have brown eyes? *peers over at me*
Me: Yes, I do.
Customer: My mother told me never to trust anyone with brown eyes.
Me: You have brown eyes.
Customer: .......... 

Person: Hi, I'm looking for a Mr. Patrick.
Me: No one of that name works here, sorry.
Person: But does he live here?
Me:... no one lives here; we're a bookshop.
Person: Are you sure?

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