SINCE 1973

A Report from the Comfort Zone

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2014 at 12:54 pm

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The radio crackled into life. Sound is recorded through a microphone and is turned into an electrical signal. The signal travels through a circuit, and a transistor amplifies the signal through a speaker.

After The Shipping Forecast; we will return to the comfort zone.

The shipping forecast issued by the Met Office, on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, on Friday 22nd November 1963 at 1030 UTC

There are warnings of gales in Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Tyne, Dogger, Fair Isle, Faeroes, London, Washington, Moscow, Dallas, Minsk, New Orleans, Portsmouth and Amsterdam.

The General synopsis at 0600

The area forecasts for the next 24 hours. There are warnings of gales in all areas.

Southeast severe gale 9 veering west or northwest 9 or 10. Rough or very rough. Showers. Moderate or poor.

Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort devised his scale of wind force in 1805, when serving aboard HMS Woolwich. While Admiral Nelson’s death was causing a hurricane back home, Admiral Beaufort was charting the real thing off the coast of South America. He first estimated and scaled wind force in his private log of the 13th January 1806:

From nought, meaning, unsurprisingly, calm. Then one: meaning light air “just sufficient to give steerage way”.

2 to 4 were for speeds between 1 and 6 knots or Light breeze; Gentle breeze and Moderate breeze.

5 to 9 are Fresh breeze; Strong breeze; Moderate gale; Fresh gale and Strong gale.

“In which a well-conditioned man of war, under all sail, and ‘clean full’, could just carry close hauled royals single-reefs and top-gallant sails, double-reefs, jib, etc. to triple-reefs etc.”

10 is a whole gale; 11 a Storm and finally, 12 Hurricane – “to which she could show no canvas”.

In the same private journal, tucked amongst the charts and calibrations and minutiae of a life at sea is an account of how he narrowly escaped drowning in Portsmouth harbour in 1795.

“Though the senses were deadened, not so the mind; its activity seemed to be invigorated in a ratio which defies all description, for thought rose above thought in rapid succession.

“The effect on my most affectionate father.

The moment in which it would be disclosed to the family.

and a thousand other circumstances minutely associated with home, were the first reflections.”

“Then they took a wider range, our last cruise a former voyage and shipwreck, my school and boyish pursuits and adventures.”

“Thus travelling backwards, every past incident of my life seemed to glance across my recollection in retrograde succession; not however in mere outline, as here stated, but the picture filled up with every minute and collateral feature. Each period of my experience seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of right or wrong.”

In 1490, the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch depicted two winged figures travelling down a tunnel towards a bright light in a painting entitled “Ascent to Empyrean”.

Empyrean was a name for the outermost layer of the celestial firmament, and in Christian literature, notably the Divine Comedy, for the dwelling-place of God. It is filled with beings so divine that they are made of pure golden fire, and the source of all light and creation.

It has the same Greek root as the word empyreumatic, which is defined as the characteristic smell of burning animal matter.

Bobby Hargis - Motorcycle patrolman, Dallas Police Department

“When Kennedy was shot in the head, brain matter and blood hit me and my helmet as I rode through. Officer Bud Brewer says, ‘Bob, you got something on your there lip.’ And he flicked at it, and it was a piece of Kennedy’s brain and a piece of skull bone.”

“Well, I walked over to the sheriff’s office, and a guy came up to me and offered me seventeen thousand dollars for my helmet.”

It began in Minsk. At a dance for medical students at The Palace of Culture. She worked at a pharmacy. He operated a lathe at the radio factory.

The radio. An English singer this time.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

He stared at his handiwork on the bedside table. As the music played, he still felt the same mix of pride and wonder that he felt when that first set left the assembly line.

He’d spent hours adjusting the diameter of a cylindrical piece so it slid exactly into the tube. He was good. He was precise. He was fulfilled. Some days he felt his co-workers may as well have used a hacksaw compared to his detailed work. Boris, his supervisor, had told him that the thickness of the central insulator was only crucial for the operation of the joining metric thread. It was only a problem if the adjoining split elements hadn’t been cleaned. Therefore, it wasn’t their problem once it left the factory. Boris was “a real shock” compared to Ivan. They called Boris “the comedian”.

It was Ivan who had told him that just after the war, work was different. A document had arrived one day from the bureau. “The empirical relationship between stimulus and performance”. It had been developed by American psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson in 1908.

Ivan wasn’t bothered that they were Americans. It increased the rapidity of habit-formation and Ivan liked anything that increased the rapidity of habit-formation.

Using a lathe to machine metal and plastic parts on this very basic level was not primarily a matter of just being handy – it was a matter of using the brain to adjust the machine’s parameters and set it up the right way for the job at hand. Once this is done, the machine does almost all of the work for you. It was an art. A craft. And it required patience.

He turned back to her. They lay there, half naked, half dead in the half-light. Wrapped only in a sheet and laid on the standard issue slab of a queensize. Briefly embalmed in themselves. The scalpel of fate was polished and poised. Her butterfly winged eyelids fluttered briefly, teasing a soul stuck to the earth. Fanning the flames of a thousand year struggle that was no doubt still causing earthquakes in China.

Her uncle, Lieutenant Colonel Ilya Prusakov had said “Take care of this girl. She has plenty of breezes in her head. Let them pass or else you’ll be breaking our butterfly on a wheel”.

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

The radio crackled again. Russian voices gave way to English again. American music. Deep Purple by the jazz pianist Peter De Rose.

When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls,
And the stars begin to flicker in the sky,
Through the mist of a memory,
You wander back to me
Breathing my name with a sigh.

They married in a registry office one month later.

He stroked her hair on the steps of the bureau.

I’ve never loved anyone like this before

A nail circled his heart with a trail

Gliding pocketed vale to reach ragged lapel

Buttoning down dance floors and collaring cliffs

Scratch swamping painted paper crags

Toothed ragged by each missing missive

Watered wet with lost lust and tears of confusion

Then she fires her first shot

Stuffing a note into the cleavage of his fist

Cut out my heart and keep it she says

A trembling thumb carving her grooveless brow

Both drowning sweat damped but dry glowed now

Fire blinked and still born choked vows

Unfurl limp palms that spring forth new

Battalions of paper police on fluttering steps

Stuttering down towards the hearth’s roar

Scrabbling each for dear life – armed brothers in

Kind and warriors, lovers, strangers and friends

Cut out my heart and keep it she says

A morning lit sniping squad caught on the wrong side

A paper chain peppered with shots to the head

Heart scattered confetti cries hiss in the plaza

Fresh wind blown chills from an open top

I’ve never loved anyone like this before

The radio. A year later. It carries a different song. A young KGB operative sits in a building across the street transcribing a bugged conversation fed from their Minsk apartment. The line crackles incessantly. The flame haired operative smacks the casing. “Old technology” he mumbles before the smashing of a cup.

He: You never do anything!

She: Have you ever cleaned up this apartment – just once? I’ve done it 21 times. You’ll do it and then talk about it all day.

He: …You sleep until 10 in the morning and you don’t do anything. You could be cleaning up during that time.

She: I need my sleep. If you don’t like it, you can go back right now… You’re always finding fault; nothing’s enough, everything’s bad.

He: You’re ridiculous. Lazy and crude.

The operative sniggered. The wife was an academic. A pharmacist. Who was he to talk to her like that? He worked a lathe. Made radios. He was an American.

21st of November1963

The Radio Moscow motto is “Radio Moscow speaks the truth”.

WFAA is a radio station in Dallas. It stands for “Working For All Alike”.

They’re not so different.

He spent his final night with his wife pleading for her to embrace this new beginning. He tried to kiss her more than once, but she rejected him. He pleaded for the two of them to get back together, and still, she rejected him.

The next morning, Lee Harvey Oswald left behind his wedding ring and $187 in cash. The ring had a tiny hammer and sickle engraved on the inside of the band.

Marina Oswald sold it at auction for one hundred and eight thousand dollars on 22nd October 2013.

Bought by an anonymous Texan.

Underneath the ring and the cash, a television sees two women discussing the merits of hidden zippers in jackets.

What are these for, Betsy? They can’t be for bad money?

Betsy knows that you can zip the hood so that no snow gets in and that very often you’ll find a zipper hidden in the arm. Betsy also knows that good design can give you smaller hips.

Pierce Allman was a young news manager at WFAA when the President came to town. He found himself drawn to the motorcade, excited to see John and his glamorous wife. He had spent weeks helping to organize coverage of Kennedy’s visit. They planned every last detail, even down to walking alternative routes should the motorcade change course.

Robert Yerkes and John Dodson based their paper “The empirical relationship between stimulus and performance” on a rat’s ability to choose channels in a run following their exposure to an electric shock. They find that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, the performance of the rat decreased. Too low – the same.

Pierce runs into the studio. Betsy and her zipper disappear in a hurricane of horizontal lines…

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. You’ll excuse the fact that I’m out of breath… but, about 10 or 15 minutes ago a tragic thing, from all indications, at this point, has happened in the city of Dallas. Let me quote to you this… and, you’ll excuse me if I’m out of breath. This is from the United Press in Dallas.”

In the control group, rats were shocked with medium intensity.

Lee Harvey Oswald notices an ad in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine.

LATE ISSUE! 6.5 ITALIAN CARBINE. Only 36″ overall, weighs only 5 1/2 pounds. Shows only slight use, lightly oiled, test fired and head spaced, ready for shooting. Turned down bolt, thumb safety, 6-shot, clip fed. Rear down sight. Fast loading and fast firing.

The control group rats shocked with medium intensity learned the task quickly and effectively.

Over the page:

The Art of Trigger Control

  1. Pick up the gun by the barrel or slide.
  2. Place the stock between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand and push the gun firmly to the heel of the hand.
  3. While pushing the gun into the hand, wrap the fingers firmly around the grip.
  4. All the fingers are used to grip the gun.
  5. The greatest pressure should be between the heel of the hand and the fingers on the front of the stock.
  6. While gripping very firm, the trigger finger must be able to work back and forth enough to give it an independent action.
  7. This firm grip should be maintained at the same pressure while squeezing the trigger to fire one shot or an entire string of shots.

On March 12,1963, Oswald mails the ad’s coupon and a postal money order for twenty one dollars ninety five (that’s nineteen dollars ninety five plus one dollar fifty postage and handling) to Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. The gun is shipped via parcel post the same month.

In 2007 The Centre for Studies in Human Stress in Quebec concluded that the process of forming long-term memories of events followed exactly the same pattern as that found in the Yerkes Dodson rat experiments.

Memory is at its best when stress hormones are mildly elevated rather than at lower or higher levels.

For a situation to achieve medium intensity, it has to be:

Novel

Unpredictable

Not controllable by the individual

Or a social evaluation threat – one that could incur a negative social judgement of the individual possibly leading to social rejection.

This often leads to a highly detailed ‘snapshot’ of the moment and circumstances in which a piece of surprising, consequential or emotionally arousing news was heard.

It is also known as a flashbulb memory.

Pierce Allman is looking up at the book depository. He thought he could see something sticking out of a window. He ran up the book depository steps, passing a man as he did so. The stranger was thin, with dark hair and circles under his eyes.

Allman asked where he could find a phone. The man jerked his thumb back toward the building as he left and said, “In there.”

Oswald fled to Oak Cliff where he was apprehended.

Not before fatally shooting Officer J.D. Tippit.

And every so often, the dreams return for Allman.

He meets the thin stranger in the doorway and can remember his face but when the man is gone, the memory fades. He always feels compelled to say something.

The 18th Century Philosopher Diderot called it L’esprit de l’escalier.

“A sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again when he reaches the bottom of the stairs”

Now, the Germans call it Treppenwitz and it’s sometimes called a Retrotort.

In the US it’s known as elevator wit and it’s often anglicized as doorstep wit. The Russians translate it literally as the Spirit on the Stairs…

That morning, when Oswald left behind his wedding ring and money on top of the television. A book of short stories and poems by a Russian author was close by. Not Lenin or Trotsky, or even Pasternak. But that other celebrated 20th century émigré, Isaac Asimov. Oswald liked his sense of humour. Isaac Asimov particularly delighted in Elephant jokes. In his words, they were the “favourites of youngsters and of unsophisticated adults”.

Q: Why did the elephant paint its fingernails red?

A: So it could hide in the strawberry patch.

Q: How can you tell that an elephant has been in your fridge?

A: Footprints in the butter.

Q: What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence?

A: Time for a new fence.

However, Oswald’s favourite poem is Asimov’s The Prime of Life.

It was, in truth, an eager youth
Who halted me one day.
He gazed in bliss at me, and this
Is what he had to say:

“Why, mazel tov, it’s Asimov,
A blessing on your head!
For many a year, I’ve lived in fear
That you were long since dead.

Or if alive, one fifty-five
Cold years had passed you by,
And left you weak, with poor physique,
Thin hair and rheumy eye.

For sure enough, I’ve read your stuff
Since I was but a lad
And couldn’t spell or hardly tell
The good yarns from the bad.

My father, too, was reading you
Before he met my Ma.
For you he earned, once he had learned
About you from his Pa.

Since time began, you wondrous man,
My ancestors did love
That s.f. dean and writing machine
The aged Asimov.”

I’d had my fill. I said: “Be still!
I’ve kept my old-time spark.
My step is light, my eye is bright,
My hair is thick and dark.”

His smile, in brief, spelled disbelief,
So this is what I did;
I scowled, you know, and with one blow,
I killed that rotten kid.

Sunday 24th November 1963

11.15 A.M. Dallas Municipal Building. Inspector Thomas J Kelly speaks to the suspect prior to his transfer to jail.

Oswald replies: “I will be glad to discuss this proposition with my attorney, and that after I talk with one, we could either discuss it with him or discuss it with my attorney, if the attorney thinks it is a wise thing to do, but at the present time I have nothing more to say to you.”

11:21 A.M. Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby on the steps of Police Headquarters.

Asimov told the following joke on Sunday 24th November 1963.

Q: What did the Dallas chief of police say when the elephant walked into the police station?

A: Nothing! He didn’t notice.

Marina wakes. The handcrafted radio runs out of power and morning comes. She turns on the television before noticing the ring and the wad of cash.

“We now leave the comfort zone for the final time. That is the last in the current series.”

First Performed at Pulp Diction, Cafe Mila, Godalming on November 22nd 2013

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