Tuesday, March 28, 2023

 


These Things Happen After All


My grandmother's family-famous porcelain chafing dish stood on its side for many years in a bracket on a mahogany cabinet in my dining room.  That is a room that we rarely use; it sees very little foot traffic except on holidays and briefly when the cleaning lady comes every other week.

But my daughter was staying with us in one of her transitions, and her closest friend stopped by to visit, dragging along her nine-year-old son, who is always called "Austin C." after the drug dealer who begat him, now long gone.  Triggered by my withdrawal from his hands of a fake but nevertheless dangerous ornamental sword that was leaning in a corner of the family room, Austin C. went off on a bit of a rampage, at maximum speed, throughout the first floor.  In the dining room his elbow clipped Nana's dish and its bracket, with predictable consequences.

On the sentimentality front, the dish was not brought from Ireland by Nana when she came, as family legend had had it.  We found out that it was a gift to her from a neighbor who ran a small antique shop in Queens.  But its provenance was Irish, in specific from the high-volume fires of the Belleek Factory in the North.

My first reaction to the crash was anger, at both the boy and his careless mother.

My second reaction was resignation; it was not something that could be undone.

My third reaction was gratitude directed at the boy, for accelerating entropy.  Things are meant to be broken.  Everything will be broken in due course.



Wednesday, March 22, 2023

 


Lucid Dream


I was going over my WIPs -- client "work in progress" -- as I do every month to assist my secretary in prepping my bills.  I came across the following time entry -- "We were chased by a crowd down the street and into a sewer; seven hours."



Tuesday, March 14, 2023

 


"Seek, and Ye Shall Find"


At the Hour of the Wolf it occurred to me that this bromide from the King James Version (Matthew 7:7) can be employed as a curse, against the researchers at the Wuhan Lab, for example, or more generally in place of "curiosity killed the cat."



Thursday, February 23, 2023

 


Should We Evacuate the Earth?


A non-trivial question.

Yesterday I watched most of a four-hour Joe Rogan podcast in which Joe allowed his friend Eric Weinstein to meander all over the landscape of modern physics, interminably, before answering the two questions that Joe put to him at the beginning, the questions being what caused Eric to abandon his lifelong skepticism about UFOs?, and what are his views on the subject now?

His answer to the first question is complex and rather obscure.  Eric in his youth detached from the Ph.D program in physics at Harvard.  He believed that he had found a potential way forward to break a long impasse in physics -- the inability to craft a theory that works both at the level of particles and at the cosmological level.  The reasons for his failure to gain traction with his ideas he ascribes to academic politics and to general human folly.  Disgusted, he dropped out, used his formidable mathematical skills to develop algorithms that would help to make Peter Thiel a very rich man, and later morphed into a public intellectual and a supposed member of the cabal that founded "the intellectual dark web."

Why, then, an evolution away from skepticism?  First, his long-abandoned ideas appear now to have been picked up by physicists who are considered mainstream and whose reputations are so lofty that they can no longer be ignored.  And if they bear fruit (Weinstein by no means guarantees that they will), they could form the theoretical basis for great engineering breakthroughs, including the conquering of gravity and, even more shocking, the manipulation of time.  With these possibilities on the far horizon, we can no longer say with certainty that extraterrestrial travel is impossible because of an absolute speed limit known as the velocity of light.  (Weinstein points out that if that limit cannot be exceeded, it will take more than 100,000 years just to get to habitable places in the near neighborhood.)  And if we can get to them, to the other guys, then they certainly can get to us.

Second, people within the US government have approached Eric on the QT, and his friend and oft-interlocutor Sam Harris as well, with a cloak and dagger suggestion that his services as a physicist and public intellectual may be required to calm the public and prepare it for some earth-shattering revelations.  Both Eric and Sam have been teased with this suggestion multiple times, but the spooks never seem to follow up, and they begin now to be exasperated with the whole outreach.

In light of all this background, which takes him two hours to explain, to the second question Weinstein now says the following (to be clear, a paraphrase) -- "It is not all nonsense.  It seems to me that it can be one of only two things -- either extra-human intelligence indeed is among us, or our own government has made fantastic scientific breakthroughs and is perpetrating the disinformation campaign to end all disinformation campaigns in the interest of keeping the breakthroughs out of the wrong hands."

So far so good.  But where does Eric Weinstein want to go with this new and troubling perspective?  Remarkably, he says that he is not really that interested in UFOs per se.  Rather, he believes that there is an imperative to leave planet Earth and colonize other places, because if we don't, we will soon destroy ourselves with atomic weapons.  (Here he brings in the view that we should not be supporting Ukraine as we have been because of the likelihood, in his mind, that this will lead us into Armageddon.)

I find this viewpoint, coming from such a formidable intellect, a complete head-scratcher.  If we follow his path and populate other planets, what is to stop us from destroying ourselves on those other planets, if that is our predisposition?  And why, if there are perhaps countless other forms of intelligence in the universe, is it so important to preserve our own?  Isn't the impulse to preserve it just one more dreary index of our tribalism, and isn't it tribalism that makes us so dangerous in the first place?  Finally, where is Weinstein's curiosity about what extra-human intelligence would mean in the big picture?  Isn't that possibility far more profound than the idea of a base camp on some Goldilocks rock out there?

In any case kudos to Joe Rogan, who after all is just a martial artist whose formal education peaked at Newton South High School, for being able to elicit this story on a platform that regularly draws around two million viewers.  Surely two million will not watch this saga unfold over four hours, but perhaps a million will zero in on the gist of it.  What does that say about the evolution of our media environment?  Mostly it says that there is a great hunger for ideas and perspectives that go beyond the nonsense that is being fed to us by content providers both left and right, the "horseshoe metaphor" having never been so apt.




Monday, February 20, 2023

 


Muito Mais Que Nada


If Richard Feynman were still among us, he would be 104 years old.  In the unlikely event that he were still well ambulatory (the legs go first), he would be tuning his bongos for tomorrow's Fat Tuesday Carnival march in Rio.  He did not rise above his Carnival street band at Mardi Gras; he permitted himself to get lost, embedded in it.

He also was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics, helped to invent the atomic bomb, figured out the mystery of the cause of the Challenger disaster in real time, on TV, and cracked a number of supposedly impenetrable safes.

Excused from wartime service because he was thought to be mentally unbalanced, he was in another sense the most balanced of men, nurtured not by happenstance on American "soil," the streets of Queens, New York City.



Sunday, February 19, 2023

 


Trail Markers


I watched a documentary film on my Kindle, about petroglyphs in the Oregon wilderness.  Called "Middle," it's a terrible film with a single saving moment.  In that moment, one of our two protagonists stops on a trail near a high peak in the Cascades, at perhaps 7,000 feet.  The prospect below, of valleys and lakes, is spectacular.  Our man gathers up seven or eight carefully-chosen stones, and piles them one on top of the other at eye level, on a little ledge.  He has difficulty only with the last, little stone on top, but he has patience and perseveres. 

It seems impossible that they would stay in place; it's like a literal house of cards in a wind tunnel.  Except that there is no wind to speak of.  In fact, the two men on the trail laugh, remarking that the tower of stones will topple with the first earth tremor or strong breeze.  But, for the time being, it will be a signature, and one that will cause others to pause if they should happen to seek out this remote place.

And so it is with words piled one atop the other.  We think that "the cloud" is like the amber that will preserve a dead bug in perpetuity.  But the cloud is a metaphor, and the words reside in a very concrete place, in a particular server in a particular server farm, perhaps in the high Colorado desert.

Earthquake, scirocco, electromagnetic pulse attack from the North Koreans.  A mouse gone mad enough to chew through a cable.  There are redundancies, of course, that can turn these hundred-year events into three-hundred year events, but the arc of history bends towards disorder, more predictably for sure than it does towards justice.



Friday, February 17, 2023

 


The Armory at One's Feet


In Palestine and Paris, the paving stones pled their innocence.  They were, after all, constructive, until they were picked apart by zealots.

In the former case, the deconstruction was halted, but only for a few seconds.  Someone, a tall man, cried out from the crowd "Let he who is without sin ..!," but another, louder voice interrupted, proclaiming a wry "Nice try!"  The poor girl squirmed and cringed; as Lee Harvey Oswald in the photo much later, she cringed in vain.

The grievances of the soixante-huitiemes were more diffuse, but their indignation was not.  First the barricades, built of cafe chairs and tables, trash receptacles, overturned hand carts.  Then the rain of stones on the helmets and shields of the gendarmerie, interspersed with Cointreau cocktails and at least one spear, improvised from a sharpened broom handle, dipped in tar and set alight.

Fifty-five years later, some still remain among us.  In two of the shabbiest of the inner arrondissements, their voices, both higher and hoarser than before, seem to my tin ear to say, with passion, "Defense de fumer!" It rings from the tenement walls and even, on the rebound, against the paving stones.