A Physicist Contemplates Training Wheels

Motion catches the corner of my eye. Look up. Over there, beyond Spike the cat on his high perch, out the front window, past the rough-barked pine trees. A little girl struggles to get her bicycle going again. It is an impossible bright pink, with incongruous black rims and stout black spokes. Pink helmet, blue-jeans shorts and sneakers, a pink shirt with a pattern I can’t quite make out, probably animals. She pushes and shoves, single-minded, her entire world encompassed by this instant, realigns with the center of her sidewalk highway, and is on her way again, oddly upright. She is gone before I figure out the oddness plucking tunelessly at the back of my mind: her winged Pegasus, pink bike with the black rims and thick spokes, has training wheels.

A minute or two later a couple strolls by, chatting and laughing quietly, comfortable with their daughter on the fluorescent bicycle roaming her sidewalk highway in search of adventures. He is tall—very tall, I realize—dark-haired and relaxed and fills an oversized baggy white shirt and oversized baggy blue gym shorts. She is short, dark-complexioned as well, with long Mesoamerican black hair flowing down a relaxed back over a shapeless baggy garment of muted earthen colors. Her being animates the facial features of a woman from a Central American country, a newborn swaddled to her chest. He laughs again. Whatever world they inhabit in this moment, it seems pleasant—fitting for a quiet mountain neighborhood on this sunny, breezy, unexpectedly warm and easygoing March day. Sharp contrast to the cold hardness and wantonly inflicted greed newly risen from a vat of putrescent bile left simmering in the underbelly of our country.

I can’t help but smile in response to a brief respite in this couple’s welcoming sunny bubble, even at a distance. Vicarious pleasure is still pleasure; escape is sometimes necessary. After perusing the news after telling myself that I would not peruse the news, which seems always horrific in this dank hegemony, seeing the chatting and laughing couple is a surprising if welcome balm, a salve for psychic ills and the hurt billowing across the world.

A study in contrasts, this, but a common theme emerges: disposition emanates and infects, whether one realizes it or not. I think of my leaden, lowering demeanor this morning, then of their easy laughter. I am glad that they can infect me, and not I them, in this chance one-way encounter. We humans are a spongy mirror, the physicist’s black body, absorbing and re-emitting packets of dark or light that happen to intersect our surface—venom or laughter, pain or comfort, bigotry or celebration.


But do we create? Can we create? To what extent do we have a choice? If all of us absorb and reflect, then what is the source of the light, what is the source of the dark, these quantized carriers of sadness and joy that scatter through our society, random-walking among neighbors, among couples, among children riding pink steeds along narrow weathered-cement roadways?

It dawns on me that this chatting and laughing couple, this reflection of what is, or can be, right in the realm, is the essence of resistance—resistance to the advancing wave of hard dark bone-seeping cold things, predatory denizens swimming a fouled and murky miasma, this newly-erupted, unwelcoming abyss. This couple and their fleet daughter, emitters of packets of wonder and humanity, whatever their origins, are what saves us. Hold on to this and do not let go, I say to myself, however violent and turbulent the buffetings to come.

I wonder if they are new to the neighborhood. Two world lines intersecting defines a point in space and time, a before and an after, that changes both in the instant, in the mystery, of interaction. Perhaps we will cross walking paths. I think I would like that. Perhaps, even, the training wheels will be off.

Further reading

“Black Body”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_body

“Quantum”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum

“Sunlight Is Way Older Than You Think!”, Sten Odenwald, The Huffington Post (2014), https://goo.gl/dBlKFy

“World Line”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_line

“Overview of the fundamental interactions”, Wikipedia, https://goo.gl/sptt9p


On Conservative “Governance”


Maternal mortality rates in Texas, 2000-2014 (click to enlarge)

Maternal mortality rates in Texas. What happened in 2010-2012? One theory is that the coincidence of the nearly doubling of the death rate of women giving birth with the mass statewide closing of health clinics due to targeted budget annihilation by Republicans is more than mere coincidence. The range of effects is slightly more complicated than simple-minded black-and-white thinking will yield, but it is plausible, seems likely, in fact, that this single act of what can only be called hatred caused a predictable panoply of health-related domino effects that killed—and are still killing—women for no reason other than ideological bigotry, misogyny, and spite. This theory has not been conclusively proven.

There are no other theories.

This is your country. This is your country on Republicans. Any questions?

graphic: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=MacDorman+MF%2C+Morton

more info: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/spike-rates-pregnancy-related-deaths-texas-national-embarrassment

And They’re Fluffy: an Ode to Modern Air Travel

Other than the airports; the TSA ding-dongs, dipshits, and assorted knuckle-draggers, wannabe-thugs; the doltingly stupid “security”-theater rules invented by bitter assholes who’ve nothing better to do all day than find even more pointless, inane ways to make people miserable; the noisy, milling mass of yabber yabbers polluting gate areas with their meaningless babble at full volume always full volume; the humanity, oh, the humanity; the FUCKING TVs that nobody ever actually watches and that have metastasized to every gate area and whose volume controls are now shielded from both generations of my TV-B-Gone TV volume zappers; the people who stand still on the left, on the right, and in the center of every moving walkway; the goddamned “caution! the walkway is ending!” bullshit that repetitively exists only in America, Land of Idiots (as if we needed yet more evidence that lawyers are evil); the shitty-smelling air on more airplanes than not, especially Alaska Airlines for some reason even though in every other respect Alaska Airlines is AWESOME; the wretch-inducing smell emanating from my seatmate’s smushed oozing pale vomitous lump that she sheepishly calls a sandwich which I can’t get mad about because she’s a nice person, one of the few pleasant persons on-board, and it’s the punishing absence of actual food on planes that forces her and everybody else to smuggle foodstuffs that roil with microbes—always odoriferous microbes—due to the unanticipated lines, waits, and delays, mostly from TSA pointlessness; having to dislocate hips and knees in order to fold my body into “seats” (that’s what they call them) that are uniformly shaped to cut off circulation from mid-thighs down no matter your height or contortions or body proportions, that cruelly prevent any form of sleep or rest, and that cause at least three herniated disks PER FLIGHT; the invariable blaring glaring walking shouting banal advertisements for birth control that are wholly incapable of instilling the slightest modicum of civility or reasonable behavior in the greasy monstrous creatures they call their children; middle seats (although middle seats get a worse rap than deserved, but, still: middle seats); the ever-present very large (and, nowadays, any not-actually-petite) person who didn’t have time for a shower that day spilling over the boundaries into MY SPACE, and even though they are more than fully aware of the situation and are nervous and sweating which makes them smell worse in a recursive ouroboros of miasmatic misery and are thus helplessly far more uncomfortable than I can possibly know, so I feel guilty for even thinking about it, and even though I know neither they nor anybody else can help it because the airline wanted to fit ONE MORE fucking seat across the cabin, I still get irritated; the piercing evil-eye launched from at least four pinched faces attached to people that are pissed that I raise my window shade (on those occasions that I do manage to snag a window seat, whose window is invariably scratched, frosting, and coated with hair gel (at least I think it’s hair gel)) so I can blissfully escape and gawk at the stunning views outside, about which they seem incapable of ever being curious much less experiencing the yūgen that contemplating our universe instills; the fucking little hearing-damaged shits with their cheap crappy earbuds that fail to dampen the cacophony of their crappy nerve-scraping “music” the least little bit, at least two of which are offensively within earshot at all times; the vile urchin from hell behind you that kicks your seat for four hours solid and whose mother hurls javelins of epic mondo stink-eye (do they practice in front of mirrors?) for even the most polite, deferential, soft-spoken, and diplomatic of intimations that her little spawn of Satan might want to stop kicking my seat or else suffer sudden involuntary decapitation (flight attendants frown on avoidable messes, so, really, nobody wants that); and—the ultimate, ever-present pièce de résistance—SCREAMING BABIES, EVERYWHERE; why, other than that, I love flying. The clouds are pretty.


Metaphors for Our Times. #10

Metaphors for Our Times. #10
“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,  
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply  
“They are merely conventional signs!
“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!  
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best —  
A perfect and absolute blank!”
This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out  
That the Captain they trusted so well
Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,  
And that was to tingle his bell.
—Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark (1876), Fit the Second: The Bellman’s Speech

Metaphors for Our Times. #9

Metaphors for Our Times. #8

Metaphors for Our Times. #8

“Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

“Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.”

—Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark (1876), Fit the First: The Landing


Metaphors for Our Times. #7

Metaphors for Our Times. #7

Mildred sat a moment and then, seeing that Montag was still in the doorway, clapped her hands. “Let’s talk politics, to please Guy!”

“Sounds fine,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I voted last election, same as everyone, and I laid it on the line for President Noble. I think he’s one of the nicest looking men ever became president.”

“Oh, but the man they ran against him!”

“He wasn’t much, was he? Kind of small and homely and he didn’t shave too close or comb his hair very well.”

“What possessed the ‘Outs’ to run him? You just don’t go running a little short man like that against a tall man. Besides—he mumbled. Half the time I couldn’t hear a word he said. And the words I did hear I didn’t understand!”

“Fat, too, and didn’t dress to hide it. No wonder the landslide was for Winston Noble. Even their names helped. Compare Winston Noble to Hubert Hoag for ten seconds and you can almost figure the results.”

“Damn it!” cried Montag. “What do you know about Hoag and Noble!”

“Why, they were right in that parlor wall, not six months ago. One was always picking his nose; it drove me wild.”

“Well, Mr. Montag,” said Mrs. Phelps, “do you want us to vote for a man like that?”

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 93 (1951)


Metaphors for Our Times. #6

Metaphors for Our Times. #6

You could feel the war getting ready in the sky that night. The way the clouds moved aside and came back, and the way the stars looked, a million of them swimming between the clouds, like the enemy disks, and the feeling that the sky might fall upon the city and turn it to chalk dust, and the moon go up in red fire, that was how the night felt.

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 88 (1951)


Metaphors for Our Times. #5

Metaphors for Our Times. #5

The old man nodded. “Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 85 (1951)


Metaphors for Our Times. #4

Metaphors for Our Times. #4

“Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it’s a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily.”

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 83 (1951)


Metaphors for Our Times. #3

Metaphors for Our Times. #3

“Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I’m one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the ‘guilty,’ but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself. And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then. Now, it’s too late.”

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 78 (1951)


Metaphors for Our Times. #2

Metaphors for Our Times. #2

He could hear Beatty’s voice. “Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page, from the second and so on, chain-smoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the secondhand notions and time-worn philosophies.” There sat Beatty, perspiring gently, the floor littered with swarms of black moths that had died in a single storm.

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 72 (1951)


Metaphors for Our Times. #1

Metaphors for Our Times.  #1

“Let me alone,” said Mildred. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Let you alone! That’s all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 49 (1951)