Saturday, November 29, 2014

Our Supreme Court And Our Future

In the run up to the Bush v. Gore election I came of the opinion that the Supreme Court, and nominations therefor, had become the most critical issue in presidential elections.  The Democrats were still in the habit of nominating high quality judges who possessed good judicial temperaments and fine legal minds.  President Clinton had nominated Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, both on the liberal side but very good, fair minded Justices.  Republicans, on the other hand, had taken to nominating partisan political operatives.  President Reagan had nominated Justices Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, and Scalia.  Justice Thomas, an acolyte of Justice Scalia, had been nominated by President George H.W. Bush, as had Justice Souter.   Justice Stevens, a fine justice and a Liberal,  had been nominated by President Ford in more bi-partisan times.  There would very soon be a demonstration of the political activism of this court. 

Republicans and Democrats, and their nominees for the Court, were and still are at considerable odds mainly over social issues, maybe also on issues of criminal procedure.  On matters economic they generally share a top-down Neo-Liberal mindset, although the cost-benefit analysis of the more Liberal members of the Court features more of an element of social justice.  The conservative members of the Court are more on the Libertarian side, with a heavy states’ rights component.  For better or worse, all of the justices, and indeed all of our politicians except for outliers like Bernie Sanders, seem to agree on the importance of globalizing the world’s economies and favoring the interests of large corporations and their investor class.   

The 2000 Election

Candidate Al Gore came out ahead in the straight up vote count, and appeared to be winning the Electoral Vote count too, but something happened.  In Florida, where the governor was candidate George W. Bush’s brother, the counting of the very close popular vote was stalled over hanging chads and other improbable details.  "Hanging chads" is still my definition of ridiculous.  How does a chad come to hang?  Answer:  by someone poking that spot with the poker, as in voting for that spot, that's how.  Any other chads hanging?  No?  Then it's a vote, asshole.  Both sides lawyered up and the stalemate went on for days.  The Supreme Court stepped in and ultimately they decided the issue.  George W. Bush was declared the winner in Florida, and thus took the election. 

The vote went like this:

For:  Justices Kennedy (appointed by Reagan), O’Connor (Reagan), Rehnquist (Reagan), Scalia (Reagan) and Thomas (George H.W. Bush).
Against:  Justices Breyer (Clinton), Ginsburg (Clinton), Souter (George H.W. Bush) and Stevens (Gerald Ford). 

This activist court decided the election, and George W. Bush became the President of the United States.  We all know how that turned out.  We’ll be paying for it for a long time, with nothing positive to show for that lost eight years.  The loss in dollars is variously reported to be between four and ten trillion dollars, resulting from the unnecessary reduction in tax revenue, the senseless, counterproductive wars in the Middle East, the losses of the financial crisis of 2008 and the resulting bail-outs, and the years of negative economic growth that were all directly attributable to George W. Bush and the policies of the Republican Party.  So thanks for that, Reagan appointees. 

The Serendipity of the Post-2000 Court

Appointments by President’s Bush and Obama have had a beautiful symmetry to them.  With two appointments each, all successful nominees have replaced justices with similar legal styles and political inclinations. 

President Bush the Younger put John Roberts on the court after Chief Justice Rehnquist, and Justice Sam Alito after Justice O’Connor.   Let’s not even get into Bush’s unsuccessful nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers. 

President Obama has put Justice Sotomayor on the Court, after Justice Souter, and Justice Kagan, after Justice Stevens.  

No major shifts in the conservative/liberal balance there. 

Imagine what would have happened if candidate John McNasty, I mean McCain, had won in 2008.  (I am informed, and believe, that “McNasty” was McClain’s high school nickname.)  Before that election I was feeling very Chicken Little about the potential effect on the Supreme Court.  If McCain had appointed two justices to replace Justices Souter and Stevens there would have been a seven to two conservative majority, and the sky would actually have fallen. 

The Present

Our current Supreme Court is very politically active.  The Republican appointed conservative majority decides which results best serves their political point of view and then invents legal rationales to support their decisions.   Sure, corporations can have religious views and act on them to the detriment of the rights of others!  Take that, homosexuals and women!   Sure, giving unlimited money to politicians is a free speech issue, a First Amendment right!  Take that, democracy!  Sure, we don’t need that Voting Rights Act anymore, we’re Post Racial!  Take that, minorities!  This is just the beginning.

Very soon the honorable ladies and gentlemen of the Court will be revisiting a well settled but still politically volatile issue, the Affordable Care Act.  I say well settled because it was passed by both houses of congress, signed by the President, and it has already withstood a test in the Supreme Court.  It’s the law of the land, according to our precious rules.  That’s as settled as law gets.  But the political winds changed with the recent mid-term elections, so it appears that the issue is back on the table. 

The ACA has performed very well in the real world, increasing the percentage of the insured, bringing healthy, young paying customers into the pool of the insured and starting to bring overall health care costs (spending) down.  It has enhanced health security for millions of Americans and it has brought increased efficiency to the American economy in general.  It is, however, politically anathema to conservatives, and it is, however, associated with a president who is being subjected to unrelenting, irrational opposition by conservatives in general and Republicans in particular.  Our current court is siding with the irrational forces on this one.  There is a good chance that this cabal of politically motivated, activist justices will void an important element of the ACA, the tax credit for health insurance purchased pursuant to the act.  That would destroy all of the benefit of it and we’d be back to square one. 

The Future

The recent mid-term election saw the turnout of eligible voters at about 37% (thirty-seven percent).  Of these, approximately half voted for Republicans.  Slightly more than half, allowing Republicans to achieve majorities in both houses of the national legislature and both houses of the legislatures of many states.   Now we are being told that this was a mandate for Republicans, that this eighteen or so percent of American voters are the voice of the American Public, demanding a return to failed Republican policies and illustrating a general rejection of President Obama’s policies. 

What will happen in 2016 cannot be seen clearly at this time.  The presidency, congress, where will it all go?  The voter turnout in the mid-terms is a bad sign.  Are people really so apathetic?  Are they so disillusioned?  And the ones that actually voted, are they really so ignorant about what is going on in America?  Are they really so afraid of things like immigrants, homosexuals, science, Muslims and black Americans?  The pattern of voting in the mid-terms seems to indicate that people have no objection to losing their civil and political rights, that they prefer corporate prosperity over their own prosperity, that they are thrilled to work harder for less, that they enjoy health insecurity, that the infrastructure of America is fine just as it stands, and that they believe that short term profits to corporations are more important than long term economic security for the United States.  So there is reason to be concerned about the 2016 election. 

Beyond 2016, of course, it is even more difficult to see what will happen.  Who gets elected?  Who dies, and when?  What unforeseen events will overtake us, and by whom will they be manufactured?  It would be too much to expect that any possible result of the 2016 election would precipitate the sudden appearance of peace, equality, security and prosperity.  But given the choice between the alleviation and the exacerbation of the very real horrors of our current situation, I’ll take alleviation if I can get it.   

Time will tell, I suppose. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Little Deuce Coupe - The Beach Boys (HQ)

In 1962 and '63 I was all about the Surf Music.  Very upbeat, very cheerful.  Those were simpler times.

They were the Camelot Years, with that beautiful, smiling young family in the White House, the City on the Hill. Much of the popular music on the radio had become stale and saccharin, but there were jems in the mix.  Great hits from New Orleans, the classic Girl Groups from New York, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, and Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley were doing fine work.  And there was Surf Music, iconic endless summer stuff from California.  I was in high school, freezing in the winter and city-bound in the sweltering summers.  California looked like heaven.  Heaven with a great soundtrack. 

It was almost enough to distract one from the seemingly imminent threat of nuclear destruction and the growing suspicion that something terrible was about to happen in Vietnam.  Almost. 

Great pictures with the video too.  Nice cars.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Spin Easy Time!: Black People In Thailand

This is a link to a retread, a post that I wrote a couple of years ago.  It has started showing up in my stats, so I checked it out.  The information in the post is still good, but a couple of things sprang to mind:

For one thing, I have corrected the problem of not having a black American friend in Thailand.  Thanks, Eddie!  Great guy, and a fine cook too.  I'm very happy to know him.

Also, the post reminded me that I have changed my mind about capitalizing "black" and "white."  I had been capitalizing them because to call American Negroes "black" seemed to me to be selling them short, it seemed too casual.  My intentions were good, but "Black" and "White" were not popular designations.  Mostly because the "White" seemed aggrandizing.   So I've gone to the lower case.  I think that some people were offended, and I apologize for that.

Here's the old post.

Spin Easy Time!: Black People In Thailand: No, I don’t mean “black” in the local sense, which merely means “copper colored and darker than the usual Thai person.” I mean Black in the ...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Life Amongst The Races

It would be too much to say that I have always been a great friend to the races, but I hope that a casual observer would at least admit that I have, on balance, done alright.  Okay.  Something like that.  Mediocre isn’t always a bad thing. 

I do try my best to be reasonable about matters of race in America.  I do think about it, and I always have.  Sometimes it sneaks up on me, like this time.

In my early 20’s I carried the mail in New York City’s borough of Queens.  It was hard work then, most routes were carried in a bag on our shoulder.  It probably still is hard, even with the little vans they use now.  I was a substitute carrier, a sub, a “floater,” meaning that I had no route of my own.  My days started variously at five, six, seven or eight o’clock, and they could really stretch out.  I usually took out a route and a half, often two entire routes.  It could be a long day.

Thinking about this the other day, I recalled one evening when I punched out at about 6:30 after twelve hours of humping the boonies.  The bus that I caught to go home was almost empty.  I took a seat near the back and opened the window.  The breeze was like a tonic.  Another young man got on the bus and took the seat in the back, left corner, directly behind me.  “It’s freezing in here,” he said, “shut that window.”  I had long hair at the time, and maybe he had mistaken me for a peace loving hippie that could be pushed around, willy-nilly. 

Now you should know that I had grown up in a very tough part of Queens.  There was always a lot of fighting, and we got hit by the nuns, and we got beaten by our parents too, most of us.  I was never one of the really tough boys, nor was I particularly big or athletic, but I was in the mix and I had learned the dance.  One of the rules was:  never even appear to be backing down from an even fight.  No good could come of it, and it would probably lead to bullying.  No, if the other boy was about your size and seemed to have about your capabilities it was best to get up in his face and fight him if necessary. 

So I turned in my seat and gave him the eyes.  We all knew how to do fifty shades of gathering storm with our eyes.  And not like Steven Seagal either, with all of that ridiculous brow knitting.  All eyes.  The look that I gave him was somewhere between “you’re on my radar” and “are you sure that you want to do this?” 

“I’ve been working since seven this morning, and the breeze feels good,” I said, “I doubt if I’m closing this window.”  Then I just turned my back on him, like the matter was settled.  And it was, too.  The window stayed open and the rest of the ride was quiet. 

This particular young man was white, like me.  I could read him like a book, I knew him even though we had never seen each other before.  Recalling this incident recently, I wondered what difference it would have made if the young man had been black.  Same size and age as me, also not particularly tough or athletic, but black.  I had to admit that it would have made a big difference.  I would still have given him the eyes, that much was habitual, but I don’t think that I would have said anything.  I think that I would have simply closed the window and moved to another spot on the still almost empty bus.  The question becomes:  would I have been acting out of fear? 

Honestly, I don’t think so.  It would have been uncertainty, not fear.  Fear would be too strong a word.  I just didn’t know enough about black people to be able to read them with any confidence.  I was ignorant on the subject.  It occurs to me that in some people this uncertainty may turn into fear, but somehow I got lucky.  All it made me was curious. 

Up until the age of fifteen I don’t think that I had ever interacted with a black person, maybe a few clerks in stores, that’s it.  Black singers and baseball players?  That’s another story.  But no interaction.  After that I had black school chums, black friends in the Navy (which pissed the white people off!  Go figure!), and I had worked with black men, but still, what did I really know about them?  About their lives?  On what would I base predictions about black behavior?  The ice was forming, but it was still too thin to trust by walking around on it.  My understanding of black people was woefully inadequate.  It probably still is!  "Probably" my ass!  It still is!  Even less then.  Hence, that uncertainty that would have occurred on the bus, if that young man had been black. 

It’s important to consider these things.  One of the more disagreeable aspects of our shitty world is the myth that America has become some kind of “post-racial” society.  Only a charlatan trying to sell a flush that included four hearts and a diamond could even say the words “post racial” with a straight face.  Maybe I should write more on this subject.  Maybe it would be helpful, and you know how much I love to be helpful!  Maybe.  It could happen. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Great Lines From The Movies: Ice Station Zebra

Spoken by Patrick McGoohan, playing a kind of 007 character, describing what the Russians had done to precipitate the mess that is central to the film:

"They took our camera, made by our German scientists, and used your film, made by your German scientists, and shot it into space in a rocket made by their German scientists . . ."

Very droll!

John Lee Hooker- I Need Some Money

What a great version of this song.  John Lee was never what you'd call "versatile," but in his range he had real style and lots of backbone.

If I felt like being a bitch about it, I could say, "well John Lee, you could always sue somebody!"  But I'm in a good mood, so I won't.

The Internet Of Things Is Coming

Science is running out in front of Science Fiction these days at a goodly rate.  And not just the Ivory Tower/multi-verse/string theory/quantum this-and-that crowd either.  As way out as the academics can be, the nuts-and-bolts engineering group is running right out there with them.  Take the “Internet of Things,” please.

The junior geniuses of the tech/entrepreneur class tend to do things for the same reason that a dog licks his own dick:  because they can.  Often they don’t give any more thought to what they do than the dog does.  It has come to their attention that many things are already controlled by CPU’s, and that some of those things can be remotely monitored or operated.  “So,” they figure, “why don’t we do that with everything?”  And they mean everything too, from the locks on your door to the egg compartment of your refrigerator. 

As is so often the case, there is a good deal of naiveté about the enterprise, a lot of pure greed, and a dangerous disregard for consequences.   I’m sure that there are great advances to be made in fields like manufacturing and logistics, but the tech boys go much further. 

“Just imagine!” they say with their stupid, probably youthful enthusiasm, “you could be at work and tell your slow-cooker to start exactly six hours before you got home!”  Isn’t that how slow-cookers work in the first place?  “It’ll be so great,” they’re getting worked up now, “you can connect your coffee maker to your phone (and your rice cooker too, if you enjoy the Asian lifestyle) and whatever time you set the phone alarm for, the coffee (and the rice) will be ready when you wake up!” 

Do these strike you as game-changing advantages in life?  I didn’t think so.

Of course, these things are only the beginning.  There’s a lot of hyperbole involved.  These wild men envision a world where every single outlet, bulb, and device in every building of any kind in the entire world is constantly communicating with its fellows, through either local or vast networks, the Internet, the web, the cloud, or the fog (whatever that is). 

Oh, and don’t forget all of the vehicles, every one of them in the world, not to mention the roads and bridges, etc.  All connected, monitored and reporting data.  You yourself will be hooked up!  What a relief to know that your very first irregular heartbeat will be reported to “your doctor.”  Sorry for the sarcasm.  I can’t help it sometimes.

Did I say hyperbole?  Some of these guys say that this Internet of Things will be a new industrial revolution, that it will so increase efficiency and productivity that all of society’s problems will melt away. 

The cheerleaders remind me of the science writers in the 1950’s who told us that advances in nuclear power and automation would give us a new age of prosperity and leisure.  We all know how that one worked out.  The productivity gains all happened as predicted, but every bit of the benefit went to the corporations and their investor class.  Working people are working harder than ever, and producing more, with nothing to show for it.  Does anyone think that this new explosion in productivity will work out any differently?  There’s very little discussion of the harm that all of this could do.  The dangers of hacking, surveillance, thievery and mischief of all kinds.  Not to mention the chaos and frustration!  I mean, already I can’t get my Android phone to communicate with my wi-fi.  Now I’ll be expected to get everything in the house to communicate with everything else.  That, I say with confidence, will not be possible.  

Look, I’m no Luddite but this all sounds like a terrible idea to me.  I don’t even like any automatic things in general.  I have always hated automatic transmissions in cars, for example.  I have to sit there anyway, so why not make my own gear selections?  I work a gearbox better than any automatic transmission that I’ve ever driven.  I do like my rice cooker, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

By all means connect everything in your factory, and put chips on shipping boxes to assist in tracking them.   I do see the possibilities for enhanced productivity and energy efficiency.  You can even keep the increased profits, Mr. Industrialist.  But leave me out of it.

If I forget that I’m out of eggs on the evening before I want to make French toast for breakfast, I can live with that.  Yes, a “smart egg tray” in your refrigerator is one of the big ideas floating around.  And my doctor can trust me to keep up with my schedule of medication.  He doesn’t need automatic updates from my smart pill caddy.  And no, I don’t want my medical insurance carrier notified every time I have a drink or two over the recommended maximum.  That’ll be in the cards before too long.  And why would anyone support a system that would allow the government or any interested party to know where anybody at all happens to be at any time?  Efficiency my ass, this is techno-fascism. 

In fact, it’s insane, but it will happen (because it can).  To paraphrase the eminently quotable Salvatore Dali:  struggle neither for nor against modernity, it’s the one thing that you cannot avoid. 

Please ask yourself, who will benefit?  People will be tricked into paying for most of the infrastructure (the devices) and the corporations will reap the financial rewards.  Not only those provided by increased productivity, but also those stemming from the huge amount of data that will be accumulated and sold for purposes that can only be guessed at.  Marketing interests, no doubt, but also employers and potential employers and health providers.  Not to mention the government, which will be able like Johnny-on-the-Spot to control your behavior in detail.  Even Winston Smith in “1984” had only the telescreens to worry about.  We’ll be surrounded by little spies. 

It’ll be great!  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Franklin Thompson - My Money's Kinda Funny

Who are the real takers?  Are they people like the singer, whose lack of a job and money are hurting his chances with the ladies, or are they the individuals and dynasties who just can't seem to get enough, the zero-point-one percent?

Job creators my bony old white ass.  The cleptocrats of the New Gilded Age are the real takers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why Don't You Play in Hell? Official US Release Trailer (2014) - Sion So...

Japanese movies have fallen into pre-set genres since the medium got to Japan.  Period movies (various periods); motherhood movies; wife movies; young-people-do-crazy-shit movies; middle-class life movies; yakuza movies; and something that the academics call "nonsense movies."  These are a little like screwball comedies sometimes, but sometimes they are much, much weirder. 

My favorite so far in the nonsense group is The Crazy Family.  Boy, that one is a hoot.  Somehow it got onto Los Angeles cable TV; there are clips on YouTube.  Check it out if you can.

This movie falls into the Bermuda Triangle between youth movies, yakuza movies and nonsense movies, which sounds to me like cinema heaven.  I love Japanese art, it is a really amazing culture.  Musically they are the funky Asians, Japanese music is a thousand times better than the rest of Asian music, which is almost entirely saccharin and cloying and awful.  Japanese music swings, which is not easy boys and girls, it takes talent.  Japanese movies are the brass balled champions of no-holds-barred cinema.  You want it?  you got it!  you're the director.  That's their system!!!  Directors make movies, and the producer just says, okay!   

I hope that I get a chance to see this one, it looks all the way nuts.  It's playing in L.A. in December, but I won't be there until February.  I doubt if the Bangkok bootleggers will copy this one, and full price mail-order is over my head.  Maybe someday! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Al Green - Nothing Takes The Place Of You

Down below the last post is the original of this song, by Toussaint McCall, and it can't be beat for pathos.  Let's face it, this is a sad, sad song. 

I love cover versions, and I love Al Green.  Al always sounds a bit ecstatic, whatever he's singing.  So no surprise, here he sounds kind of sad and kind of ecstatic. 

I love this version, but I didn't cry.  Toussaint's version?  I cry every single time. 

The Benefits Of Reading And Writing

Stepping back from the abstract for a moment, today I wish to embrace the practical.

Reading and writing are good for very different things.

Reading is a great way to gather information, but if you’re not careful it can fool you.  Reading, by itself, may bring only the illusion of understanding.

Writing about the things that we have read forces us to fill in these gaps in our knowledge of a subject; it may remind us that our understanding is incomplete.   In an academic setting, writing is a great benefit in that it can solidify our understanding. 

Writing requires a different kind of thinking and a different, deeper level of understanding.  At its best, it serves to lock what we know into our long-term memory. 

Law School Study

My academic career was all over the place.  Over the course of twenty-five years I went from being one of the worst university students in America to being one of the very good ones.  It really began to click for me when I started to approach it on a problem-solving level, and to treat it like a job. 

I started law school at the age of forty and by that time I was very interested in the whole process.  I even did research.  We had a blind grading system at my school; we were issued “grade numbers” and that was the only way in which our tests were identified.  Our final grades appeared on bulletin boards where we looked up our grade numbers to find our grades.  I figured out a way to discover the grade numbers of a sizeable group of my fellow students. 

We had many writing projects to do over the course of the semester.  When we handed them in we just put them in a box.  They were identified by our grade numbers.  I would wait to hand mine in until a suitable subject for study placed his or hers in the box before me, and then I would surreptitiously make a note of their grade numbers.  This enterprise got fascinating very quickly.

During first year we were grouped in three sections and had all of our classes together as a section.  Law school uses the Socratic Method, so there’s a lot of questions and answers in the classes.  It quickly became obvious that some students who always seemed well prepared, and seemed to understand the material very well, did not do well on the tests.  They understood the material well enough to talk about it but not well enough to write about it.  I established that this was due to the fact that they had not incorporated writing into their studies.  The first time they tried to write about it was on the test itself, and by then it was too late.

The best students wrote their own outlines for each class.  They synthesized the material first into a rather lengthy outline, and before the test they reduced this to a very brief “key word” out line.  This forced them to deal with the material in a concrete way.  I wasn’t among the best students, but I used this technique myself.  I did fine.

The Bar Exam

Here too, many of my friends were lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that when they scanned study outlines prepared by others they seemed to “remember” everything.  They had, indeed, read it all before.  This is comparable to the phenomenon of “recognition vocabulary,” as opposed to “usable vocabulary.”  We can understand our recognition vocabularies just fine when we read them somewhere, but we cannot use them when we speak or write for ourselves.  My friends remembered reading those things but they had not properly integrated the material into their short or long term memories.

The bar exam reminded many of them very forcefully that their understanding was incomplete.   My own bar preparation included a ton of writing.  Again, I did fine.

Non-Academic Reading

These days, people read a great deal of “news” and “opinion” on the Internet.  I put those words in quotes advisedly, because much of what the ‘Net describes as news or opinion is really no such thing, being mere propaganda instead.   The content of the Internet is severely compartmentalized, and the readers too often seek out sites that cater to their prejudices.   Oh, that’s a charged word, let’s say their prior convictions.  Confirmation bias is a danger.   By only reading sites that speak from the same point-of-view as the reader, the reader is reinforced in his existing beliefs. 

A great number of people who do most of their reading on the Internet become convinced that they are well informed, when in fact just the opposite is true.  They are only being fed a steady diet of talking points, bite-sized morsels prepared by people who wish to control their readers politically.  Slogans, like “Kenyan socialist.”  The readers go one step further.  Feeling themselves to be well informed, they become convinced that their own opinions are insightful and valuable.   Being constantly reinforced in all of this, they also become convinced that they are correct. 

Many of the comments left by Internet readers comically push aside any thought that they may be well informed or possessed of valuable opinions.  They either plagiarize other uninformed comments or quote from the talking points of the day.  That’s if they’re engaging with the issues at all, and not merely resorting to ad hominem attacks or specious character assassination.  Or worse. 

I wouldn’t suggest that Internet readers take notes on what they read, or start blogs, or keep notebooks.  That would be too much to ask from people whose lives are already up to fucking here with things to do.  I do not mean that sarcastically either, people are busy, I get it.  I would only ask that people, including me and, gentle reader, you, remain suspicious of what we read in general, and that in particular we remain suspicious of any information gained from casual reading.  

Perhaps before commenting on an individual post or article we should seek some confirmation of what it is that tweaks our outrage, and maybe even take a moment to think about the situation, before we launch off into a comment that may not present us in our best light. 

Or not!  I know that many people have friends who can hardly wait to see the next hilarious Michelle Obama “Wookie” picture.  And yes, that’s what this post is all about.  That shit dangerously raises my blood pressure, and I want it to stop immediately.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Toussaint McCall - Nothing Takes The Place Of You

I'm not 100% Irish, but I'm Irish enough to favor sad songs.  This is one of the saddest.  I used to play and sing it myself, before an unfortunate partial finger amputation. 

I'd be surprised if Toussaint made two nickels on this song when it was released.  Maybe it charted regionally, but I doubt if it had any national traction.  It was elevated to the national consciousness by being included in the soundtrack of the movie "Hairspray."  So here's a shout out to John Waters for that.  Mr. Waters, and Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino too, do us a favor and do the songs a service by reminding us how great they are.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Recent Advances In Time

(There's a kicker towards the end.  If you are feeling frisky, you can skim down to "I get carried away myself sometimes.")  

When physicists start talking about time they leave the layman in the dust in a hurry.  They think about time a lot though, and they do talk about it, and if you just let your mind wander along with them it can be interesting.

There’s a very nice “small” literary magazine here on the ‘Net called “Lapham’s Quarterly.”  The new issue has time as a theme, and some of it is very interesting indeed.   In particular, an article called “The Grand Illusion,” by Jim Holt, gave me a couple of jolts.   (All subsequent quotes are from the Holt article.  Used for educational purposes!  Certainly I’m not making a nickel on it.)

Evidently it’s all relative, in fact time seems to be even much more relative than science fiction fans or physicists have been given to believe since Einstein’s discoveries.  It depends not only on how fast you are going, but also on where you happen to be and in what direction you are moving.  Proximity to certain structures in the universe will produce permanent time distortions.  Distance from the event and relative motion are meaningful in ways that can seem very strange.

“Suppose . . . that Jones is walking uptown on Fifth Avenue and Smith is walking downtown.  Their relative motion results in a discrepancy of several days in what they would judge to be happening ‘now’ in the Andromeda Galaxy at the moment they pass each other on the sidewalk.” 

After the quote the writer puts in some snark about what may be happening in Andromeda.   I’ll spare you the details.  The people who understand these things can be a bit condescending. 

Gravity is now believed to have a controlling influence on time.  Not just affecting the speed of light traveling through the universe, but even adjusting time itself.  Black holes stop time all together, creating a “no-when” situation.  Time is completely absent where their influence is complete.   Close by but outside the event horizon the relative value of time merely changes.  I believe that the movie Interstellar plays with these ideas.  

When these geniuses consider the future of the universe, and they do, they apparently fall into two main camps.  Some believe, or are at least very suspicious with some evidence, that the universe will continue to expand until all mater of any kind will be reduced to its component protons and electrons.  This is the “ending in ice” possibility.  Even the sub-atomic particles will be so far apart that no interaction is possible.  Amazingly, even then some of them believe that further interaction may be possible.  Maybe they’re talking about quantum relationships, I don’t know.  Most of the scientists will admit that they don’t understand that stuff either.

The article does not speculate on how long this ultimate expansion into nothingness might take, wisely omitting a number that would confuse us even more.

There is also an “ending in fire” possibility.  This alternative would see a reassertion of gravity that would halt the expansion of the universe and ultimately cause everything to collapse back onto itself, resulting in a “Big Crunch.”  This crunch could get really strange.

“Some cosmic optimists have argued that in the final moments before such a Big Crunch an infinite amount of energy could be released.  This energy, the optimists say, could be harnessed by our deep-future descendants to power an infinite amount of computation, giving rise to an infinite number of thoughts.  Since these thoughts would unfold at a faster and faster pace, subjective time would seem to go on forever, even though objective time was about to come to an end . . . a virtual eternity.”

I’m not sure that that hypothesis will be testable, but aren’t these scientists great?  They’ll think about anything.  Some of them really do get carried away.

I get carried away myself sometimes. 

Something of a long time ago I was considering the whole phenomenon of one’s “life flashing in front of one’s eyes” in the instant before death.  Unlike the Big Crunch, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for this event.  People have experienced it and then not died; they can then tell us about it.  I don’t mind letting my mind wander sometimes over things like time but generally I do like to keep my feet on the ground.  Plus, we all have a personal interest in the existence of this pre-death thought process.  If it really happens, it will probably happen to all of us someday. 

If your entire life is going to “flash” in front of your eye, we’re talking about some kind of time distortion here.  A lot has happened to me, and compressing it all into an instant would take some doing.  I have some experience with time distortions, both natural and chemically enhanced.   (Relax! Maybe I’m talking about nitrous oxide at the dentist!  But I’m not just talking about that.)  They exist, and when they happen they are very compelling; they become the reality of the “moment.” 

I wish that I had never thought about this whole idea.  I wish that I had just treated it all as foolishness and moved on without looking back.  This could turn out to be the greatest horror of life on earth.

Some people may look back on their lives with joy, enjoying all of the fond memories, reliving all of the successes, lovingly scanning the catalog of their happiness in those last milliseconds.  For them it could be Heaven.   Some of us would feel quite differently.  Death for some of us represents nothing more than a wonderful opportunity to never be reminded of those things again.  Imagine the pleasant anticipation of freedom from those memories interrupted by a fucking emotional onslaught of everything, in detail.  And now imagine that some fantastic time distortion makes it seem that this rehash is going on for a long, long time, maybe even that “virtual eternity” of the Big Crunch. 

Our very own Big Crunch!  Just as we were imminently scheduled to come to an end!  It’s too horrible to consider.  That might be the reality of Hell.  What could be worse than Hell turning out to be real after all?  Some kind of supercharged quantum physical event?  As Kurtz said:  the horror! 

Time; our time on earth.  It seems to flow, that’s enough for me.  There is a past; there is the present; there is a future.  Let them be each thing in turn, and then let them be gone.  Gone quickly, with as little suffering as possible.  That’s my Christmas wish for all of us.  An end to suffering.  Preferably in life, but at least let death be an end to suffering.  And quantum physics, rather than ourselves, be damned.