Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Dose of Wonder

Just finished Atheist Universe, but in the midst of reading it, I ran across this interesting--among many--paragraph:

Cosmologists have described the sudden appearance of matter out of what appears to e completely empty space. Matter may spontaneously appear in one of two ways: (1) from a preexisting energy field, or (2) from quite literally nothing. The reason why this later appearance of matter--i.e., the zero-state theory--does not violate the mass-energy conservation law is that the matter produced in this way is composed equally of positive and negative energy in the generation of accompanying gravitational fields. When combined mathematically, both forms of energy precisely cancel out each other, resulting in a :zero state". It is quite possible that the universe as a while may have a sum total of zero energy. Vacuum fluctuation physics is an esoteric field of study, but the important point to remember here is that, once again, the universe may be understood and explained through natural science, rather than supernatural mysticism.

(My bold.)

There aren't even enough exclamation points to describe my excitement over this branch of Physics--one that I literally can't quite wrap my brain around yet.

There's something thrilling and delicious about a science that just yesterday, I hadn't even suspected existed. I was literally dancing in my chair to finish the book--which only had, like, twenty pages left at that point--so I could wiki these two new-to-me terms. Didn't find zero-state in the Great Repository of all semi-factual knowledge, but I did find vacuum fluctuations. Well, I was redirected from there to "Virtual Particles".

As predicted, my brain is too confoozled to spasm, too dazzled to even say, "WTF?!"

I'm in love with something I don't understand, simply because there's some hope, however slight, that I may someday understand it, and therefore understand something significant about the way our universe works, and how it got this way.

I'm still new to all this anti-woo, to excercising my brain to understand answers, rather than just taking them on faith, however well-placed. It's kinda bracing to be a little less intellectually lazy.

In not-entirely-unrelated news, watching Cosmos, Sagan does this formula for calculating how many planets in the universe might have intelligent life. It was algebra, of course, my arch-nemesis, and bane of my existence. The thing that toppled me from the honor-roll in junior high and kept me off permanently (though, yeah, physical science kinda helped. It was a tag-team beat-down).

Anyway, I could follow the formula.

It made sense, didn't seem to have all the crazy moving parts that algebra used to when I was in school. It was simple (thankfully, he only used round numbers, no decimals), and yes, elegant. Beautiful.

And not because I suddenly love algebra and wanna marry it, though I'm starting to see the use of it--as opposed to merely being told it's useful. Algebra was used to calculate something I actually enjoy comtemplating, rather than the time of the crash of trains rushing, for no reason I could ever see, toward each other at varying rates of speed.

I'm now firmly of the opinion that, if in school, we'd been shown how to calculate the possibility of intelligent life on other planets instead of the precise time of train crashes, maybe I'd have done better at algebra. Not necessarily Will Hunting-better at it, but at least better than my usual hard-won C-.

Which isn't to say the blame isn't mostly mine--if I can't motivate me to learn, no one else will, corporal punishment quite aside. I decided fairly early that algebra was useless to me, and so never took to it. But everything is marketing. English and history were marketed to me in a way that made them attractive. Why so many teachers drop the ball in math and science is beyond me. Just a little razzmatazz with the numbers and voila! You've made a difference in a young student's life . . . or whatever.

Well, my primary and secondary schools were religious in nature, Baptist then Catholic. I suppose algebra taught as a series of fiery, awful deaths would be more in keeping with the overall themes of the religions themselves. . . .

"If wishes was horses, we'd all be eatin' steak."--Jayne Cobb

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A dose of grim reality on the eve of post-Bush America

Watching The Countdown tonight, as always, and this is Olberman's most stirring comment since the one he made on Prop 8:

Yes. Exactly.

I' m all for post-partisanism and reaching across the aisle, but Jesus date-raping Christ, there has to be a line in the sand, a line beyond which America does not torture prisoners. If Bill Clinton had sanctioned this kind of evil--I'm not his hugest fan, but he mostly didn't screw up too horribly, especially in light of his successor--I'd have been calling for his head on platter.

Believe me when I say, I would like nothing more than to not see a US president convicted of war crimes. I do believe it'd break my heart--my country's heart--to see even this failure of a president and a human being be convicted of such a crime.

Not this crime, not my president, you know? Even though he's isn't mine and isn't truly president, election-stealing tendencies very much not aside.

But the only thing that'd be worse than a nation's broken heart--and those do heal, if slowly--would be letting this travesty slide, like he's Wynona Rider, and torture's just shoplifting. What's worse than a broken heart is broken honor, and breaking faith with the ideals this country was built on.

Our nation has been damaged enough without this final, realpolitik coup de grace.

I understand wanting to focus on the future, but Olberman's right, hit the nail on the head. As have so many. We can't let the Bush version of history, the revisionist dreck go on record unchallenged, unrighted. I've had very few occasions in my lifetime to be proud of something great my country has done. Something honorable. Something shining. But on the heels of such a milestone election, I can only hope I'll be given another occasion. That Obama has the stones--though I seriously doubt he will; to be fair, I doubt Kennedy or FDR would've, though Lincoln might've and Teddy Roosevelt probably would've--to give his DOJ its head, and the DOJ in turn is as blind as the Justice they supposedly represent. That charges will be brought against the upper echelons of the outgoing administration. It can't be any other way, and America regains some of the honor she's lost. If some other country has to uphold our own laws for us when one of these criminals takes it in their head to go abroad, then . . . whatever rebuilding of our honor and reputation is beginning with this fledgling administration will also die there.

This is not a death history will judge us kindly for. Nor should it.

We're approaching a moment of truth--possibly one of the first for this new administration. Here's hoping that, in their headlong rush to smooth over the rough bits of America, they don't fuck it up and fuck us all over.
::raises a glass::

"If wishes was horses, we'd all be eatin' steak."--Jayne Cobb

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Brief Dose of Hopeful Thinking

I've got to buy my own copy of Cosmos. I love that series more than is strictly healthy, and I totally wish I had a telescope--yeah, and a solid understanding of basic physics with which to appreciate the things I see, even on this Little Blue Rock. But I struggle with the concept of the periodic table of elements, let alone anything harder than that.

Meh, it's mostly mental laziness and lack of application on my part--and possibly lack of imagination on the part of my highschool science teacher.

I'm trying to look at it like this: I can't learn to fly by flapping my arms. I can't learn how to live backwards in time. I can't learn how to transfigure my body into a wooden chair.

I can learn to understand physics. And algebra. And quantum mechanics and String Theory and the plot of Solaris--anything any other person on this planet can learn. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but swallow I will. It may be a long time going down, but go down it will.

(Notice how many dirty jokes I could, but don't make about that last couple of sentences? A sign of how good my veneer of fake maturity is getting.)

I want to understand--not just know, but really understand, gut-deep, how everything works. I wanna read everything Carl Sagan's ever written, because he had the most accessible, cool personal style, and it comes across just as well in print as it does on screen.

I would like to learn to see everything through a scientist's eyes, because everything is science.

And, to quote one of my favorite science guys: "Science rules."

"If wishes was horses, we'd all be eatin' steak."--Jayne Cobb

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Dose of learnin' and stuff . . . now mit pictures!!!!

Because I can, pictures of the plague of snow covering my small mountain town in Upstate NY. Sadly, we're still acres better off than Buffalo or Syracuse.

My most recent batch of library books were picked up from the library:

The Atheist Universe
God: The Failed Hypothesis
John Adams
Walt Whitman's America
Algebra Demystified
The Demon-Haunted World
The Little Book
The Pale Blue Dot
From The Dust Returned
Benjamin Franklin
Mistborn: The Final Empire (I know, shaddup)
Alfred Kinsey
Serenity: Those Left Behind
Firefly: The Official Companion, Vol 1
Fray . . . just to round out the trinity of Whedon--all hail!--who is the closest thing to a creator-god I will accept.

(Also picked up Deliver Us From Evil, The Who's Tommy, and Pink Floyd's The Wall, which I plan to watch entirely sober and entirely alone. No similarly drunk/stonedswhatever friends to hide behind during the scary parts, or sing along with during the sing-y parts. I'll be flying solomente on this mission.)

Only John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were initially on my hit-list. But in the process of getting the former, I ran into a semi-acquaintance that I tried to dodge, and was thence lost in the land of biography . . . which is a much pleasanter land than I once thought it was.

I got jumped by Whitman and Kinsey, and wound up cornered by the acquaintance, anyway. Thankfully, his Seinfeldian stench didn't linger in my coat for too long after.

There's a moratorium on new books for the next month. Till the list is at least halved.

In related news: how long has there been a fat, hot, wet mess o' Ann Coulter books at my library? How have I just noticed this, as often as I'm in that section? I'm not one to advocate the burning of books, but it's a good thing I'm not a smoker, or I'd have started a small pyre with her books alone. Seriously, there were, like, eight of them. It was horrifying, and nauseating seeing all that right-wing, bullshit propaganda and hate-speech in one place, in my beloved library. In the guise of a horse-faced, giraffe-necked, so-called "woman".

And on the heels of it, came the Seinfeldian stench. . . .

Harrowing stuff, these trips to the library.

But on a brighter note, my broken ass isn't quite as broken. Still a bit achy, but nothing I can't ignore.

And on the Rachel Maddow front . . . I need to a) make her mine, b) run away with her to a place where both gay marriage and polygamy are legal, and c) convince her Ana Marie Cox would make a necessary addition to our marriage. Which would all be contingent on getting both their current S.O.s "out of the picture", and preferably in some way that involves neither a woodchipper or jail-time.

Ah, if only I were as diabolical as I am covetous. . . .

"If wishes was horses, we'd all be eatin' steak."--Jayne Cobb

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A quick dose of WTF?

So, Monday around dawn there was an icy rain. A couple hours later, I start out on my way to work. The ground is mysteriously dry, but thinking nothing of it, I start down the front porch steps.

Only to find myself suddenly airborne--all too briefly. I hit every step on the way to the sidewalk. Back, hand, head, ass--it was a mischegoss.

I called out of work, due to a broken ass.

No way was I, already in less than stellar shape, gonna brave the freakish, ninja stealth-ice to walk the quarter mile to my bus stop. And it was seriously just--everywhere. Quarter of an inch of invisible ice on the sidewalk and most of the street. Even after I was sprawled out on it, aching and groaning and embarrassed, I had to really look to see it. Though the fact that it took me two minutes to get to my feet, slipping and sliding all the way, was proof enough.

Finally watched "Good Night, And Good Luck" while I was laid up. Not only was Edward R Murrow an amazing man and journalist, but David Strathairn is an amazing actor.

Gonna start watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" after I sign out. I'm fairly excited.

Not having so much luck with "Beyond Good and Evil". There are too many metaphors and analogies. It's too . . . lyrical, or something. Maybe I should look for an older, stodgier translation. I don't like philosophy that reads like poetry, or fables. The straight dope, that's what I want. Humor and wit are for after I get the jist of what's being said.

Got my tax-filing booklet thingy today. I'm ecstatic.

Seattle . . . I wanna be there so bad. Everywhere I turn, there're slice-of-life vignettes about it, articles, documentaries--speaking of which, "The US vs John Lennon" was really good. I highly recommend it.

Past couple of weeks, I've been thinking it'd be neat to work in an environment that in some way helped promote secular humanism, or at least helped shore up the crumbling bulwark between church and state. Even if I was just fetching and carrying for the people who made the magic happen, it'd be a step in the right direction.

I so dearly need to feel like I'm stepping in the right direction. . . .

Also: huh. . . .

"If wishes was horses, we'd all be eatin' steak."--Jayne Cobb

Saturday, January 3, 2009

I care?

Why do I even care?

People are quite awful. Even at their middling best, they're more than mildly unpleasant. Why do I care what happens to any of them? They're not me, not related to or beloved by me. There are six billion people on this planet, and 99.99998 % of them could take a dirt nap and I wouldn't care or miss them. So why am I so interested in secular humanism? What do I care if the things I think are important don't survive me? Aliens could invade Earth, turn half of the people into slaves, and the other half into barbeque--as long as I wasn't one of them, I don't know that I'd be so upset. Especially if I never have children.

So why do I care?

I know some of it is sheer bloody-mindedness--not wanting "the other guy" to win. But that can't account for all of it, can it? I mean, I'm spiteful, and I like being right more than just about anything. But I'm also lazy, which tends to balance out that spite/ right thing. So it seems spite isn't the motivating factor.

Why do I care? And I do care--some days, more than others. I know the world'll never be exactly the way I think it should be, but I feel as if I have to take a hand in shaping it. Even a small corner of it. Not that I'll get to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Even enlightened self-interest doesn't explain it. Or does it?

I don't know. I'm tired, and stoned, and sulky, and I have to be awake in five hours.

"If wishes was horses, we'd all be eatin' steak."--Jayne Cobb

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dose of Ramble

Brian Greene, Fabric of the Cosmos . . . I'm so dumb. Working my way through it, but so slowly, and I'm ashamed to say three or four pages put me out like a light, without fail. Granted, I've been ridiculously tired, lately, but. . . .

Back and forth between that, and Beyond Good and Evil. I know, I know, me and my junk-reading habits. Hee, though I did spend a goodly chunk of this day off from work reading what some might term crap. But hey, there was this awesome quote--can't remember by who, Hemingway, maybe--about how writing one story is like facing down a rhino, but writing several stories at once was like playing ping-pong.

In my experience, that's strangely true. And it applies to reading particularly difficult books.

Which reminds me of another awesome quote--I really should start keeping track of who says these things--I used to parrot: if you're in difficulties with a book, put it down, and sneak up on it at an hour when it isn't expecting it.

Something like that. Bettr than that, but you get the jist

Tried reading Richard Feynman, didn't like the way he wrote, which saddens me. He comes highly recommended. Though it's way, way more probably that I'm dumb, than he's an over-hyped writer.

My own writing is coming along slowly. The first original fiction I've written in . . . years, maybe. I've lost the knack of characterizing my own characters. My protagonist is too much the two-dimensional, wronged antihero, my antagonist is a cardboard hero, but a real person underneath, a real fuck up--which is actually the way I planned it. But I still can't tell which way is up, don't know what my motivation is, other than the joy of writing.

Sheesh, that sounded smug.

I'm having doubts about the over-the-top french accent the antagonist is sporting, though it's so in keeping with the character.

Blech, tomorrow, it's back to hell. My cute little nickname for work. If we're still 40-60 calls in the red like we've been for the past week, I may just walk out. I seriously can't do this anymore.

"If wishes was horses, we'd all be eatin' steak."--Jayne Cobb