01/30/15

Light Speed

Charles Hard Townes died, Thursday, at 99 years of age.

charles townes 2

You know the light saber? The “Luke, I am your father” light saber?

Only the most transcendent, gnarly piece of weaponized technology in the galaxy, light saber?

The “zzzuun zzzeen” light saber?

Our only hope?

Yeah. That one.

Townes invented it.

You know laser tag? Only the most futuristic, radical development in the history of photon war toys? The Red Ryder BB Gun of every boy’s ’80s Christmases? Yeah, that laser tag. Invented it.

You know laser pointers. The feline waterboard equivalent? Invented it.

You know laser eye surgery? The of-biblical-proportions, miracle surgery that gives sight to the blind? Like Jesus? Invented it.

Laser cutting, laser welding, laser engraving, laser mice, laser drilling, laser marking, laser peening (uh . . . yeah, that laser peening), optical tweezers, barcode readers, spectroscopy, raves, the laser discs, the band Electric Light Orchestra, and, yeah, you heard me, laser harps aka the infinite beam.

laser harp

Invented, invented, aaaaaaaaand invented.

Maybe not directly all of the above, but the man invented the dang laser. Did I also mention he went to my alma mater, Furman University, here in Greenville, SC? And, the namesake of my kids’ primary school? (Other Furman related song content here.)

fu me and j

Oh I hadn’t? Sorry. Yeah so, as it turns out, I went to the same school as the guy who invented the, um wait, what was it? . . . pet rock? electric toothbrush? Sham Wow? ohhhhhhhhhhhh that’s right THE LASER.

Some guy from Greenville, South Carolina doesn’t just bother to invent the laser one day. I mean Einstein. Or Blade Runner. Cobra Commander. Almost anyone but a Greenville boy. It’s like saying, “Oh yeah, Kenny, from second grade invented crude oil.”

You should discover or harness or wield a laser. You don’t invent it. A laser has to spring forth from the clandestine experiments of a mad scientist or a murderous villain in pursuit of world domination.

cobra commander

I mean forget the practical implications, like the aforementioned laser mice. No Star Trek??

And, Dr. Who? Forget it. No that-guy-from-X-men-that-shoots-lasers-out-his-eyes.

Did I mention he first invented the maser? A concentration of the microwave? What in the world is a maser? It sounds like something you say when you’re trying to one-up a friend.

Friend: “Hey I invented the rubber band loom!”

One-upper you: “Oh yeah? Well I invented the, um, the, uh . . . maser! That’s right. You know Maser Tag? Well. That’s me.”

But, here’s the weird part. You miss Townes if you focus on the laser (see what I did there?) or the maser or their numerous useful progeny. Remarkably, Townes real contribution was even greater than the now literally ubiquitous laser (and the not nearly as ubiquitous shameful maser).

He is the winner of both the Nobel Prize for Physics and the prestigious Templeton Award for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. The list of people who have received both?

The 14th Dalai Lama.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta

And Charles Hard Townes.

That’s the list. (Actually may be one or two more but who would want to confuse a good story?) I’ve seen longer lists of people who can recite pi to 50 decimals.

Townes’ real legacy is one of rigorous intellectualism in science and faith. A witness to both. An apostle of academics and a doctor of doctrine. His theology would offend some. And, so would his science. Which probably made him just about on the nose.

“Science and religion are both universal, and basically very similar,” he wrote. “The essential role of faith in religion is so well known that taking things on faith rather than proving them is usually taken as characteristic of religion, and as distinguishing religion from science. . . . It is just this faith in an orderly universe, understandable to man, which allowed the basic change from an age of superstition to an age of science.”

It’s interesting that the God of the Bible is depicted as light.

The light of the world.

A light unto our path.

Lamp unto our feet.

A Flaming Sword

A Burning Bush.

A Pillar of Fire

Tongues of Fire

A Fiery Furnace

The Transfiguration

Paul to Damascus.

A Chariot of Fire.

But, it is not said that God is like “the light of the world.” It is claimed that He is the light of the world. What if it’s not so metaphorical?

Pardon my crude physics.

At the speed of light mass is infinite. Infinite. And, to reach that outer speed limit — which you can’t coincidentally – requires infinite amount of energy. All that there is. And, if you miraculously arrived there, alive, traveling with your infinite self, propelled by all the energy in the universe, you would be surprised to find that time had simply stopped. Timeless. Sound familiar?

I like to think of light, and lasers, as translation points between two languages. God’s and ours. That would make Townes a kind of lamp interpreter. A luminary.

Townes was seated on a park bench in DC when he scribbled the conceptual maser on the back of an envelope. Going so far as to even describe it as a kind of “revelation.” I like to think in the great tradition of biblical prophets, and appropriate to his life’s work, that he went home on a Chariot of very concentrated Fire.

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by Dalama Jones.

Lyrics.

Today’s blong here:

Chariot of Fire

10/15/14

The End

Too tired to make Ebola jokes. Just trust me. This does not end well. I’ve seen all the movies. The strain mutates in a way no one predicts. Becomes airborne or contractable via Snapchat. You’ll meet up with a Sheriff from Georgia and his son. Over orders from his parents to stay close, the son will constantly leave the main group only to attract the attention of infected zombie hoards in increasingly preposterous ways and thereby repeatedly imperil himself and the group. He will inherit his dad’s gun and full-brimmed hat and an insufferable personality. You will pray each week for his morbid demise. It will never happen. All your favorite characters from the show, umm, I mean friends, will die. But, Carl, errr, I mean this hypothetically probable future acquaintance, will continue to boss adults around, be allowed to possess a firearm, and generally not die.

Or, maybe an infected nurse will just fly commercial. And, it will be too late.

I beg you, don’t let this happen to us:

ipoet

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by DNL. Lyrics here.

Today’s blong here:

Too Late

09/15/14

Spare the Rod

When disciplined, my dad had to go out in the yard and pick a long slender limb as a switch for his own beating. Sort of like picking your favorite dog bite.

It’s a weird thing, parental autonomy over a child’s body. It’s a fairly recent regulatory phenomena for the State to violate it. The area of family discipline has been sacrosanct.

So as Adrian Peterson’s choices about parenting with a switch are put on public and literal trial, we are asked to reexamine that sort of line of scrimmage between discipline and abuse.

But there’s an evolution to moral behavior. In the paraphrased words of Sam Harris, if morality is fundamentally about human well being, then as our understanding of what makes humans healthy improves so does our capacity for moral choice. (Unfortunately, there’s a lot of personal dissonance in this statement for me presently.)

We can say with some scientific clarity that a steel chair across the back of a child effects a kind of physical and psychological harm inconsistent with well being. This doesn’t upset the ancient idiom that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. The principle still persists. But, maybe the implement, or switch, can be switched — so to speak.

teacher-west

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by dj clutch. Lyrics here.

Today’s blong here:

Switch

12/22/13

In Orca News

In the words of Calhoun Tubbs, “Wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Hear it goes!” At exactly one, I am the world’s leading expert on Sea World Orca raps. No one has dedicated more of their life’s work to the rapping of Orca related topics than me. To the extent such dedication has been recognized by the academies of science, it has. I have been honored with every possible award and accolade ever given for the rapping of Orca songs. 100% of them. I am known, in Orca, as, “meeeeeaaaaawwwwwwwwwuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa the terrific.”

I finally saw Blackfish.

It largely substantiated the hype. In response to the damning documentary, Sea World has mounted a public relations campaign. I think the movie posed two main questions. First, a moral one. Is it right for us to keep a sophisticated mammal with epic scale emotional and environmental need in what amounts to a wash sink? Notwithstanding the cultural and scientific benefits, the answer seems pretty clearly “no.” The second question is a logistical one. To the extent they remain in captivity, is it permissible for trained handlers to swim with them? I think this question is a closer call than the movie implies. The real indictment of Sea World is a transparency one. Trainers were not given relevant information about the behavioral history of the animals. As a result, they likely were not able to make informed decisions about the attendant risk of their regular proximity to them, rightly justifying substantial bitterness. But, the movie represents an incident rate that suggests that the risk of attack might be an acceptable one so long as trainers are made fully aware and necessary precautions are taken to minimize impact to audiences.

The science is already in. How we treat animals says a lot about us. Apparently, we’re jerkfaces.

seaworld

In other documentary news, my wife and I just saw A Band Called Death, about the rediscovery of an all-black seventies punk band from Detroit called “Totally Alive.” Just kidding. They were called Death.

death

A must see. And, it gives me hope that someone’s going to “coming looking” for my blong material one day too. Until then, more Orca raps all around.

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch.

Today’s blong here:

No Room

11/25/13

State Fair

So apparently you enrich Uranium by centrifuging the atomic material until it separates into two distinct isotopes. The fission of one of those isotopes is particularly effective in creating heat/energy. And at a certain enrichment level, bombs.

Poetically, the nuclear deal with Iran, itself, is a little like a centrifuge. Or maybe that Gravitron ride at the state fair.

Centrifugal Ride

You better hope it keeps spinning. But, you’re face is going to look like this the whole time:

spies like us

In other words, it is in everyone’s interest that the agreement continues but we’re going to feel pretty queasy the whole time.

It’s an interim arrangement that is better than none at all and which creates significant transparency. But, what in the world is Iran’s endgame?

No weapon’s grade program? Forever?

About the odds of doing this:

Milk-Can

or of not enjoying a paper plate of Deep Fried Butter balls. South Carolina State Fair, son.

deep fried butter

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced Haralduz7.

Today’s blong here:

Centrifuge

08/14/13

Man of the Cloth

Like a miniature Podcast Hadron Collider, my recently upgraded-to iPhone 5 nearly destroyed the known universe.

Without warning, my two most severe passions circled back on each other at speeds approaching that of light, when the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, this week, dedicated an entire podcast to the cinema career of Jodie Foster. Like two tiny neutrinos of cultural icon, my favorite sports analyst collided with the star of my indisputably favorite movie, when he declared Contact “unwatchable,” nearly tearing a small earbud shaped black hole in the ESPN Podcenter of space/time. (Actually, I believe he said that this masterpiece of movie story telling “put the ‘un’ in unwatchable,” if I remember correctly. At the time, my body was being stretched infinitely high by the extreme gravitational effects of the microscopic black hole, so I can’t be certain.)

Ask my wife. After years of reading him, I just whisper, in a delicate Boston brogue, “That’s Bill Simmons – That’s Bill Simmons – That’s Bill Simmons,” whenever he does NBA Countdown or appears on PTI or calls in to Colin Cowherd.

Ask my friends. How many times I’ve made them watch Contact. On Blu-Ray. And, repeat:

I guess you could say, “I’m a man of the cloth . . .

without the cloth.”

We all eventually disagree with someone we admire. But, to pursue with such august, over so long a time, such weirdly disparate enthusiasms, as Bill and Contact, and for them to so impossibly and ruthlessly meet on a sports podcast, is to feel as though you’ve reached a kind of event horizon of your interests. Like finding the end of the internet. Only, when you get there, you realize that at the intersection of all you love, your one passion thinks your other passion is a piece of crap.

I’ve been reading Jim Holt’s book, Why Does the World Exist?

I didn’t invite any, but my daughter naively answered the cover, “Because God made it.” I laughed at her and told her that she was not very smart.

Holt’s book is subtitled an “existential detective story,” which I think can be roughly translated, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.” (Yep. Contact quote. Won’t be the last.)

To various know-it-alls, scientific and philosophical, Holt asks, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Which really is the most fundamental question one can ask, whether or not you are a person of faith. I suppose, on its face, it sounds irreligious or sacrilegious. But, it’s not.

For atheists and other variety of secular humanists, the question obviously focuses on what proceeded the singularity in the big bang. Nothing. Or Something. Did the dot of matter and energy at the dawn of time materialize from a real kind of nothingness or is there some alternative explanation of oscillating or infinite regression?

But, the question is true for any Divine belief, as well. How do you explain the existence of a Creator God? Either It came from nothing or always was.

Both theories are imponderable, of course. But, they are the only two possible explanations regardless of your conception of creation, religious or secular.

Since Einstein, the concepts in quantum physics have slowly increased in their philosophical influence over the culture of how we understand our origins and purposes. And, I generally love it. The New York Times Bestsellers List, every year, is guaranteed to have offerings of this kind. As Holt’s subtitle suggests, we love collecting the clues. And, the 13 particles (including Higgs Boson) of the Standard Model are like galactic breadcrumbs, through the universe, back home.

But, it dawned on me, what a weird perspective this is. To look at the manufacturing or components of our existence to draw conclusions about origin or purpose.

I mean, you would never presume to look at a sparkplug to guess about the purpose or design of a Ferrari.

Or to the electrode in the sparkplug.

Or to the copper-core of the electrode in the sparkplug.

Or to the atomic structure of the copper-core of the electrode in the sparkplug.

There is nothing about this “drilling down” that brings you closer to knowing or explaining the joy that the Italian sports car brings to sentient, testosterone fueled bipeds.

spark_plug

I mean a sparkplug tells you something about a Ferrari. It’s electrical. It’s a machine. But, the view at best is fairly myopic and provincial. The truth is wildly more spectacular.

Driving the Ferrari on the Autobahn? Everything you need to know.

So, why isn’t this generally true of humanity? Why doesn’t this personal and relational consciousness we experience, inclined towards morality albeit imperfectly so, tell us more about our origins and purpose than the randomized, inhuman, subatomic particles from which we exploded?

In the same way, driving a car to the store or work or graduation should tell you a good bit more about it’s actual purpose than reverse engineering one of its gaskets or spark plugs.

I won’t make a full defense of Contact, here. The last 30 minutes, however, are essentially flawless. They include (1) the most likely and realistically depicted extraterrestrial encounter ever shown on screen (embedded above) and (2) one of the most poignant expressions of existential faith and experience (embedded below), since Chewy screamed when they slammed the Rebel Base blast doors shut on Han and Luke still trapped out in the perilous subzero landscape of Hoth.

In her earlier disbelief, Jodie Foster’s character, Dr. Arroway, at one point challenges the fully believable priest character, portrayed by Matthew McConaughy at the height of his smarm:

So what’s more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn’t exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn’t have to feel so small and alone?

I have been conditioned my whole life to believe the former. So, my take is not very objective. But, when you look at the Ferrari of our existence, in contrast to the gasket of our quantum origins, I would disagree that a mysterious and relational God has given us no proof of Its existence.

And, in our disagreement with Foster, Bill Simmons and I appear to, in fact, agree. Again.

Black hole averted.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced Haralduz7.

Today’s blong here:

Wrong End

01/30/13

Deer Blind

For those of you who don’t own any camouflage, wooden duck calls, or lawn gnomes, a deer blind is a kind of small, single or double occupancy, hunting shelter, typically elevated, that disguises the gunman from Bambi. I guess the simple advantage of a long-range firearm and scope is apparently not enough imbalance in the transaction.

It’s also what we are, apparently. Deer blind.

Because, if the Deer Antler Spray Bowl doesn’t convince you that GMAs (Genetically Modified Athletes (trademark pending)) are the future, I don’t know what will. I actually think the clinical term is “Antler Velvet Liposomal.” It sounds like a Belk cologne. Or maybe a delicious cake.

Deer-Antler-Spray-IGF-1-spray

Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens pro-bowl linebacker, is alleged to have sprayed a deer antler hardener under his tongue to accelerate the recovery of his torn triceps, as well as drunk negatively charged water and maybe re-eaten his own once-digested ear wax. It doesn’t matter whether or not he actually did. Even that the idea might have materialized in someone else’s mind just for the purposes of falsely accusing him of it is enough lunacy to prove the point. Athletes, and the scientists and handlers that would cater to their success, will do anything to gain competitive advantage. Witches brew, monkey brain, water aerobics. (Don’t laugh. The Y has a brutal class.) But, as it turns out Deer Antler spray might be rampant, one of those industry secrets for which the rest of us are just now getting a late pass.

So we can either continue deer blind, so to speak, or we can accept that so long as there are people running and jumping and tackling each other there are going to be people injecting animal parts into their human parts. I mean, surely it’s one of the Seven Seals or Bowls of the Biblical Tribulation that the demure and gentlemenly Vijay Singh, of all people, is quoted as saying something to the effect: “I didn’t know that antler extract was banned.” Whhaaat?? Vijay’s on the antler sauce?

I’m just telling you. This is a no win deal. But, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I think the saying goes. So, for today’s blong, I’ve detailed my recommendations for staying in peak competitive form, well into your early 90s. Now, you might grow a lion’s mane and a small schnauzer tail but you’ll be able to dominate neighborhood H.O.R.S.E for years to come. Your fingernails might fall out as well. But, you’ll be able to throw your curbside trash can 150 yards. You’ll have no elbows. But, you’ll do 500 pushups at at a time — with your tongue. You’ll smell like panda. But, your teeth will win an olympic medal in three events. You’ll grow wings and a scorpion stinger.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch.

Today’s blong here:

Deer Blind

07/17/12

No Spin

So the science community is again threatening us with finding the Higgs-Boson. Notwithstanding the admitted and sheer improbability of ever finding the “G-dd@amn Particle” in the avalanche of data compiled by the various particle accelerators around the world, every six months or so the physics community, the mainstream media, or some conspiracy of the two warn us that they’re about to. Watch out. Oh you thought it was called the “God Particle”? Sorry. No. That’s the sanitized-for-public-consumption version. It’s called the “G-dd@amn Particle” because they can’t find the dang thing. Honest.

Theoretical physics is awesome. This idea that men and women scratching lonely numbers on a sheet of paper could make, not simply educated guesses, but Battleship direct hits on some of the greatest and deepest mysteries of the cosmos, without the aid of clinical experiment, is pretty special. And, to those on political philosophy only, books about it are my favorite.

But, there is some irony in it all. Richard Dawkins and others are ruthless in condemning a kind of “god of the gaps” mentality among the religious. I don’t know the answer, so it must have been “god.” I can’t explain creation, so it must have been “god.” Tebow can’t throw, so it must have been “god.”

But, that’s sort of precisely what theoretical physics is, right? There is a hole in the data. A paradox in the theory. A gap in the explanation. And, these brilliant individuals make a guess, albeit educated and well measured, but a guess nonetheless about the “god” necessary to bridge the gap. String theory. Multiple universes. Higgs-Boson. These are all a type of “god of the gaps” — the only explanation we can come up that makes the rest of what we do see and experience make sense. To be sure, many a scientist has been rocked by an unexpected empirical turn. Expanding universe. The attributes of light. But, regularly we are looking for those things as we’ve imagined them to exist.

And with Higgs-Boson, specifically, scientists have all types of expectations about its character. It has no spin. It’s massive. Other particles are generated out of its decay. It’s actually part of an enormous and ubiquitous background Higgs field, that gives reality it’s physical structure.

The famous theoretical physicist Lawerence Krauss said, “That’s the difference between science and religion. We don’t require the universe to be what we want — we force our beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality.”

But, isn’t that precisely what the search for Higgs-Boson is? Expecting the universe to be exactly as we believe it must be?

For a change, though, it would be nice to “discover” something we didn’t expect.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by pumpkinFoot.

Today’s song blog here:

All Spin

07/9/12

Sporks over Knoons

So, we’re on vacation.

My wife and I are finally getting around to watching Forks over Knives, the convicting documentary I’ve discussed previously concerning plant based nutrition. As in, we’re literally watching it as I type.

So, I thought I’d do a running journal review.

8:58 Put in Forks over Knives.

9:00 My son calls me into the guest room, where he’s sleeping, to share some sabermetric pitching statistics about the Negro League ball club, the Homestead Grays. Don’t ask me. Your guess is as good as mine.

9:10 Movie makes it’s opening case: A plant based diet would cure our overweight and diseased generation.

9:11 I separate Tollhouse Chocolate Chunk cookie dough slabs by the recommended inch and a half on the bake sheet and slide into oven. Assuming “plant-based” diet, includes the Nestle plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Set timer for 14 minutes.

9:15 All three kids standing in the den at various stages of clothedness. My daughter has a dollop of toothpaste on her brush that could end gingivitis in Nepal.

9:22 Alarming statistics correlating animal proteins and cancer.

9:27 Line each of our bowls with a cookie, and spoon indiscriminate quantity of Blue Bell Cookies ‘n Creme on top. From logo on half gallon drum, now have devastating reason to believe that ice cream is somehow derived from what appears to be a four-legged, cloven hoofed “animal.” Thought it was a grain.

9:28 Return in time to catch a tight shot of a human chest splayed open for bypass surgery. Luckily only the slightest resemblance between deep tissue and an ice cream sunday.

9:28:30 Halfway through my own bowl. Have abandoned use of all utensils, forks, knives, and ladles. Just troughin’ it.

9:46 Terrified by frozen smiles of families enjoying the first processed foods in footage from the 50s. These clips likely represent the only remaining evidence that one could actually enjoy themselves in the company of family.

9:54 Slipping into dessert coma.

10:23 Motivational triad of “pleasure seeking,” “pain avoidance,” and “energy conservation” blamed for everything from over eating to the Iran Contra affair to Dick Vitale’s voice. Strong alibi next time I’m called a cowardly, lazy, pervert.

10:29 Speaking of lazy, wife catches me allowing last melted ounces of ice cream to pour slowly into my mouth from bowl held aloft over my reclined head.

10:42 85 year old woman confesses to using “a lot of gravy” in her life.

10:43 Think to myself, “I love gravy.”

10:49 Speaking of perverted. I’m fading fast, but I believe that an elderly asian gentlemen just said that a plant-based diet helps men continue to “raise the flag” so to speak. I know it’s nearly two hours in, but this movie officially has my attention.

10:54 Impressive string of anecdotal and clinical successes. Numerous individuals have had serious heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, fatigue, and all variety of other chronic conditions halted or even dramatically reversed.

10:55 Lick my fingers.

11:06 My wife and I discuss a hybrid strategy to incorporate, better, a plant-based diet for our family. Baby steps. Something like sporks over knoons.

But, speaking of cowardice errrr I mean “pain avoidance,” I don’t suspect I’ll have the guts to do any of this stuff. Because, frankly that’s what it will take in our culture of convenience and indulgence — some serious guts to change what we put in our guts.

I thought I’d repost the blong from a year ago.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Jaq from Germany.

Today’s song blog here:

It's like shhhhh

04/14/12

A Failure to Launch

It’s really too easy, right? The subconscious inferiority complex latent in a phallic rocket that fails to launch?

As we’ve discussed previously in blong, North Korea insisted on going forward with a missile launch otherwise condemned by the United States and the rational portion of the international community. North Korea said that its rocket launch aimed to put a satellite called Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star) in orbit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the regime’s founder, Kim Il Sung. But the United States and other countries had denounced the launch as an attempt to test the country’s ballistic missile capabilities. Apparently, various UN Security Council resolutions forbid Pyongyang to carry out missile or nuclear tests. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed, “There is no doubt that this satellite would be launched using ballistic missile technology.”

Unfortunately, at launch, the rocket impotently broke into pieces.

Good heavens, though. You’re not trying if you haven’t wrecked a billion dollar rocket. How many of ours have exploded or failed to get off the platform or, worse, killed an entire crew. The difference with North Korea is that, in all its privacy and isolation, it has necessarily placed so much more at stake. A rocket launch, flaunted in the face of the international community, is like an opportunity to vindicate their way of life and governance. There is nothing humorous or shameful about a failed missile launch. Unless, you’ve couched its success as a thing of great honor.

Kwangmyongsong apparently means shining star. And, we’re all trying to put ours in the heavens. It’s our basest instinct.

Plus, I’m mos def conjugating it kwangmyonblong from now on. Superstarnewsrapper?

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by pumpknFoot.

Today’s song blog here:

Shining Star