Archive for August, 2011

The Attachment Of Free Molecules

“You’re an educated man: do you know what smell is?”

“A sense.”

“More than that. Smell is the essence, the attachment of free molecules of the thing itself. If we could really see each other, we would see clouds of loose molecules and atoms. We’re dripping with them. Every person you meet, you exchange some with. That’s why lovers reek of each other, because they’ve joined so completely that they’re virtually the same person.”

—Martin Cruz Smith, Wolves Eat Dogs

Gentleman, Start Your Engine


Before DNA testing and black pride, the South, not Africa, used to be the Old Country for African Americans. As W. Fitzhugh Brundage observed in The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory, because there were few physical memorials to the black past, this history was preserved in stories, which resulted in a feeling akin to ownership, if not of the land, then of place. That was in itself still a relatively new experience for me, not being afraid of being in a black place, not bracing myself for the anti-Tom vibe or the anti-queer vibe, which were often pretty much the same thing. Black New Orleans during Katrina V was extraordinarily friendly. Every single black person I passed on the street greeted me. Every one.

I bought a bag of fried chicken and some white bread at a cramped soul-food counter on Claiborne Avenue and sat to eat on a piece of concrete under the expressway. Not far away, black people were relaxing on lawn chairs beside their trucks, coolers at their feet. A vendor hawked fresh fruit to traffic paused at the lights. I thought of how my sisters and my parents would be astonished to see me, of all self-conscious black people, gnawing chicken in a public street. They would have laughed and teased me. I began to cry, it was a meal straight out of the distant down-home past, and I missed my family so much all of a sudden.

Congo Square, that meeting place of slavery and music, where Gottschalk came to get ideas, was still boarded up, locked away, but I went to hear the young brass bands in the neighborhood bars whenever I was asked. I danced in second lines; I danced in the streets, something I’d never been moved to do before.

—Darryl Pinckney, “Deep In The Bowl,” September 2011 Harper’s

Wearing Our Grandfathers’ Clothes

Left Behind

for ala, from the ship

“Everybody’s lookin’ to believe something or somebody. In fact, two people hit on me the other night at that benefit, about Jesus. Jesus people. There’s a lot of Jesus talk going around in certain worlds.”

—Jerry Garcia

When the spring gushes forth, it does not know at first where it will go.

                                                                                                              —I Ching

About three months ago, the world commenced to end. On May 21, at precisely 6 p.m. in each time zone, the Lord plucked up into Hebbin the faithful 3%, those who had managed to evade the snares of this world. And then He rumbled those left behind with an earthquake mighty, the first of many miseries that will plague the ungodly—yea, without cease—until October 21. Upon which date He will squash the planet like a bug. And that will be that.

Such was the plan, anyway. At least according to Harold Camping, an 89-year-old electronic preacher who had read him some bible, and found therein keys to all sorts of kingdoms. Camping had divined from his readings that the May 21, 2011 end-times festivities would kick off with an earthquake in New Zealand. And—yea, verily—there did indeed occur on that day an earthquake in New Zealand. As well as one in San Francisco, and one in Iceland. But these were mere rocks of the cradle, compared to the world-shaking thunderation that Camping had predicted. And today, nearly three months later, it is abundantly clear that, earthquakes or no, 3% of the world’s population—or about 200 million people—did not go floating way up in the middle of the air, there on May 21, as Camping had said they would.

Indeed, Camping himself is still earth-bound. When the day of judgement passed without apparent judgement, Camping pronounced himself “flabbergasted.”

“It has been a really tough weekend,” Camping said of that weekend when the world failed to begin to end.

“I’m looking for answers,” he added.

Join the club, bub.

But lo: the answers came for Camping quickly enough. By May 23, less than 48 hours after the end-of-the-world no-show, Camping had Divined what had Happened. Seems that Judgement Day really did arrive on May 21. But it was a “silent judgement.” Camping had somehow missed this detail, in his earlier readings. De Lord had in fact looked down upon de people on that day, and found them wanting. All of all, on Earth, were—are—doomed. Case closed. But, in one of His occasional acts of mercy, He has decided not to subject for five months all and every left-behind sundry to all and every manner of trial and torment. He will instead simply turn out the lights, all at once, on October 21. Camping and Co. will go up and play harps. All other earthlings will wink into nothingness.

So let it be jabbered. So let it be done.


Orwell Encounters An Extraordinary Fungus

Have you read anything interesting lately? I read for the first time Marlowe’s Faustus, & thought it rotten, also a mangy little book on Shakespeare trying to prove that Hamlet = Earl of Essex, also a publication called The Enemy of Wyndham Lewis (not the professional RC), who seems to have something in him, also something of Osbert Sitwell, also some odes of Horace, whom I wish I hadn’t neglected hitherto—otherwise nothing, not having much time or energy. Mrs. Carr sent me two books of Catholic apologetics, & I had great pleasure in reviewing one of them for a new paper called New English Weekly. It was the first time I had been able to lay the bastinado on a professional RC at any length. I have got a few square feet of garden, but have had rotten results owing to rain, slugs & mice. I have found hardly any birds’ nests—this place is on the outskirts of London, of course. I have also been keeping a pickle-jar aquarium, chiefly for the instruction of the boys, & we have newts, tadpoles, caddis-flies etc. If when you are passing, if you ever do, the pumping station at the beginning of the ferry-path, you see any eggs of puss moths on the poplar trees there, I should be awfully obliged if you would pick the leaves & send them to me by post. I want some, & have only been able to find one or two here. Of course I don’t mean make an expedition there, I only mean if you happen to be passing. What is Dennis doing these days? I want to consult him about an extraordinary fungus that was dug up here, but of course he never answers letters.

—George Orwell, letter to Eleanor Jaques, June 1932

Terms Of Endearment

Tiny Bubbles

Science Men now believe they possess experimental data indicating the existence of multiple universes.

We already know that such universes exist. But Science Men, being Science Men, like to have something they can call “proof.”

Formerly, Dr. Hiranya Peiris, a cosmologist at University College London, had written with her colleagues a paper for Physical Review Letters, in which it was noted that there do exist Difficulties, in trying to observe other possible universes, from within the “bubble” of this one.

However, Dr. Peiris—who, as a female homo sapiens, validates Dr. Possum’s repeated assertions on this blog that some Science Men are, in fact, women—in that paper proposed an inspired solution.

To wit:

The inflationary para-digm has been very successful at explaining the initial conditions giving rise to our observable universe. Considering the initial conditions for inflation itself leads to the possibility that our observable universe might only be a tiny piece of a vast multiverse. In this scenario, known as eternal inflation, our observable universe resides inside a single bubble nucleated out of a false vacuum de Sitter space. The rate of bubble formation is outpaced by the accelerated expansion of the inflating false vacuum, and therefore inflation does not end everywhere.

Eternal inflation is ubiquitous in theories with extra dimensions (string theory being the primary example) and positive vacuum energy. However, testing this scenario is extremely difficult since eternal inflation is a pre-inflationary epoch: any signals from outside of our bubble would naively appear to be stretched to unobservable super-horizon scales. While this is in general true, one prospect for probing this epoch lies in the observation of the collisions between vacuum bubbles. These collisions produce inhomogeneities in the inner-bubble cosmology, raising the possibility that their effects are imprinted in the cosmic microwave background.

And lo: that is just what has been done. Through scrutinizing seven years of data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anistotropy Prove, which presents in minute detail the residual glow from the moments of this universe’s formation, Peiris and her people have detected, through just such afore-referenced “collisions,” remnants of several extra-this-place “bubble universes.”

And thus:

The idea that other universes—as well as our own—lie within “bubbles” of space and time has received a boost.

Studies of the low-temperature glow left from the Big Bang suggest that several of these “bubble universes” may have left marks on our own.

Though, then, to the BBC, to, like, bring us all down, Dr. Peiris throws this wet blanket:

Dr Peiris said that even if these bubble universes were confirmed, we could never learn anything further about them.

“It would be wonderful to be able to go outside our bubble, but it’s not going to be possible,” she explained.

Bollocks. With respect, here, I think the good doctor is thinking too small. As I have observed on this blog before, when I was but a wee lad, no one with a Right Mind even believed that “multiverses” existed, except in the too-fertile minds of aberrant science-fiction writers. Yet, today—behold: this piece—they are Real.

So, who’s to say we “can’t” go outside the bubble of this universe? Certainly not I. And that is why I am even now preparing to enter into an experiment, with an esteemed extra-gifted colleague, in which these bubbles of space and time shall, hopefully, be utilized to move breakfast from one place, and worldtrack, on this planet, to another place, but same worldtrack, on this same planet.

Stay tuned. Brave new world(s).


My Sweet Lord

As the long black limousine moved smoothly away, the entourage headed back up the steps. Behind them bounced Bubba Percy, returning from the New Deal Tavern, looking disturbed and puzzled. He stopped beside me and watched the car drive off. “Jesus fuck my ass!”

“Bubba, I don’t think that’s what they mean by taking Jesus as your personal savior.”

—Michael Malone, First Lady

Handl’s In The Basement, Mixin’ Up The Medicine

A 31-year-old Swedish man may be on his way to the pokey because the authorities don’t much like his hobby.

Richard Handl, of the delightfully named burg of Angelhome, is interested in nuclear physics. So he figured—why not?—that he’d split atoms in his kitchen.

For months, Handl set about building a nuclear reactor in his home. Nuclear materials he purchased over the intertubes—on eBay, or, of course, “from Germany.” Some, creatively, he plucked from common sources, such as the americium he teased out of household smoke detectors, or the trithium, one of the key components of hydrogen bombs, he discovered in keychains.

Like any good citizen of the intertubes era, he blogged about his journey, on a site called “Richard’s Reactor.” Proudly, he showed off there his uranium glass marble, the radium he retrieved from old clock-fingers.

Forthrightly, he defined his mission:

My project is to build a working nuclear reactor. Not to gain electricity, just for fun and to see if it’s possible to split atoms at home. I would be a breeder reactor, and my primary goals is to carry out two main reactions[.]

Faithfully, he chronicled even his failures—such as when he created a small meltdown on his stove (pictured below).

A meltdown on my cooker!!!

No, it not so dangerous. But I tried to cook Americium, Radium and Beryllium in 96% sulphuric-acid, to easier get them blended. But the whole thing exploded upp in the air…

Of cource I thrown away my pills at the left side, and I didn’t drink the juice-syryp in the right.

Like any intrepid researcher, Handl, following the meltdown, simply “cleaned up the mess on the cooker and then I bought some more radium and continued the experiment.”

At some point Handl thought maybe he’d notify Sweden’s Radiation Authority, to make sure that what he was doing was okay. The Authority contacted the police, who came out to Handl’s place, checked out his radium, americium, uranium, and whatnot, and arrested him for unauthorized possession of nuclear materials. He could potentially serve two years in prison.

“I have always been interested in physics and chemistry,” Handl said, adding he just wanted to “see if it’s possible to split atoms at home.”

Queried by the BBC as to whether what he was about might not be considered highly dangerous, Handl replied: “Yes, but I have a Geiger counter to measure the radiation and I have it under control.”

Now that he has encountered Johnny Law, Handl says that henceforth “I will stick to the theory.”

This sort of thing was inevitable. Humans are curious, and clever, and the information is out there: the Progressive, not so long ago, printed, based on then-publicly available information, a recipe for building an atomic bomb.

Not everybody is going to be content with confining nuclear-fiddling to governments, and officially sanctioned Science Men.

Handl’s own blog observes that he was not the first person to go nuclear at home—apparently some boy scout got there before him—and he certainly won’t be the last.

As Handl notes: Geiger counter. Good to have around.


They saw wild pigs running near the lake, and a soaring osprey. The mountains drew closer. Papyrus grew beside the water. Pelicans made their geometric, card-trick pterodactyl dives.

They had reached the edge of the Paz petrol roadmap Lucas had been using to navigate. Its corner sections were worn away and missing.

“Do we have a decent map?” Lucas asked.

“Just this,” said Sonia. She handed him the rental car company’s map. It was not very detailed.

“This is the kind of map that killed Bishop Pike,” Lucas said.

“The one for us,” said Sonia.

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate

Morning Dew

The Melons of Sebastopol

In a former essay, as a historiographer of this campaign, I made a signal failure. I was too modest to chronicle personal observations and experiences. The consequence was that at the end of the demonstration I had nothing to write about. That mistake shall not occur again. After all, the experience of one man is that of thousands; chronicle this faithfully, and the record of any important event, from a too confiding experience with unripe melons to the storming of Sebastopol, is before the world.

—Charles Henry Webb

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When I Worked

August 2011