This Issue: Out Of The Tunnel, Into The Light
How do we become enthusiasts of a subject? Natural curiosity usually comes to mind or it can be the pleasurable pursuit to bring satisfaction and/or a sense of accomplishment. It could be difficult for anyone to give an exact accounting of when they become an enthusiast of the physics of the universe. It was probably several events. It could begin with looking at the night sky and wondering how it all began or perhaps it was that occasional article in OMNI magazine. One could have been a fan of sci-fi movies and novels to make one wonder if ideas in the plot had a substantial basis in science. It could have been those presentations by Carl Sagan, physicist and television personality, who gave us hints of secrets in the universe to be revealed in the future.
Several year ago I read about that unusual fellow Richard Feynman and how he had solved the Challenger space shuttle failure with a simple physics demonstration. He placed an O ring in ice, removed it and then broke it. The O ring was the culprit. That was the cause of the accident since the O ring could not withstand cold temperatures. That was crafty indeed. That presentation was an enticement to read the first two lectures of his QED, quantum electrodynamics, experiments. Those lectures were a revelation. We could predict the various paths of electrons reflected off of glass panels with great accuracy. He had demonstrated the probability paths of particles and waves. Anyone could replicate the paths and amplitudes of the electrons by following the famous Feynman diagrams. In one scenario he pointed to an electron rebounding in reverse "See, he wrote, "an electron can go back in time." O.K. some basis for time travel for a sci-fi movie. It was then that I became a serious enthusiast. An explanation is required for non-enthusiasts. Briefly stated quantum mechanics is the study of the property of atoms and its associated particles and how those interact with one another. It is a bound system restricted to discrete values; quantization. Hence, quantum.
The YouTube videos by notable particle/theoretical physicists came next. Some subjects; super symmetry, quantum tunneling, locality, atomic energy levels, wave function, quantum super position, and strong and weak nuclear forces. I soon came to the state of 'the backup problem'. It is less of a problem for students of physics than for enthusiasts. Some basic knowledge of a subject would have to be studied before I could go forward. Further, was I gathering only information as opposed to knowledge? I restarted with the Plank Constant developed by the noted physicist Max Planck. It defines the amount of energy that a photon can carry according to the frequency of the wave in which it travels. I worked the formula and also sketched the electromagnetic wave transmission diagram complete with the amplitudes and frequency scales. Now I was confident of some basic knowledge beyond wave and particle probabilities. Sketching these diagrams was critical for understanding.
I soon found that most of these theories or principles are not without objections. There are alternate theories in nearly every theory in quantum mechanics. For example the counter theory to the Copenhagen Interpretation would be the Many Worlds Theory. I came to the conclusion that I should only concern myself with generally accepted theories. To go any further would be a digression. Later these alternative theories could be explored. I continued with the Copenhagen Interpretation. It includes the famous double slit experiments that illustrates we can only know the probability outcomes of particles passing through the slits of a barrier. We cannot know the original mechanics of the subject particle before an observation. The search continued into a few subjects that were confusing and would only result in gathering information as opposed to knowledge. Einstein's Spooky Action at a Distance or entanglement of particles at a distance was beyond my understanding so it can go on the back burner.
I continued somewhere between gathering information and knowledge and backing up and reviewing as necessary. The subject of quantum tunneling arose and I dove into the subject via the video presentations. I only understood that tunneling is responsible for the sun's fusion. Every video I watched used an analogy as an explanation. A diagram would depict a particle sneaking under a brick wall or a steel post on its merry way. The funniest one pictured a hydrogen particle with a tail wiggling inside a box. This wasn't working. There are no walls, posts or wiggling tails in the quantum world. The next video showed more promise. There was a diagram showing the flow of paths or particles across a time line and although there was a barrier a particle made its way past the barrier. The presenter explained that one particle could make it through that had a probability of perhaps less that 1%. Yes, probabilities as explained in the QED lectures. The next demonstration was the perfect explanation. This is very brief. An alpha particle is held in the nucleus and must overcome the strong nuclear force to escape. It is referred to as an energy barrier. There is potential energy and the forces act over short distances. The alpha particle is trapped by this force. The alpha particle can overcome the energy barrier in a very short region. Then it can move into the outer environment. The particle escapes from the force holding it, but it must be done in a very short period of time. The sun is full of hydrogen protons and two protons must combine for fusion but since these positive protons repel each other something must bring them together. On occasion a proton will gain energy (as above) and the escaping particle will gain enough energy to bring these protons together to produce fusion. While the probability of this collision is quite small there are literally billions of protons available in the sun's core to make this action possible. Fusion is not possible without quantum tunneling. It is a good explanation of the strong nuclear force in the atom and the weak nuclear force of the sun, two of the four fundamental interactions of physics, and also confirmation of E=MC^2. I also sketched the diagram that indicates energy levels and the time element. The knowledge factor was a near to complete as achievable.
The quantum theories floating around seem to become ever more complicated but it may have seemed similarly complicated in years past before Newton or Galileo. Solutions seem distant for dark energy, dark matter and theories that incorporate gravity in the quantum world. String theory is gaining in popularity and a few theoretical physicists have some math conjectures that adds credence to string theory. This is the theory that has a universe with nine dimensions. What! Perhaps they are wrong but their pursuit of an explanation can be fruitful. Although the theory may fail something unexpected may be discovered in the process.
We appreciate the difference between information and knowledge and we must also recognize that in this quantum world we should admit that we usually only have knowledge of a theory. This knowledge does not mean that we have proof. Do the mathematics prove a theory? We must demonstrate the theory and make valid predictions based on the theory. This can be problematic in quantum mechanics. For example, after the Nobel prize was awarded for the QED theory Freeman Dyson, one of the supporters of the theory, admitted that the mathematics of the theory was wrong or at best incomplete. That problem remains today. We claim that a new particle is discovered if it was statistically confirmed at 5 sigma. That is a probability of one in 3.5 million. If later the same particle is tested at 4 sigma will we continue to claim its validity? Do we keep testing until we get to the acceptable sigma? We can be suspicious of the continual testing. Evaluating gravity in string theory is a problem. Gravity used in quantum mechanics requires a mediating particle referred to as the graviton which has yet to be discovered. Are the nine dimensions of string theory simply a convenient number? Does someone favoring string theory add or subtract a dimension to fit the theory? We can blame the inconsistencies or failed theories on the rush to publish problem and to a lesser degree the same is true with other branches of science. It is also the usual swirling winds and chatter of disagreements with theories and failed conjectures, off handed objections, and reworking the math that has always existed. This will eventually turn to meaningful debates as exampled by Einstein vs Lemaitre. Lemaitre proposed the big bang theory of the universe and Einstein insisted on the static state theory. Einstein conceded to the better theory. It is just science working its way through the noise to find a better solution. It is a necessary exercise.
Classical mechanics was easier to evaluate since much could be proven with physical demonstrations, laboratory tests and microscopes coupled with usually simple equations. Quantum mechanics is more complex since it deals with the infinitesimal or the unseen. Particle physicists are currently searching for the basic foundations of sub atomic particles. First, how will they prove its existence? Can we perform laboratory tests on earth to compare waves or particles in the far cosmos which have a different state of conditions? As an example a glass of water in Miami is a liquid but the same glass of water in Antarctica is a solid (but only until climate change hits).
While quantum mechanics is more complicated than the achieved proofs of Newton or Galileo there is some promise on the horizon for quantum discoveries. We have telescopes that can take us further back in time. Machine learning has made some strides in recent years since they have modified formulas with their own mathematics to help us evaluate quantum phenomena. There are enough theories and creative thinking in the scientific community to keep the dream alive of bringing everything together with that little equation that explains everything. It is referred to as the God equation. That has been the goal of the scientific community since the journey began. We have that desire to bring everything together in the universe for one essential and undeniable truth. Conversely, does classical and quantum theory have to fit together? It is easy to claim quantum mechanics explains one type of physical activity and classical mechanics explains another type of physical activity.
It will be a challenging journey through a long and dark tunnel before we arrive at a conclusion......and see the light.
A Secret Code
It was 1968. We would look back on that year as the time of burning cities, the SDS, the Weather Underground, The Black Panthers, bombings, plane hijackings, assassinations, anti-war demonstrations, hippies and yuppies. In totality the events were difficult to bring into focus for meaning and accordingly it appeared to be mere chaos. Society was falling apart. Then as events unfolded with manifestoes and speeches we could see that this generation was riding the wave of frustration and wanted their political day of reckoning. Our government was built on systemic inequity and deceit. The old standards would have to be dismantled. The rot of our society had to be shoveled away. Eventually the ones who professed violence as a means to a solution crawled back into the darkness.
I could embrace the anti-war movement and the protest marches that expressed that sentiment. I had left Vietnam recently and I came to the conclusion everything we were trying to accomplish was futile and on some order of magnitude inhumane. As for the inherent racism there had been an explanation of the angst in the cot across from me. My black friend told me that he was going to join the Black Panthers when he returned to the real world, "that's the real war for us....not this one" (filled with expletives). He told me that our friendship would come to an unfortunate end if I were on the wrong side of events at the wrong time. I think he was serious, he was an angry person. But we remained friends to the end. I came to the realization that their time was overdue. It remains overdue. As commonly claimed, tongue in cheek, the yuppies and hippies eventually went to work for hedge funds and leveraged buy out firms. So much for turning the system upside down.
My thoughts on that day in 1968 was that I would wear the Army uniform for the last time. I would shop for clothes someplace other than Uncle Sam's. Now I was staring at the sergeant facing me from across the battered gray desk. He knew about me. We were not friends but he knew my reputation and he knew some of my friends.
"Would you care to reenlist? The bonus is two thousand dollars and it is what we refer to as a short reenlistment of only two years."
"Sarge, I really am ready to get out. I'm over it, that's enough."
"We can also offer a change of military occupation specialty." He passed a list of perhaps ten choices across the desk.
I glanced at the list. I wasn't flattered by the offers. Soldiers were leaving in droves. The Army had a problem. Their ranks were being decimated.
"No, I don't think that appeals to me. It's just the service in general."
""I understand. I had you pegged for that. It's just that I am required to ask."
"That's one reason that I am leaving. There are just too many requirements."
He laughed and shook his head knowingly. "Nothing wrong with that. You did your part." He handed me a single sheet of paper. "Look this over. Let me know if everything is correct."
I looked over the form and it seemed to be in order. The 'been there' awards and a couple of common medals were listed. it was the history of a person who breezed through the military most unremarkably. The form stated 'honorable' and indicated my transfer to the Army Reserve (inactive) for five years. I signed the form quickly.
"Everything is correct." I handed the form back to him.
"You have three months from your discharge date to reenlist at your highest rank if you change your mind."
I nodded acknowledgement. I didn't care to reply to the offer. We shook hands and I left pell-mell.
I sped through the front gate in my 1962 Chevy. The tether had been clipped and I was free. I felt like mashing the accelerator to the floor until I hit 80 years old. Everything was in front of me and there were no limits. And I had 31 days of accrued leave payable to me. I looked in the rearview mirror. I was leaving a regimented world for a world of freedom. Good luck to those who remained and bless them that are no more.
Months later i was notified of a minor typo error on my discharge form. The veteran affairs clerk at the university caught the error and told me to request a correction from the Department of Defense so that my VA benefits for tuition would not be adversely effected. I was in a greater hurry on that day in 1968 than I realized. When the error was pointed out to me I also noticed a box for a SPN code on the same form. I shrugged my shoulders. More military nonsense. Who cares since that stuff is in the past.
Fast forward forty years from the discharge. It was a good forty years, but for some other veterans it wasn't since they were unknowingly caught in a web of deceit by the organization that they had served. A few nights ago I was on the internet completing some research. The usual thing happened. I was drilling down in the detail and something caught my eye. It was a reference for a veterans conference pertaining to a military snafu for those who served between (circa) 1954 and 1976. I was attracted to the subject considering all of the recent publicity concerning the problems in veteran affairs. I was directed to You Tube and I played the video. There were three participants in the video. There was a journalist, a veteran and a retired military chaplain. I could see that the conference was not recent. The reception was grainy and the presentation did not have that 'look' of a digital recording. It had the visual appearance of a 70's film.
The veteran, the interviewee, was explaining his previous military service complication and how he eventually received his justice. He began by explaining the SPN code on the discharge form (DD214). My attention piqued, aha! the mysterious SPN code (separation program number). The veteran explained that years ago he had taken the civil service exam and had placed 1st in the score ranking for a particular position. It was a temporary clerical position that could evolve into a permanent position. He was told that he was number eleven on the waiting list. How could that be if his ranking was first? He could not get an answer to his question so he hired an attorney to pursue a claim against the civil service commission. The attorney reviewed all of the veteran's documents and uncovered the meaning of the SPN code and obtained a listing of the SPN codes then referenced those designations to the veteran's military record. The code indicated something derogatory about the veteran's behavior although he had received an honorable discharge. The case was presented to the Civil Service Commission and to the Defense Department. A review of his military record did not reveal any valid reason or proof for the SPN code designation. He won the appeal and his SPN was corrected. The veteran did not reveal the incorrect code to the journalist. It must have been something that was fairly ugly that, although possibly untrue, he did not want to mention.
The veteran and the former chaplain elaborated on the problems of the suspect derogatory codes. The military had established these codes for two reasons. The first reason is that the discharge may require further explanations that establish conditions for the discharge. The SPN code 425: discharge to enlist for officer's training or SPN 205: release from active duty to active reserve status. These codes serve a purpose for personnel history references. However, there were other codes which were used to describe undesirable traits in a service member. These codes could be used in conjunction with an honorable discharge. For example SPN code 216: ineptitude, 461: inadequate personality (?), 265: character disorder, 367: aggressive reaction, 41A: apathy. And there are many more. The majority of the codes relate to a specific regulation for military classifications (not behavior oriented), but at least a couple of dozen are based on what could be categorized as subjective behavior assessments or mere opinions that do not have supporting evidence. It became apparent that while the veteran could not be subject to a court martial and deemed dishonorable they would, in some circumstance by subjective reasoning, be the victim of dubious opinions.
The veteran explained that these codes would travel with the veteran throughout his life. If a veteran were applying for a mortgage in a VA loan the discharge document would be required evidence and a derogatory SPN code could be used for a refusal of the loan. Yet it would not be the reason given for a refusal of a loan. The retired chaplain claimed that there was evidence that the SPN code was used as a reference for veterans receiving service at a VA hospital. If a veteran had a derogatory SPN code then they would be shoved to the back of the waiting list. Additionally, other possible problems arose with the SPN code related to employment opportunities. Many employers had received the SPN code listing and used it to deny employment to those who had unacceptable SPN designations. The companies mentioned in the conference were major government contractors. It was not clear if the SPN code descriptions were made available to these employers or if they obtained them surreptitiously. It would seem logical that government contractors were supplied with the documentation by the government. While the codes were of some practical use as a definitive record of the service person's military history they also had an element of abuse. Was a derogatory code given to some veterans by someone in the chain of command who had a dispute or personality clash with a service member? Were personality disorders assigned by non-professionals? The SPN codes could have been used against those with contrary political and social opinions. In light of these misuses of the SPN codes they were discontinued in the late 70's.
I reflected on my experiences in that institution of service. If you had a minor conflict with someone you could be transferred to a hell hole location, you could be on the receiving end of a company commander's itch for glory, and the incompetent were promoted with the competent. Now I understood that SPN codes were used as mere opinions or for revenge to accompany honorable discharges. It was a corruption of the military. Of course it is because it is an institution and institutions are corrupt. Certainly we may recognize some similar activities in public companies as well, but it is particularly insidious for the military institution to engage in such a scheme to malign a person since many have sacrificed their health and their freedom to serve their country.
The Legend of St. Julian Hospitator, Gustave Flaubert, pub 1880
(a tale of historical fiction)
This winter I read Flaubert's novel Salammbo and I was impressed with his depiction of the corruption of lust subverting love and his theme that power grabbed for oneself is an inferior design compared to power earned. I also read his Three Tales this winter and the following, St. Julian, I believe to be the finest of the three. Not to say that I was dissatisfied with the others.
The story takes place in thirteenth century France. Julian is born into a wealthy and influential family. They are devoted to the church and to the scriptures. In the armory of their castle the walls were lined with every possible weapon of hunting, warfare and battle standards. The walls were also lined with the trophies of the hunt of the master and his ancestors.
The master of the manor had married the daughter of a nobleman. Soon after the marriage a spirit came to her and proclaimed 'rejoice, mother for your son will be a saint.' Later a spirit appeared before the master of the manor and proclaimed 'your son, much bloodshed, much glory, always fortunate, an emperor's family!' The husband and wife kept their secret visitations from each other. They cherished their son in their private way knowing that Julian was the one marked by God. His childhood was made comfortable and he was surrounded by tutors who taught him the scriptures, writing, painting, music and Latin. Young Julian witnessed the charity of his mother and father on many occasions when the poor and the sick made their way to the open gates of the manor begging for food or clothing. The mother and father humbly served them. Once a year the family would host a feast for the people of the surrounding villages. Julian was impressed with the many travelers that made a pilgrimage through he manor's property, sometimes among the sick and poor, they told exciting tales of distant exotic empires, warfare, palace intrigue, strange animals and unusual customs.
As Julian matured he began to take an interest in shooting small birds with a sling or with rocks. The act of the hunt intrigued him and his father took notice of his interest and gave him a book on venery. The manual was quite comprehensive and included methods of tracking, use of appropriate weaponry, and the training of falcons and hunting dogs. Soon the father took Julian on organized hunts with fellow hunters and trained dogs. However, Julian preferred hunting alone with his horse accompanied with his falcon rather than the contrived hunts that his father arranged. He began to hunt endlessly as his hunting prowess grew. He hunted and killed every manner of game from elk, bear, wild boar, foxes and wolves in all type of weather and seasons. He took great pleasure in watching his hunting dogs devour boars as reward for their efforts. As the hunting forays continued he began to kill for the thrill of killing as often he did not return with his game but left it to lie on the ground to be eaten by wolves and vultures. One trip lasted for several days with wild and uncontrolled killing of every animal he could find. He came across a herd of elk and began to kill them in rapid succession, all but a large dark buck. He shot an arrow into the buck's skull and the buck came forward to him and proclaimed three times: 'accursed, accursed accursed! One day, cruel heart, you will kill your father and mother!' The buck collapsed and died. Julien cried, overcome with sadness. His horse was lost and he was lost. He randomly set off on a path and eventually arrived back to the castle.
He remained despondent for many months. Doctors were sent to treat him but to no avail. Julian lost his appetite for hunting and killing. He became depressed at the thought of killing his father and mother as the elk had foretold. He dare not tell his parents of the elk's curse. His father took him on long walks around the manor and comforted him thinking that his son was the victim of some noxious wind or youthful amorous desire. To please him, his father gave him a present of a great Saracen sword which he hung in the armory. Julian attempted to lift the sword but it slipped from his hand and it fell slicing a long clean gash in his father's waist coat. Julian was horrified. Did he try to kill his father as foretold? Several days later he was practicing with a javelin and he spied the white plumage of a large stork through the vines in the courtyard. He let the javelin fly and heard a loud shriek. He saw the javelin strike the white plumage. The coifs of his mother's hair had stuck to the wall. Had he nearly killed his mother as foretold? He packed a few belongings and left the manor never to return.
He enlisted with a troop of soldiers of fortune which was passing by. He grew accustomed to hunger, thirst and depravation. He knew the habit of warfare with battle trumpets, the constant death and the pain of serious wounds. He became stronger, courageous and keenly aware of every moment in his surroundings. He was soon given command of his own company of soldiers. He proved to be an able warrior and a great leader. They fought day after day through the night, into the hot desserts, the high mountains and flooded plains. In the interim he protected the orphans, escaped serfs, the sick, the poor and especially old men. He became famous and his skills were sought in many empires. Kings, queens and Caliphs sought his advice and protection. As a reward for his services in warfare and victory an emperor presented his beautiful daughter to Julian. They married and retreated to a castle that the young girl's mother had given her.
His days of warfare were over and he would sit on a balcony and gaze over the majesty of the fertile pastures of his manor. At times he would doze off and dream of the old days of his hunting. He would dream of the bears, elks, and bison that he would slay with arrows or javelin. The beasts and fowl would be numerous and he would exhaust himself from the wholesale carnage. Princes would come to him and invite him to hunt but he always refused thinking that the killing would be bound with the fate of killing his mother and father. However he could not reason with an occasion that would arise that would make him kill his mother and father. He knew it to be unreasonable so again he resumed hunting. One evening he saw the form of an animal past his window. He gathered his bow and arrows and javelin and told his wife that he would soon return. His hunting expedition was a complete failure. At every turn he failed to strike any manner of animal and some animals ran at his appearance. He encountered a wild bull and struck it with his javelin and the javelin shattered and the bull strolled away. He felt completely weak as though by some magic a spirit had robbed him of all strength and courage.
Later that evening two elderly strangers appeared at the gate of the castle and asked to speak to the lady. Julian's wife admitted them and they revealed that they were the mother and father of Julian. The three of them confirmed the identity of Julian through his mannerisms, general features, personality traits and his walk and voice. Julian's wife fed them and insisted that they sleep in their chamber. Julian's wife would retreat to another room to await his arrival from his evening hunt. Julian arrived in the late evening, entered the bed chamber and noticed who he thought was his wife. He felt her smooth skin and light tresses and then he felt the form next to her...he felt the coarse beard....his wife is bedded with another man! He flew into a rage, grabbed his knife from his scabbard, stabbed furiously and killed them. In the distance he heard the plaintive bellow from the great dark stag. Julian threw open the curtains and to his horror revealed his mother and father.
After the burial he was seen to take the road leading up to the distant mountains. He turned to look back several times and then disappeared into the mountains. He became a beggar and traveled far and as though to redeem himself in some humble confessional told his story to those he met. People ran from him, cursed him and threw stones at him. He became the persona non grata of the land. He returned into the dark moors and lived on roots, nuts and wild grasses. At times he would spy a village in the distance and he would think of the happiness of the people there but it brought him great pain and then he would return to the darkness and cry for his deceased mother and father. One day he came upon a wide river of rough currents and found an abandoned boat half buried in the mud, repaired it and began to ferry travelers across the river. The travelers would give him scraps of food or clothing for his service. He built a small shack on the edge of the river for his shelter. One evening he heard someone call his name. The voice came from across the wide river. He quickly rowed across the river to meet the voice and found an elderly man whose face was heavily blotched with leprosy. The old man, disheveled but of regal bearing, asked for food and water which Julian donated to him. The old man found comfort in the little shack that he shared with Julian. One day the old man said he was cold: 'my bones are like ice, come lay beside me.' Julian lay beside him: 'I am dying, as cold as ice.' Julian stretched out over him and covered him completely. The old man began to grow young again and grabbed Julian ever tighter and then the old man evaporated. Julian felt himself rise up through the blue sky face to face with Jesus Christ who bore him up to heaven.
Flaubert's short story is loosely based on the writings of Giacomo. Julian was conferred as saint of travelers, boatmen and hotel keepers by the Catholic Church. St. Julian's birthplace is claimed by France, Italy and Belgium. The legend is notable for the creation in his memory for many traveler stations across Europe. Hence 'hospitality' or Hospitator.
The tale is replete with apparitions in human and animal form, mysticism, prophecies and a fatalistic philosophy which typify the religious subject matter. The tale demonstrates Flaubert's skill for excellent character development, arcing of the protagonist, expressive prose (though not florid) and compelling theme. We can accept the literary devices of the era with its simplistic ironies and awkward coincidences as we would accept Chaucer or Shakespeare.
His writing is notable for excellent composition and fluid, seamless sentences in non-digressive structure. That is to be expected. However:
From St. Julian: 'It grew. He became famous and sought after'.
Why is that a separate paragraph and not a continuing thought? There are a few other examples of this interruption that do not seem to serve a purpose. Except for a few interruptions the structure of the writing is fluid. The comparative 'like' is used on a few occasions where a deeper explanation of subject is preferred.
The following criteria can be used to further judge the author's skill and his endeavor to produce a work of quality. Has the author successfully demonstrated the intent of this tale? Yes, the effort to add to the brief legend is successful in clarity and purpose. St Julian's rise to heavenly acceptance through his winding journey to salvation is written in a compelling procession of critical events. Can the reader sympathize or appreciate the actions and thoughts of the protagonist? The trials of failed conquest, guilt and fear of what the future can become are universal themes relatable to anyone. The reader can easily place themselves in his thoughts and understand his angst arising from the prophecies. We are reminded of his fixation on the prophecies at critical flash points, but not to an excess as to become a redundancy. Does the story exhibit creativity and imagination? Yes, and this is a critical point with historical fiction. The author must breathe life into a legend that lies incomplete as an artistic object. Flaubert has taken an ancient sketch and painted in the details to provide the reader with a full portrait of St. Julian.
It is difficult to choose the best passage or subplot in the story but the following proves to be a clever narrative of Julian's actions. The passage of Julian's final hunt is punctuated with numerous failures in his pursuit of killing any beast or fowl. He is stung with the pang of weakness. He is justly scorned by every fowl or beast. He owes currency for his blood sport since he has violated God's domain of the animal kingdom. This passage is also prelude for the murder. Certainly he was angry and deeply frustrated, an impotency, with the failed hunt. That culminated in a rage similar to the reflexive instincts of a wild animal which ended in a savage assault on his mother and father. It was the perfect set of circumstances for the fulfillment of the stag's prophecy. The assumption of his wife's infidelity followed with a brutal attack was manifest of the impotency he felt on that night. The passage is well crafted drama.
Though a moral tale intended to elevate hope of redemption of the flock of the church, it is at its core a statement of the duality of man. It is a universal theme with which we have familiarity. Mankind is capable of great misdeeds, violence and egotistical acts only for the satisfaction of oneself, but in an opposing force man can show great kindness and charity toward his fellow man without regard to oneself. That same person of violence and misdeeds can achieve a clarity of purpose in their existence.
Miles of Racism
it was 1959 and Miles Davis had just recorded and released his seminal jazz album Kind of Blue. It was only two years earlier that he had released his album Birth of The Cool to great acclaim among jazz aficionados.
He was performing at the jazz club Bird Land and at the conclusion of a set he walked outside to take a break. He accompanied a white woman to a waiting cab a few steps away and then returned to stand by the marquee. There were several people standing around and under the marquee. An NYC policeman approached Miles and told him to move along since he was loitering. Miles explained that he was working at the club and was taking a break. He pointed at the marquee; "That's me, Miles Davis." The officer ordered Miles to move along. The newspaper account claims that a scuffle ensued around Miles, the nature of which we don't know. A plain clothes officer rushed past the uniform policeman and struck Miles on the head with a billy club. Miles was taken to the hospital and received five stitches and the wound was bandaged. He was taken to the police station and charged with disturbing the peace. He was released on a $10,000 bond.
Why was Miles Davis singled out of the crowd? Further, how could he be loitering if he worked there? While most people in America did not know him outside of the jazz scene, people in NYC knew the name if they were jazz fans or not. Many people in NYC could recognize him from a photograph. Certainly the police of that precinct knew who he was. Who was this bespoke black man, a black man escorting a white woman, this man of immense talent who could perform for $400 for four hours hours of work? A policeman's salary was $100 a week. Was it envy because this black man rose above a status to which a white policeman thought he did not deserve?
The head wound, since not serious, was simply emblematic of that evening. The following day someone wrote a blurb in a neighborhood newspaper: "crazed jazz musician falls headlong into a policeman's billy club." A bit of satire on the jazz music form and a poke at what was certain to be a laughable narrative from the police department. The event can be characterized as a personal racist action of an agent of the government. The policeman's personal animosity become the law that evening in lieu of respecting the freedom of a private citizen. The crimes committed were the false accusation by the NYC police department of disturbing the peace and assault. Dorothy Kilgallen the NYC columnist and a friend of Miles who was at the club witnessed in part the event. Her column the following day exposed the truth of that evening. She rightly pilloried the NYC police department for their abusive treatment of a black person. The charge of disturbing the peace against Miles was dropped...precipitated by the newsprint? Probably it had some influence.
In 1949 Miles Davis and his quintet accepted a tour invitation to Paris. The quintet was booked to play at the first Paris international jazz festival since the war. Nothing could have prepared Davis for the reception he would receive in Paris. "It changed the way I looked at things forever. I loved the way I was treated. Paris was where I understood that all white people are not the same."
The quintet performed at the Salle Pleyel concert hall to enthusiastic crowds and it become obvious to Miles that the French considered jazz to be very important music. Davis was soon introduced to Boris Vian, the polymath. Boris introduced Davis to Picasso and Jean Paul Sartre. The group would sit together in hotels, cafes and clubs in the Saint Germain district and discuss the topic of the day, music, the art scene and philosophy (I'm sure Sartre captured his attention). It wasn't long before Miles took up with the French actress Juliette Greco and they soon fell in love. They would explore Paris together and the sight of a white woman and a black man did not cause a second glance, unless they recognized Miles and waved to him.
Miles was stunned at the freedom he had in Paris. The country he left behind was still segregated, discrimination was common and most states enforced anti-miscegenation laws. Miles said that when he was in France he felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders, he had lost that tense feeling, he could walk around day or night without being on guard, he could stay in any hotel, eat in any restaurant, and walk into any cafe. He returned to Paris again through his career and it must have been a haven, a respite for him to be treated as an equal. I can imagine that on that dark evening at Bird Land in 1959 Miles thoughts returned to Paris, freedom, and equality.
Miles bought a Lamborghini after he achieved international acclaim and the wealth that went with that. In a magazine interview he said he expected that any day a policeman would pull him over and ask him if he had permission to drive his master's car. Black humor. But the truth of the statement is evident. He was not driving that Lamborghini in Paris.
Our call to arms worldwide today is Man Made Climate Change and our response is Declare War on Climate Change. The answer has become a tidal wave of political action to reset the natural order of the climate for planet earth. Alas, we are late with our enthusiasm. It was a prediction and warning of scientists forty years ago. However, while the empirical modeling was generally accepted as accurate there were few anomalies within the range of our senses to grab our attention. If we could not see the results of our carbon based life style then it must not be urgent. The climate was not changing before our eyes and consequently we continued to casually listen and not act.
In the not so distant past we dealt with two critical environmental issues. One was related to the climate and the other was related to our health. CFCs were being dispersed into the atmosphere with deleterious effects on the ozone layer. CFCs were eventually banned over a ten year period. Lead molecules were belching from our automobiles and our health was at risk. It took about fifteen years to reduce lead in gasoline. These two issues were relatively easy to tackle since they were one dimensional environmental problems and the solutions did not interrupt our daily life style to any serious extent. The problems could have been accomplished in a couple of years if it were not for political and corporate resistance. We can rally to relatively simple problems quickly and scientists can provide solutions. The immediate problem captures our attention and the problem that is distant avoids immediate attention. The flu shot that you need next week is on your mind today, your annual physical in six months is only on your iphone calendar.
Today man made climate change is accepted as fact by the scientific community and the majority of the populace has fallen in line with their predictions. Plans for resetting the climate are being promoted by politicians and it has become an election issue. The youth around the world are speaking up, demonstrating and demanding action. These are the usual criteria for a movement. Not only is the climate changing, but it is progressing with a rapidity not previously predicted. In the past five years we have increased fuel mileage for cars and trucks, sold electric cars and built an untold number of solar panels and windmills. During this period the carbon emission count has increased and by the year it has increased exponentially (exponentially as a numeric expression to be raised as opposed to a verbal expression). The remedial influences that have been introduced have undoubtedly had some positive effect but scientists calculate that there is an increasing carbon foot print each year. Carbon usage increased or accumulated beyond what was implemented to offset emissions. There are compelling reasons for the exponential factor. The worldwide population continues to increase and for the past ten years the economy around the world has been in an expansion phase. With economic expansion came increased production since more durable and consumer goods are sold and with the expansion phase we use more energy in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas. It appears that we cannot reach the break even point with our current efforts. This problem is not about using paper straws. The solution requires a 180 degree turn in our life style.
Given the trend analysis we can expect severe changes in the climate which will bring more severe tornadoes, hurricanes and forest fires with greater frequency and accelerated polar melting leading to rising ocean levels. The day has arrived when we can see these effects and many have personal experiences with recurring heat waves, frequent flooding and hurricanes. The damage is apparent with decreasing fishing harvests , wildlife fleeing their natural habitats and dying coral reefs. The solutions are wise and well intended. The current movement demands more solar panels, electric batteries for cars and trains, thermal energy, wind and wave power, and biomass all of which are currently a minor portion of our total energy production. However, we are using carbon based resources to manufacture solar panels, windmills, and equipment for natural gas wells so as we produce carbon free products we are burning carbon to reduce our carbon foot print. A better trade off assuredly, but we can see the unavoidable effect of adding more carbon to emit less carbon. The rule of physics holds true that one consumes a source of energy to produce energy. An additional problem arises from our inability to find a method to store energy produced from wind power, wave power, and solar.
What will happen around the world while we strain to get past the exponential increase factor and then how many years will it take to actually reduce the carbon emissions by a significant amount? And can we expect countries as China, India and Russia to take this threat more seriously? It does take full participation to solve the planetary problem. The more ingenious solutions may be years away from fruition. There are numerous designs for smaller, safer nuclear power units that could take considerable time for development. What is the possible cost? Water to hydrogen is an intensive process that consumes energy and the distribution of hydrogen is problematic for safety reasons. The challenges are enormous and the effects on civilization in the interim phase of reducing carbon emissions significantly will be devastating. There will be massive migrations out of already desperate countries. Where will they relocate? There could be food shortages as extreme weather ravages farm land and fishing areas, there could be serious relocation issues in shoreline cities, taxes could rise to support energy efficient projects, there could be revolutions, riots, and people might be thrown out of work as resources contract and jobs in the old technologies evaporate. All of these disasters are conceivable if the trend analysis is marginally accurate. We will be racing to a continuously moving finish line.
In spite of the odds we will continue the efforts for reduced carbon emissions as we should. Our best efforts may only lead us to a bleak future of a mere existence but it will be an existence. It will be a dystopia of severely compromised living conditions with lower life expectancy, intermittent riots, rampant disease and little hope for future generations. If our best efforts fail our planet will
become a sister to Venus; burned out and uninhabitable. The last tribe that survived will have left a tome behind for another species in the universe. It will be a story of a voracious animal that consumed everything within easy reach without consideration for future generations. They were capable of great accomplishments and great ideas but they created a problem that they could not solve. In their desperate journey of self-destruction they disproved a favorite human adage that was: it's never too late. If the trend analysis holds true.
I watched a program on NatGeo about two or three years ago that narrated the most arid places on earth. Naturally most arid places are the deserts, but also included was the Antarctic region which receives less snowfall/moisture than some deserts. Included in this program was an item describing the Atacama desert of Chile. There is an observatory in the Atacama that was chosen for its extreme altitude and scarce cloud cover. More or less this is a recent criteria for the location of observatories. I was curious about the observatory and I down loaded a few photographs from the internet. Was I amazed. The celestial view with the naked eye was extraordinary. There it was; a panoply of bright stars from horizon to horizon. There was absolutely no obstruction in the view.
As a youngster I vividly recall standing in the open pasture of our farm late in the evening gazing at the stars. The stars stretched from horizon to horizon and fueled my youthful imagination. Would we ever set foot on the moon and what would we find there? Were there other worlds populated with strange beings and would they descend someday to visit us? It was not only in the distant farm lands where the view was unobstructed. You could find a location in the suburbs where the starry horizon met the ground and a person could have the same inspiring view of the night sky.
The brightly lit universe from our eyesight has dimmed considerably over time. The shimmering canopy has become a smudge obscured by flood lights, headlights of cars, street lights, security lights, twenty four hour stores fully lit from sundown to sunrise. Adding to the obscurity are the particles of progress which are emissions from industry, autos, buses, and trucks. Seldom can one have a clear view of the stars since the sky has become an opaque blur of commercial, industrial and residential man made light. The night sky has become a soup speckled in faded white dots cleaved by shafts of a yellowish blur. It is difficult to be aware of a degradation that evolves over an extended period of time. The eye becomes accustomed to the changes. We certainly are not spending our idle time star gazing on a daily basis unless you are an astronomer. Additionally, those who are younger did not have a frame of reference for what the heavenly view was in the past. The evolution occurred without our daily observations and the clarity faded without fanfare.
Later I noticed the change when I drove past our former family farm. It was a cloudless spring night, about nine o 'clock. I pulled my car to the side of the road and walked to the barbed wire fence. I looked in the direction of the creek which was the rear boundary line of the farm and I witnessed a broad band of light behind the tree line stretching over the entire horizon. The horizon and part of the sky above had become blurred. Since the days of my youth another community had sprung up beyond the tree line and their lights had captured the horizon and held the stars hostage. The stars of my youth had vanished and I left there thinking of the former brilliance of my youthful starry nights that were similar to that photograph of the Atacama. I thought of mankind taking a step forward with an eraser and sacrificing something wondrous from the past. When we rush to the future it is possible that we may lose something of worth. It does not have to be a destruction or loss of an artifact, but it can be something as simple as a natural wonder beyond our touch.