In honor of MLK

The United Nations lists a handful of men and women who gave their lives for peace. “Since the founding of the United Nations, more than 3,500 brave men and women have lost their lives in its service.” I believe that in its early years, the UN was truly a force for peace in the world.

Martin Luther King was tolerated when he was the most effective voice for racial equality. When he came out in opposition to the Vietnam War, he was targeted by powerful people, especially J. Edgar Hoover, and he was gunned down.

For any readers of this page who are interested in taking a course in peace activism with World Beyond War, I would be honored to pay your tuition. (Leave a comment in the space below, and I will arrange details.)


Fellowship 同人

We need each other—friends and families—
It’s for relationship that we’re alive.
So if we feel alone, we must contrive
To craft those bonds that hold communities.
The obstacles we face are only fear— 
We cannot love and still maintain control.
Our egos must contract their leading role;
A part of us will have to disappear.

Outside your door, a desert filled with men.
Misled, they’re isolated and alone.
A roving pilgrim seeks her other half;
She hugs each zombie, but starts weeping when
She feels their living flesh has turned to stone.
Perhaps you can help her to laugh.

— JJM = #13 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

In 1961, he saw what we had already become.

Just as early industrial capitalism moved the focus of existence from being to having, post-industrial culture has moved that focus from having to appearing.

This society eliminates geographical distance only to produce a new internal separation…The reigning economic system is a vicious circle of isolation. Its technologies are based on isolation, and they contribute to that same isolation. From automobiles to television [to Facebook to Zoom], the goods that the spectacular system chooses to produce also serve it as weapons for constantly reinforcing the conditions that engender “lonely crowds.”
_______________________________________________ Guy Debord

The same formidable question that has been haunting the world for two centuries is about to be posed again everywhere: How can the poor be made to work once their illusions have been shattered? 

Ariel (from The Tempest)

(Nach der Lesung von Shakespeares Sturm)

Man hat ihn einmal irgendwo befreit
mit jenem Ruck, mit dem man sich als Jüngling
ans Große hinriss, weg von jeder Rücksicht.
Da ward er willens, sieh: und seither dient er,
nach jeder Tat gefasst auf seine Freiheit.
Und halb sehr herrisch, halb beinah verschämt,
bringt mans ihm vor, dass man für dies und dies
ihn weiter brauche, ach, und muss es sagen,
was man ihm half. Und dennoch fühlt man selbst,
wie alles das, was man mit ihm zurückhält,
fehlt in der Luft. Verführend fast und süß:
ihn hinzulassen — , um dann, nicht mehr zaubernd,
ins Schicksal eingelassen wie die andern,
zu wissen, dass sich seine leichte Freundschaft,
jetzt ohne Spannung, nirgends mehr verpflichtet,
ein Überschuss zu dieses Atmens Raum,
gedankenlos im Element beschäftigt.
Abhängig fürder, länger nicht begabt,
den dumpfen Mund zu jenem Ruf zu formen,
auf den er stürzte. Machtlos, alternd, arm
und doch ihn atmend wie unfasslich weit
verteilten Duft, der erst das Unsichtbare
vollzählig macht. Auflächelnd, dass man dem
so winken durfte, in so großen Umgang
so leicht gewöhnt. Aufweinend vielleicht auch,
wenn man bedenkt, wie’s einen liebte und
fortwollte, beides, immer ganz in Einem.

(Ließ ich es schon? Nun schreckt mich dieser Mann,
der wieder Herzog wird. Wie er sich sanft
den Draht ins Haupt zieht und sich zu den andern
Figuren hängt und künftighin das Spiel
um Milde bittet… Welcher Epilog
vollbrachter Herrschaft. Abtun, bloßes Dastehn
mit nichts als eigner Kraft: “und das ist wenig.”)

— Rainer Maria Rilke

Miranda, Prospero and Ariel, from 'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare, c.1780 (oil on canvas)

Somewhere, once, you freed him with a jolt,
as when, in youth, we’re suddenly swept forward
into manhood, with no looking back.
A willing helper he became; and since that time
he’s served you, while impatient
for a second freedom after every task.
But you kept arguing (half masterful
and half almost ashamed) that no, you needed him
for this or that, a little longer,
and reminding him of what you’d done to save him.
And yet inwardly you felt that everything
which you were holding back by holding him
you were denying to the air.
Just let him go: it was a sweet temptation…
No more magic, then; you’d be like other men,
borne on the stream towards your fate, and knowing that
the easy friendship which he’d offered you
— which had enhanced the local air you breathed —
was now deprived of tension, lacking obligation,
mindlessly absorbed in the surrounding element.
From then on you’d be needy; and the gift you’d had
by which he’d swoop to earth to do your bidding
when he heard your call, you’d have no longer.
Ageing, poor and powerless you’d be; and yet
you’d still be breathing him. He’d be
a scattered fragrance in the air,
beyond your effort to identify,
the only thing of present substance in a world invisible.
You’d laugh, recalling how you merely had to beckon him
and mighty deeds quite casually were done.
Perhaps you’d also weep to think
how much he loved you and he longed to leave you,
both at once.

(And is that all I have to say?
The man becomes a duke again. He frightens me
as — oh so gently — he inserts the wire
and pulls it through his head so that he hangs
beside the other figures; from now on
‘Be merciful,’ the play appeals…
His epilogue is one of dominance achieved:
to put the past aside, to stand there naked,
left with nothing but his own, his human strength,
‘which is most faint’.)

translation by John Richmond

How queer is quantum field theory?

Karen Barad knows quantum field theory, and she knows queer, and ties the two subjects together in a hilarious intellectual tour de force. Along the way, she offers a compelling portrait of the quantum vacuum, a bubbling sea of particles popping in and out of existence on a time scale inversely proportional to their mass.

She makes one error which I’ve seen so many times before I’ll have to excuse it, although in her case I suspect she really should know better. What happens when two solid objects “touch” physically that makes them unable to occupy the same space at the same time? Barad repeats the idea we’ve heard so many times before: that the negative electron clouds in the two objects repel each other. The truth is stranger than this. When I was in school, it used to be called “degeneracy pressure”. The electrons in any solid are in their lowest energy state, but “lowest” is relative. The energy of each electron, as a temperature, actually corresponds to tens of thousands of degrees. Of course they would “prefer” to be in a lower state, but all the lower states are occupied, and the Pauli Exclusion Principle (not electrostatic repulsion) prevents them from doubling up. The reason that solids are hard and impenetrable is the same reason that solids resist enormous pressures with only the slightest compression. It is that there are electrons are occupying every availabe quantum state, and you can’t put more electrons into that space without pushing into the next quantum state up, which has a very high energy, compared to what is normally available.

(Excuse me for witing this explanation again––it’s one of my favorite topics.)

God performs miracles

St Thomas Aquinas was the first theologian to incorporate natural law into theology. He theorized that there were three things that even omnipotent God could not do.

  • He could not sin
  • He could not clone himself to create another omnipotent deity
  • And he could not create a triangle with more than 180 degrees in the interior angles

This was a big step forward for reconciliation of science and religion at the time (13th Century). The irony is that the example that he chose was intended to be about mathematical logic, as represented by Euclidean geometry. But with Einstein’s General Relativity, non-Euclidean geometries were brought into physics, and physicists today routinely work with gravitating systems where the sum of the angles of a triangle is more than 180 degrees.


This rings true for us because our intuition about Euclidean geometry is so strong that we feel, along with Thomas, that it is not just a mathematical but a physical necessity.

Scientism—a Fable

Once there was a tribe of people who worshipped the Sun. The Sun kept them warm and gave His light for the beans to grow. They watched the sun and the moon and the stars, and one day came a Shaman who listened carefully to what they had learned and did a good deal of watching himself. He was able to tell the people, “tomorrow, the sun will disappear from the sky, and it will be dark in the middle of the day.” And the people said, “Oooh!” And the Shaman was able to say, “Plant your beans next time the moon is full, and the Sun will protect them from Frost,” And the people said, “Ahh!” 

And so the people came to listen to the Shaman and do whatever the Shaman said to do. And they prospered.

Not many years elapsed before the Shaman died, and the Son of the Shaman commanded all the reverence of his father before him. They listened to the Son, even when he was less wise. When the spring rains would not come, they prayed to the Sun, but it was the Son who said, “bring me the choicest meats from your next hunt.” They brought him the freshest, tenderest meat that they had, but still the rain clouds stayed away. The people danced their Sun dance, but it was the Son who said, “these meats were not tender enough, and the Sun is insulted.” So the men went out for the hunt, and killed a young fawn, and brought its tenderest flesh to the Son. And still it did not rain, and the Son said, “bring me your virgin daughters.” And the people were frightened, and they did as he said. And again. And when, at length, the skies cracked open and flooded the earth, the Son said, “the Sun has rewarded you because you obeyed me.”

And the Son and the Sons of the Son ruled over the tribe. Whenever the people became a little less obedient to the Sons, they would say, “Be afraid. Be very afraid. Remember the drought! Remember the Monster who swallowed the Sun! You must obey me, and I will protect you from the wrath of the Monster.” 

And the people prospered for a thousand years, and became less afraid. The people felt secure enough that some of them began to talk. They talked about what they saw and heard, and they debated using logic. When they had different ideas, they would argue, but they were able to resolve their differences using the common language of experience and logic, and when they agreed, Those who Argued were right much more often than they were wrong. 

And so they were able to build bright fires that opened the darkness of night and engines that lightened the burden of work. And the people said, “Oooh!” And they built roads and aqueducts and stretched wires across the land and the people were delighted that they could talk to one another, though they were far away. And the people said, “Ahh!”. When they asked, “How do you know to do this?” Those who Argued answered, “It is called science.”

And so the people came to listen to Those who Argued and do whatever science said to do. And they prospered as never before.

But the Son of the Son of the Son remained among them. He looked upon the lights and the bridges and the telephones and he exacted a toll from the people each time that they used the products of science. The Son of the Son of the Son became the Gatekeeper who prospered more than any of the rest, and still he was not satisfied. Mr Gatekeeper looked on Those who Argued, and he was jealous that His rightful place had been usurped.

To restore his authority, Mr Gatekeeper told the people there was a New Monster that threatened them. But the people turned to Those who Argued, and science told them not to be afraid. Years passed, and the Gatekeeper created a real monster, a New New Monster, and again the people were afraid, but they turned to Those who Argued, and science was able to deliver them from the Monster’s jaws. Again and again, Mr Gatekeeper was able to make people afraid, but he was not able to keep them afraid. And so it continued until the year of the New New New Monster.

“You must obey me, and I will protect you from the wrath of the New New New Monster!” said Mr Gatekeeper. The people were afraid, and they asked science to save them. But when they turned to Those who Argued, the Gatekeeper said, “I am Science. Riki-Tiki-Science. Look and be afraid!”

Those who argued continued to argue, but Mr Gatekeeper said they must stop arguing. They must listen to Science. This was very confusing to Those who Argued, so they began to argue what to do about it. Meanwhile, Mr Gatekeeper was not confused at all. 

“Shut up,” he explained. 

“I am Science. Riki-Tiki-Science. Look and be afraid!”

To be continued…

Julia Set Crop Circle

The Julia Set is the world’s second-most-famous fractal. It is a pattern of never-ending complexity. As you zoom in closer at smaller and smaller scales, you see what looks like the whole pattern at a larger scale — but not quite. There are little differences, and when you zoom in on the little differences, a new variation opens up.


The Julia Set is generated very simply by starting from each point (x,y) and applying a simple arithmetic procedure over and over again. For some values, the repeated procedure gets bigger and bigger without limit. For other values, the same repeated procedure remains finite within a well-defined box forever. It is these “other values” that are defined to be the Jullia set. And the curious thing is that the map of the Julia set doesn’t demarcate some region of the (x,y) plane that you could shade; rather there are points infinitely close together where one point is in the Julia set and the other is not.

Actually, there is a family of Julia sets parametrized by a single complex number (or two real numbers).

On July 7, 1996, across the street from Stonehenge, the field was mowed or flattened in such a way as to create an impression (from the air) of the Julia set.


People speculate about aliens or druids having done this. If it was done by human hands, it was very labor-intensive and intricately planned. My favorite theory is that the grass is trying to send us a message that it is an intelligent superorganism.