Friday, January 31, 2014

Democrats, Republicans, &c.

     This is not going to be the time when I write the big "question authority" essay.  (That is a part of the Great Conversation that has been going on for a very long time, and has been addressed by many, many minds far more advanced than my own.  Though I might get around to that some time soon, and put in my two cents worth.)

     But for my American readers, I ask this:

     Have you noticed that the Democrats (or liberals, if that is what you want to call them) have told some whoppers (and have done some seriously bad stuff) recently?  If so:

     . . . Do you believe those whoppers?
     . . . Is it okay with you that they do this?
     . . . Have any of their lies (or their misguided policies) hurt you, or people that you know and care about, or fellow citizens or strangers or immigrants or people in other countries?
     . . . Is this a recent development, or can you find examples of this fifty, a hundred, even a hundred-fifty years ago?
     . . . Is this what you want for yourself, your country, your friends or your children?
     . . . Is it okay with you if other people discover this fact, comment on it, call them out on it; even oppose them vigorously in the public sphere?
     . . . Or do you feel compelled to defend and promote whatever the Democrats-liberals do or say, regardless?

     And again:

     Have you noticed that the Republicans (or conservatives, if that is what you want to call them) have told some whoppers (and have done some seriously bad stuff) recently?  If so:  

     . . . Do you still believe them?
     . . . Is it okay with you that they do this?  
     . . . Have any of their lies (or their misguided policies) hurt you, or people that you know and care about, or fellow citizens or strangers or immigrants or people in other countries?
     . . . Is this a recent development, or can you find examples of this fifty, a hundred, even a hundred-fifty years ago?
     . . . Is this what you want for yourself, your country, your friends or your children?  
     . . . Is it okay with you if other people discover this fact, comment on it, call them out on it; even oppose them vigorously in the public sphere?
     . . . Or do you feel compelled to defend and promote whatever the Republicans-conservatives do or say, regardless?

     Or yet again:

     Let us suppose that there is a nascent Third Party -- Christian, Tea Party, Occupy, Green, Feminist, Gay, Libertarian, etc.  Looking around at the possibilities -- people you know, religious leaders, talking heads in the media, celebrities, and the like -- what is the likelihood that this will not happen all over again?

     This is a serious problem.  When we hear that "trust is breaking down," do we understand what is happening, why this is so, and what will be necessary to recover from this bad situation -- if it is even possible?

     And now for you good folks who are not Americans:

     Change the labels to fit your country.  Do you see a similar problem?  Can you offer constructive suggestions?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kirk Brooks: A Poem

     Thanks to Mr. Brooks for making this poem available to the readers of Sycamore Three.

“For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
“Man cannot live on bread alone…”

I’ll kill myself before 
I would, 

I am electronic, a machine.

I am clean, hairless, plastic, 
I know the facts,
so I stick to the formulas,
I have calculated the elimination of any risk
I am safe, 
I am protected, 
I am entertained by the screen
I believe it.
I am like everyone else, 
plugged in and
I believe in it.

I am devoid of meaning
what I mean is, 
there is a void in me

I am a poet who writes poetry! 
…but only in my dreams
and when I wake I don’t understand what it means
I disregard it.

I have heard of the poor ones who ate what grew from the ground
and sweat just to feed themselves.
Poor ones. 
To get your food from the dirt,
how absurdly

my food served to me 
by my cellophane clean 
poly carbonate plastic 
sanitary savior
so crystal clear
and bpa free 
I love you, 
I love me I love me
I’m clean!

I am electronic, 
I am plugged in, battery powered, a machine.

I get my nutrients from a pill, 
manufactured by the corporation who also
manufactures the bottle of liquid energy 
I need
lasts for 5 hours, guaranteed
so you see, I don’t need 

the earth. 

or dirt. 

I am clean, efficient, 
I am a machine
I stick to the formula, 
like the computer 
that knows what I need

I am in control of my destiny,
I know my facts and ignore my feelings,
I allow nothing unpredictable, I predict
all things, 
I am safe, 

I am a suicide-

machine and I’ll kill myself 
before I would, 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Van Cliburn in Moscow, 1962

     In the year 1962,  the pianist Van Cliburn performed Chopin's Fantasy in F minor in Moscow. Much of the leadership of the Soviet Union was in attendance, including Nikita Khrushchev.  That peformance has been preserved to us.

     It is interesting to think of the times in which that concert was given.  1962 was the year of the Cuban missile crisis; space programs and proxy wars were being carried out by the United States and the Soviet Union; and the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, was released that year.

     It is more interesting to watch the performance and its effects on the participants -- there are moments when Khrushchev's reactions to the music can be observed, and other moments when one can watch the response -- or perhaps the lack of response -- of the other listeners.

     It is further interesting to listen to the music and feel one's own response, and to realize the power of music to create a commonality in human consciousness that crosses barriers of culture and time.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Secret Societies And Secure Passwords

     I was reading an article today about the prevalence of "insecure" -- as in "easily guessable" -- passwords.  The author stated, presumably on some authority, that the most common password is "123456," which for the first time has taken top position from the previously most popular password, which is "password."

     It reminded me of Richard Feynman's amused discovery that one of the more strident security chiefs at Los Alamos (in the Manhattan Project days) had never set the combination to his own office safe -- it still had the manufacturer's default setting that it came with.  Other guardians of our nation's security had very guessable combinations like 314159 (pi) and 271828 (e).  A kind of major incompetence on the part of the security boys, no?

     Of course, it could be further remarked that Feynman himself was a close acquaintance of the atomic spy Klaus Fuchs, and either didn't know or didn't care.  A kind of major incompetence on the part of the self-superior critic of the security boys, yes?

     Perhaps it is just as well that lots of people have hokey passwords.  It is a sign that they don't much believe in the "security features" of our internet culture -- either they think that they are unnecessary, or that they are ineffective.  One way or another, I think that they are right; it strikes me that they are being much more realistic and street-savvy than either the politicians-bureaucrats who put their full faith and credit in the integrity of the U.S.-government-intelligence-complex, or the media-journalist-bloggers who have faith in corporate-financial-media giants, or the STEM-eggheads who believe in the latest foolproof encryption systems.  (I remember reading some CIA book which claimed that there was a time in the 20th century when you could have financed a successful coup in Paraguay for $25,000.  By the same token, I'll bet there isn't an encryption system on the market today that can't be, and hasn't been, back-doored with either a well-placed deposit of less than $100,000 -- or a threat of knee-capping if the offer were to be refused.)

     After all, the existence of an article about easily-guessable passwords, which resulted from some canvass of "secure passwords," is kind of prima facie evidence that secure passwords aren't secure -- isn't it?  (Or maybe it is just disinformation, pure and simple.)

     Now for an abrupt change of subject:

     Well, what about secret societies -- do you believe that powerful secret societies exist?

    Well, if powerful secret societies exist, neither you nor I will know that, now will we?  Not the truly secret ones, anyway.  Anymore than we would know what are the most popular truly secure passwords.

Friday, January 17, 2014


     It was a toy that belonged to one of his older sisters.  It was a tube about so long, red, with a shorter yellow tube around the far end that you could twist.

     It's a kaleidoscope.  Here, just aim it at the light, and look through this little hole, here.

     Instant fascination.  Six-pointed stars of crystal, like multi-colored snowflakes, you could stare at those chips of color, and see how they perfectly matched from side-to-side, and each one of the six arms of that snowflake was exactly, exactly like each one of the others.  Look carefully:  a chunk of red, like a ruby; a different piece of yellow, that would be topaz; and purple would be amethyst.  A lot of other colors, dozens of them.  

     Here, point it up to the light.  See how they all get brighter?  And now, down toward the floor, they get dimmer.  And back up to the light.

     Now, when you twist the back, like this -- the quiet swish of things moving inside and -- it changes into something new, again, and again.  And then, when he twisted the front part around like this, it was not like a star or snowflake anymore; it was a six-sided ring, but all six parts were still exactly alike.

     He remembered the magic of it faded, a little, when he noticed a tiny amount of dust inside it, which revealed it as a mirror, or more correctly, two mirrors.  Still, it was amazing and beautiful.

     Years later, upon reflection, he would know that the angle between the mirrors was precisely thirty degrees.  It was not in the least bit magic; there was a perfectly clear geometrical explanation.  It was inevitable that it would form a six-sided pattern.  Inevitable, as in absolutely determined.  Well, not exactly determined:  the perfect six-sidedness was determined, to be sure; but the fall of the crystals was random, was unique.  Well, not exactly random:  gravity, after all, and the position of the mirror, would determine whether it had a center, or it was a ring.  But what kind of a ring depended upon what kind of crystals had been placed in there.  And maybe no two kaleidoscopes were exactly alike.


     Fourteen or fifteen years later he would be looking through the lens of a microscope in a laboratory class in geology -- mineralogy -- and he would be shining microscopic light through microscopic crystals and looking at color patterns that were not in rainbow order, hearing words like index-of-refraction, diffraction patterns, bi-refringence, absorption spectra -- the stuff of precision, positive identification, the discovery of new species of minerals, the business of experts who were mineralogists and miners and men of fortune.

     Very interesting.  Though he never got good at it; and didn't make his fortune, or even learn well enough to remember much about it, decades later.


     In high school, his physics teacher showed him something marvelous, and this how it went.  You could take a watch with a luminous dial -- an ordinary wrist-watch that had the twelve hour-marks and the two hands coated with radium (yes, that radium),  and --

     Here, let's dim the lights in the lab.  We've been studying about radioactivity, and radioactive decay; and radium is radioactive; and you can find it on ordinary luminous watch-dials; now we will just put the watch under the microscope here, like so; and focus it, like so; and there! Have a look.

    Within the lens of the microscope was a little dark universe, with a little galaxy of exploding stars.  You could move the focal length of the microscope and move three-dimensionally (if that is technically correct) through this magic galaxy of constantly exploding stars. Dozens, maybe hundred of them, constantly appearing and disappearing in a single flash . . .

     Radium has a half-life of 1600 years, and each of these atoms decays exactly once and only once in the life of the universe.  Alpha decay and gamma emission . . . 

     To this day, it remains amazing to him -- not that he thinks of radium watches very often -- because whatever a photon is, you were seeing a single photon -- well, lots and lots of single photons, but you were seeing each one of them individually -- a single photon that exists once in the history of the universe, and you saw them, hundreds or maybe even thousands of them in a minute or so, and this is going on around you all the time.  And always has been; and always will be . . .

     Okay, let's have the lights back on, please.


     He remembers a beautiful clear night, out on the college golf course, with friends.  They were lying down on the gentle slope just below the green, feet on the upslope, head on the downslope, looking up into the sky, talking.

     If you will tilt your head way back, like this, feel the grass on the very top of your head, and look at the stars ---

     It worked.  He could see that he was not looking upward, or looking outward, at the sky:  he was looking down into the whole universe from up here!  Heaven itself stretched out beneath him, a glorious, luminous abyss.


     It would be years before he would discover Thomas Kuhn.

     He remembers all this while reading some short stories by Flannery O'Connor for the first time.   

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

American Police State: The Ex-Con And The Ex-Cop

Here is a recent post from Will Grigg, contrasting the behavior of an ex-con (child rescue) and the behavior of an ex-SWAT-team member (read the story).

People are still getting locked up by the police for victimless “crimes,” while juries are still acquitting cops who kill people.

Double standard, or schizophrenia?

What a great country.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Word About Fukushima Is Getting Out

 Full disclosure:  I don’t like to quote from WND as a reliable source for much of anything — not because they cannot be; they can; but — because while they report important truth from time to time, they also intentionally suppress and spin and ignore and contradict important truth, too.  Still, I give them credit here — and importantly, they are ahead of the MSM on this subject.
2. From the UK’s Daily Mail On-LIne:  ’Fukishima fall-out fears as DOUBLE the normal amount of radiation is found in Missouri snow and San Francisco beach busts safety levels prompting investigation’
This article was also referenced at Lew Rockwell’s website.

3.  There is much more information about the very serious human and ecological fall-out from Fukushima that is freely available on the web.  I intend to be linking to some of it in the near future.
I find myself constantly amazed at two related phenomena:
     1.  For a 24/7 news-media that is supposedly "bold" and "cutting edge", the MSM have been remarkably "incurious," shall we say, about this on-going disaster -- much as they walked away from the BP oil spill, and many other stories too incompatible with a "progressive" narrative of current events.
     2.  For a conservative, "Christian" media consciousness that is supposedly committed to "truth" and "engagement with the world," they have been remarkably "incurious" too.  They seem to be very easily distracted by any events, real or staged, which are more compatible with their orientation to "culture wars," arguing about the finer points of Reformation doctrine, the run-up to the Superbowl, "reality shows," etc.  But not interested in anything that threatens the Walt-Disney-Hollywood-Americanist view of the world.  Pass the corn chips and diet soda.
     There, I said it.