Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Plot Twist - The Hippies Didn't Actually Save Physics - Physicists Did.

How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum RevivalHow the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In a word, ug.

Honestly, I was disappointed with the lack of physics. Aside from a solid explanation of the two slit experiment and Bell’s Theorem (which is used to assert quantum nonlocality), and the refutation of the no-cloning theorem there is very little here. This is not a book about physics, but a book about how the nature of philosophical questions about physics was preserved by the Fundamental Fysics Group (FFG), a group of disaffected from the mainstream physicists who tried their damnedest to use Bell’s Theorem as a basis for parapsychology, getting the CIA, DIA, and Erhard to foot the bill.

While I regard philosophical questions about physics to be of fundamental importance, but with all the book’s emphasis on Uri Geller’s “mental spoon bending” (were these people so easily duped?), EST seminars with LSD and naked coeds to attract physicists like Feynmann, and the lurid story of Ira Einhorn, who murdered his girlfriend, kept her body in an apartment for a year, and then - after posting bail - spent 20 years on the lam, blaming the CIA and FBI for framing him (he was later convicted with overwhelming evidence), you have to wonder whether this group was really the *best* philosophical unit for saving physics. Especially when we consider the advances of other physics approaches (such as quantum chromodynamics which led to String Theory) and David Bohm’s quantum mind. Bohm, incidentally, was one of the heroes of the FFG who fled America during Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt, but he did not rely on FFG as much as they relied on him for actual physics. It really looks like the FFG was a bunch of partying nerds with scientific and psi background that didn’t really do much physics, being far more obsessed with ESP and telekinesis. They also come off (to me at any rate in 2015) as naïve, willing to be led by anyone who waives a shiny object in front of them (especially if it is gold).

All of this would be fine, though, if there was nothing destructive about groups like the FFG, but there is an opportunity cost when time, energy, and money are spent on non-serious science. The same resources spent on better elaborated approaches might actually yield a better understanding of consciousness and physics. It is axiomatic that there is a link between the two, but real science has to come into play, and while all data is crucial (psychedelics certainly does show that matter can affect mind), there was more going on in the mainstream than the author attests. I think that was the part of the book that was most erroneous, the idea that we needed the FFG to save physics. Physics cannot be destroyed by the government’s obsession with military weapons nor can it be saved by renegade physicists. It is above both, because important questions about the nature of the world and how it applies to the mind are eternal.

Ok, one more thing that absolutely bugged me was the assumption that inviting a group of people together implies that they all form some type of community. This is a constant theme of the book: A goes to visit B who works with C who studied with D who went to a party with E, so A and E are linked. No. Einstein and Bohr argued with each other and had a long correspondence - that was real. That one of Geller’s handlers meets a physicist in a forum somewhere does not imply that the FFG is a universal mainstream non-fringe group. People can associate with each other and just be polite. I’ve been to parties before with people that are convinced in divine intervention on their behalf. Does that mean I agree? I’ve learned enough not to argue with everyone with whom I disagree, and I afford everyone else the same credit.

I lost patience a lot (especially in the long-winded exposés about Zukav’s “Dancing With the Wu-Li Masters” and Capra’s “Tao of Physics”). These were as long as many book reviews on Goodreads. I’ve read both books and while I recognize that especially “Tao of Physics” encouraged many people to be interested in the philosophical questions of physics, neither book is a good physics book. Zukav’s pun about Wu-Li (where he changes the emphasis on Li to connote different interpretations of Wu-Li) shows a fundamental ignorance that in Mandarin emphasis creates fundamentally different words (that’s the point) and not variations of the same. It really seemed when I read it like typical Western arrogance. Also there is no physics (sorry, I said that).

At the same time, I actually got what I wanted from this book, which was a fundamental understanding of Berkeley’s fringe physics movement. I really feel like I understand their goals (which were not physics but proving parapsychology to be true using physics). It will help me as background information in a story I’m writing, so 2 STARS. I am going to read Penrose’s book about quantum consciousness next and see if it helps get a better actual understanding of the nature of the mind through the lens of physics.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bob Dylan playing with the Grateful Dead

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again [6:03]
Tomorrow Is A Long Time [4:42]
Highway 61 Revisited [4:12]
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue [5:40]
Ballad Of A Thin Man [4:42] (cuts)

You can see most of the show in this video: Quality varies.

  E Rutherford New Jersey, 7/12/87

Full Setlist:

Sunday, July 12, 1987
E Rutherford, New Jersey

Set One:

Hell In A Bucket [5:49]
West L.A. Fadeaway [6:46]
Greatest Story Ever Told (*) [4:04]
Loser [6:15]
Tons Of Steel [4:51]
Take A Step Back Tuning
Ramble On Rose [6:19]
When I Paint My Masterpiece [4:33]
When Push Comes To Shove [4:34]
The Promised Land [3:53] > Bertha [6:45]

Set Two:

Morning Dew [9:21]
Playing In The Band [9:09] > Drums [7:31] > Space [5:01] > The Other One [4:36] > Stella Blue [7:34] > Throwing Stones [9:12] > Not Fade Away [6:35]

Set Three:

Slow Train [4:01]
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again [6:03]
Tomorrow Is A Long Time [4:42]
Highway 61 Revisited [4:12]
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue [5:40]
Ballad Of A Thin Man [4:42]
John Brown [5:02]
The Wicked Messenger [3:31]
Queen Jane Approximately [3:45]
Chimes Of Freedom [7:25]
Joey [9:05]
All Along The Watchtower [4:50]
The Times They Are A-Changin' [4:24]


Touch Of Grey [6:01] > Knockin' On Heaven's Door [6:02]

 Comments (*)Bob:"We're gonna do an older tune." before Greatest Story.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rosemary's Baby - Review after my Happy Halloween reread

Rosemary's BabyRosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ira Levin specializes in disturbing tales of enormous vision. As such, Rosemary’s Baby is a quintessential tale of terror, standing beside giants like Frankenstein and Dracula, because it creates a new, oft-imitated horror form. The book is essentially a psychological conflict set in New York CIty, the capital of the modern sophisticated world, where a young newlywed couple, composed of an ambitious self-centered actor and his made-in-Omaha housewife, are drawn into a world of Satanists for the express purpose of forging (with Rosemary’s reluctant assistance) Satan Incarnate. The book is set in 1966, “Year One” of the new era, a year of tremendous conflict and change, and this plays a role in the book’s setting and also figures in the plot:

I’ve read it three times now and I’ve reacted differently each time. The first time I was quite young and thoroughly shocked (it was the late 70s) and absolutely riveted. I saw the movie immediately after and was mesmerized with its elegant terror. I have heard it said that the movie - being so faithful to the book in its adaptation - is an adequate replacement for reading Levin’s novel, but I’d argue that Rosemary’s internal dialog (it’s written from her POV) is valuable, especially as we see her movement back and forth between trusting Guy and their neighbors, how guilt is used against her, and how her internal compass gets decalibrated.

The second time I read it (late 80s) for pure pleasure and was surprised that it no longer seemed as frightening compared to its new competition. In truth, Levin’s avoidance of the grotesque, always choosing the type of subcutaneous chill that most ignites psychological horror, creates tension without the weight of relentless violence we see in films like Friday the 13th and books like Headhunter. What happened in my case is that this terror incubates, never leaving, so that the mere thought of Rosemary’s conflict with the coven is enough to invite shivers. There are few books that I’ve read (It by Stephen King is another - every time I pass a storm drain, I swear I look for clowns) that so perturb that the fear never really leaves.

Thus, now I read it, almost studying it, because of its craftsmanship, and I see it entirely different, perhaps because of my age. I mean, I’m much closer to Roman Castavet’s age than Rosemary’s, right? What do I see different? Well, first of all, I appreciate the utter simplicity of their time. If 1966 was a complicated time, at a crossroads so to speak, 2015 is a high-speed interchange. A cover that says “Is God Dead?” wouldn’t even spark surprise today. Their world of Manhattan seems almost quaint, but the power of the novel survives. The characters (the ambitious actor, the innocent housewife, the malignant Satanists, the Dr. Kildare obstetrician, the junkie project) all seem like tropisms, and it’s hard to believe they were ever original, but nothing is really lost there either. The dialog is as witty as ever (Levin is really good) and the scene of Satanic seeding is as tasteful and delicious as ever, though some participants have lost their contemporary value:

Almost everything else works actually. In fact, a book that seemingly required to be set in the great period of flux is actually astoundingly timeless. What a tremendous success!

I think it’s because Ira Levin taps into eternal themes: Guy’s ambition, Rosemary’s guilt and alienation from her family. There is also the theme of Satanists, which could indeed be any occult obsession. The Devil of Levin isn’t necessarily Lucifer, but the quest for the third rail of religion. On top of that, there is also an essential message about the elemental power of motherhood and its substantial power, which I glossed over in earlier reads, but (probably because I’m older now) I see as a counterweight to the masculine obsession with raw power.

Rosemary’s diet though…

tl/dr: A finely crafted tale of psychological terror with a Satanic/witchcraft theme. Highly recommended! Five stars.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Thomas Tryon - Harvest Home

Harvest HomeHarvest Home by Thomas Tryon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let’s take a successful, but troubled couple (Ned & Beth Constantine) with a daughter (Kate) who has emotional issues that manifest in physical illness out of the city and put them in the country where all their problems will be solved. Give them a rainbow to point the way. Now, let’s see what happens.

Is there a more frightening horror archetype than the fertility cult? Belief in Earth Mother, representing both the bounty of the earth and motherhood, is thousands of years old. We see figures that some archeologists believe represent mother goddesses dating back to Paleolithic times. The Venus of Dolni Věstonice (Brno, Czech Republic) dates from 29000 BCE to 25000 BCE. In Neolithic time both in Europe and the New World, there are mother goddess symbols associated with fertility. Later there are Isis & Hathor of the Egyptians and Demeter for the Greeks. There is Venus for the Romans, and Mary who was worshiped as a mother goddess by the Collyridianists.

Fertile Earth, female, provider of all that nurtures, was indeed a ubiquitous fixture in early agricultural civilizations. Neopaganism is also popular today. People from the city might think it’s quaint like Ned does or might immediately feel estranged like Burt & Vicky do in King’s Children of the Corn. Other stories that explore this theme are Robert Graves’s “The White Goddess”, David Pinner’s “Ritual”, and (my favorite!) Brenda Gates Smith’s short series “Secrets of the Ancient Goddess”/“Goddess of the Mountain Harvest”. In many ways, the monotheistic god male-dominant god of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is opposed to the worship of the Earth Mother. In pleasantly pastoral Cornwall Coombe, however, the two work in tandem.

I’m not going to discuss the plot, except to say it is everything you could hope for in a story designed to scare you. Tryon cheats a little bit by making his protagonist, Ned, into *that* character. You know him. He’s the one that goes down into the spooky basement holding a candle because he hears a window opening, just after he finds out a murderer is on the prowl. Ned’s combination of recklessness, over-inquisitiveness, and bad choices makes this story work incredibly well.

Though I didn't really like Ned much (and happy he gets what he deserves) I did like the Widow Fortune and Missy Penrose who are integral parts of the cult. The Widow Fortune is the glue and Missy is her successor. Here are their made-for-tv images:

The Widow Fortune:

Yes, that is Bette Davis. And Missy Penrose:

Played by Tracey Gold, who was also in The Dead Zone.

So, the lesson here is to watch out for women, because though they are beautiful, nurturing, and so much fun, they have their own needs and Mother Earth most of all must be satisfied. Failure has a very high price, so keep her happy (or else). Also, watch out for where the rainbow ends, especially if you are a city mouse.

tl/dr: A lot of good scary fun...

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Friday, October 9, 2015

My Review of Knebel's Seven Days in May (a reread after 35 years)

Seven Days In MaySeven Days In May by Fletcher Knebel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third time I’ve read Fletcher Knebel’s novel about a beleaguered president whose job is threatened by a charismatic military man. Before I go into my new impressions I will give a short summary of the political situation of 1961-2, when the book was written, coinciding incidentally with my first year alive. President Eisenhower (a two-term president who was a famous military commander in World War II) left the Oval Office in Jan 1961 after President Kennedy’s election in November of 1960. Kennedy was also a WWII war hero for leading his crew to safety after his torpedo boat, PT-109, was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy was matched against Nikolai Kruschev, a formidable player in the Cold War. 1961 saw American embarassment in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, a summit in Vienna, and the construction of the Berlin Wall. The novel was set in the 1970s (1973 I believe) in an alternate America where a war like the Korean War was fought in Iran (leading to partition that left the military unhappy) and without a Vietnam War. There are also long shadows of McCarthyism and McArthur. Those were real and scary.

I’m won’t go into details about the plot, but I want to give some impressions about the characters. First General James Mattoon Scott, the charismatic general, is a larger than life character who seems perfectly human and whose behaviors do not jive well with someone who is supposedly the brightest military mind of the generation. His plot involves capturing the President in a bunker and sending gung-ho troops to seize communication lines in Utah and capture major cities. This may, of course, have been a realistic approach in 1960 (or even 1970), but without popular backing, how could it work? Gen Scott has popularity on his side, though, and the President does not. In any case in this read I was less impressed by Scott than I was when I was younger. Despite the attempts by the authors (both political journalists) to show him as a complicated, calculating adversary and then reduce him to desperation at the end, his assumed superiority doesn’t really emerge. He is a gambling man that is sailing by jury rig (as the Secretary of Treasury points out - mixing metaphors because Scott is actually an air man). Lyman, the President, by contrast comes off as likeable and philosophical with a good sense of his place in history. This is one of the themes throughout the book, selfless duty to the constitution that seems almost quaint in these days of the Tea Party.

The story is written in 3rd person limited point of view with alternating characters. Thus we get Colonel Casey’s perspective about General Scott’s lies, but never Scott’s impression about Casey’s “disloyalty”. I’d say that some of the suspense is killed by solving problems quickly, but this is a reread so I knew they’d be solved anyhow, right? Also, I recognize the Girard’s cigarette case as a deus ex machina, but by that time the general’s men are already kidnapping, so maybe it wasn’t necessary after all. It was important enough to die for though.

As I said, this is my 3rd (and last) read and I’m impressed by how my perspective has change. I am a child of the nuclear age fully grown, but who lived with the threat of atomic winter for a good part of my life, including all of my formative years. Much has happened since 1961 and in the government and the military have become tainted. Watergate, Iran Contra, and Vietnam come to mind. 9/11 showed how vulnerable we were to terrorism, and The Great Recession demonstrated the fragility of our economy. To be elected president now it seems you must evoke a common man, but still be smart enough to actually solve the problems. This recalls some of President Lyman’s words about the lack of variation in approaches, the power of government bureaucrats compared to the power of the presidency, and numerous other reflections. For that alone the book is interesting.

Another aspect I found entertaining is the depiction of culture. Everyone seems to smoke cigars or cigarettes. High balls are consumed en masse. Casey speaks about rape of his wife as if it is seduction. Men and women have very distinct roles and service wives are supposed to be acquiescent. In another example of how the book has aged poorly the Secretary of Health and Urban Development is not included in the counterconspiracy because the color of his skin (he is African-American) would call too much attention. Can you imagine having a Black man in the White House? Not likely.

If the book has a large failing, I would say that the characters are too rote. No one except Lyman is very complicated. I wonder if people were really this simple to understand and we’ve changed, but dismiss it out of hand. The book is written for its political intrigue by journalists of that era. The reductionism that occurs also reflects on the reader of those times.

The looming question, of course, is whether something like this happen. If you are old enough to remember 9/11, the memory of the wave of patriotism after the attacks in New York and Washington in 2001 must still resonate with you. There was a groundswell of support and the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan were supported more than any since WWII. Even so, military men stayed in the background most of the time. Civilian leadership took precedence. I think this speaks volumes about our current attitude. With the end of the Cold War the military has become a diplomatic tool of first resort rather than last, but it certainly is moved by the president rather than the other way around.

To show the distance between now and then did you hear about the new Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? 14 days ago General Joseph Dunford became Chairman. A Marine, he was the leader of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. “Fighting Joe” is 59 (about the same age as Scott) and shows no inclination to overthrow the government.

Don’t sleep too easy though. One way things have not changed is that both the United States and Russia are fully capable of destroying each other with nuclear weapons. Arms treaties have helped reduce the stockpile of warheads (approximately 1640 today) from the tens of thousands that prevailed back in the 1960s. 1640 nuclear weapons on each side is still plenty enough to bring on the Dark Ages again.

I’m going to say I still “like” the book, but not “really like” it. It has aged and not very gracefully. The concept of the story is good, but its telling could be improved. In any case it’s a quick read (300 pgs more or less 5-6 hours) and depressingly fun.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Moving Interview with Trey Anastasio - New Yorker

Alec Wilkinson interviews Trey Anastasio:

(1) Conversation about songwriting, influences, playing with the Dead, summer tour, parenthood, much more.
(2) Performances of "Blaze On", "The Line", "Joy", "Cartwheels", "Farmhouse", "Backwards Down the Number Line", "Sample in a Jar"

Listen to show here!

I loved the story of counting down "Althea".