Saturday, July 22, 2017

Axial-gravitational anomaly experimentally verified!

From the morning’s press:

The axial–gravitational anomaly should destroy the symmetry of particular kinds of particles that usually come in mirror-image pairs. The kinds of conditions needed to prove this unusual breakdown of a fundamental ‘conservation law’ can’t be created in a laboratory. But the researchers exploited a peculiar parallel between gravity and temperature to create a lab analogue of the anomaly in niobium phosphide crystals. Inside the crystal, the effect is as if a drawerful of pairs of gloves were suddenly to acquire an excess of right-handed gloves because some of the left-handed ones had switched handedness.

But … exactly that effect has been repeatedly observed in our own household, especially over winter! 
The effect is statistically too strong to be due to chance.
It’s a nuisance, too.  I’ve tried auctioning off the extra left-hand-gloves on eBay at very reasonable prices (more than half off the price of the original pair), but no takers.

Possibly there is an excess of right-hand-gloves in, say, Australia.  Some enterprising arbitrageur could make a mitt, I meant a mint.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Patient Malice (bis)

Patient Malice  (Newtonian version)

Ferocious, tenacious
(ferox,       tenax)
Gravity simply will have
this delicate Dresden china figurine --
a milkmaid and her shepherd-swain.

Weeks, months pass   immobilely,
the sweethearts oblivious in chaste serenity,
while Gravity in its grotto
grimly grimaces and grins.

Then one day, an errant elbow, and --

There, I’ve got it!
-- And if I can’t purely have it
(growls Gravity  at the center of the Earth)
then neither shall you ever have it back
except in fragments.


Patient Malice  (Miltonian version)

For as grim Gravity  lowly lurks and lingers
in the depths of his potential-energy pit,
to pull our  each frail  cherished objects
to smash them all to fragments,

so too does Satan  watch and wait
in his fuliginous  and smoky pit,
for some         slip,         some
tilt or tip  of the moral compass,
to grab us  toppling, tumbling,
falling, fumbling
to the heart of his black embrace.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Word of the Day: “Schowo”

We earlier saluted the German “Schoduvel” festival:

And this week has been the tradictional Schowo festival -- Schorndorfer Woche -- in Swabia.
So that is our Word of the Day -- the more precious, as it may have no tomorrow.

Damals war's schoen ...

For Germany has blindly imported its own undertakers.

Details here   and here.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Patient Malice

Ferocious, tenacious
(ferox,       tenax)
Gravity simply will have
this delicate Dresden china figurine --
a milkmaid and her shepherd-swain.

Weeks, months pass   immobilely,
the sweethearts oblivious in chaste serenity,
while Gravity in its grotto
grimly grimaces and grins.

Then one day, an errant elbow, and --

There, I’ve got it!
-- And if I can’t purely have it
(growls Gravity  at the center of the Earth)
then neither shall you ever have it back
except in fragments.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Jour de la Bastille 2017

Félicitations à nos alliés de plusieurs guerres, et meilleurs vœux pour une solide coopération entre nos nations.
Et heureux anniversaire à mon épouse Suzanne Marie, née en ce jour il y a, eh ben, quelques années et le pouce, et qui porte un nom français en l’honneur de cette amitié  plusieurs foix séculaire.
Pour célébrer, voici le palmarès de nos aperçus hexagonaux:
La francophonie

A beautiful friendship

Welcome words from Président MACRON:

« Nous avons trouvé des alliés sûrs, des amis qui sont venus à notre secours. Les États-Unis sont de ceux ci. Rien ne nous séparera, jamais. »


The military aspect:

Un siècle après leur entrée en guerre dans le conflit mondial de 14-18, les troupes américaines ont joué les premiers rôles lors du traditionnel défilé du 14 Juillet, accueillies par le salut militaires de leur «Commander in chief».
Emmanuel Macron a réaffirmé ce vendredi la solidité de l'amitié entre les Etats-Unis et la France à l'issue du traditionnel défilé militaire du 14-Juillet qui a arboré cette année les couleurs de l'US Army, cent ans après l'entrée des Etats-Unis dans la Première guerre mondiale.
Sous les yeux des deux chefs d'Etat présents dans la tribune d'honneur, les héritiers des "Sammies", surnom donné aux militaires américains engagés en 1917, ont ouvert sur les Champs-Elysées ce défilé.

Linguistic note:
This morning’s NPR report described that march-vanguard as being “dressed as doughboys”, America’s term for its soldiers in WWI.  (The term actually goes back to some decades earlier.  Its etymology has been variously explained.  -- Contrast “G.I. Joe” in WWII.  Here too, the etymology has been controversial.  Merriam-Webster derives it from “galvanized iron”, of all things.)
And now it turns out our French allies called them "Sammies" (presumably from “Uncle Sam”).

Macron’s review-of-the-troops  would have been more impressive were it not for this story, the very same day:

«Je ne vais pas me faire b… comme ça», a lâché mercredi le général Pierre de Villiers devant la commission de Défense, au lendemain de l'annonce d'une coupe de 850 millions d'euros en 2017 pour le budget des armées.

Linguistic note to monoglots:
French “b … “ is the equivalent of our “f …”,  I presume.


A reader comments:

Parfait ! Mais si; par extraordinaire, le pays avait encore besoin d'un coup de main pour le libérer, Eux risquent fort cette fois de manquer du moindre enthousiasme !

Speaking only for myself:  The enthusiasm is as strong as ever; only, this time the threat to the Hexagon  stems not from the Saracens, nor yet the boches (French for ‘the Jerries’), but from its own fifth column of cultural dissolutionists,  who constitute  or welcome le grand remplacement.   And on this point, our President’s recent remarks in Poland  are much to the point.

Indeed, even as festivities  bathed the Champs-Elysées, the racaille of the banlieue were setting items on fire, hoarding projectiles, and setting an ambush for the police who responded to the provocations:

The continued American willingness to defend France from its terrorist attackers, was neatly exemplified in 2015, when a trio of vacationing G.I.s  leapt into action to foil a terror-attack in a high-speed train.   Clint Eastwood is making a movie of the incident, starring the servicemen as themselves.   (A very promising premise -- especially the train setting, which has been perfect for movies for decades.)


Quant aux premières dames -- part of the sociéte du spectacle of this largely ceremonial summit :

Both our countries are fortunate in their First Ladies, this time around.
First, for France, the mere fact that there is a First Lady, the lawful wedded wife of the Président.  True, a divorcée, but the Presidential couple is a great improvement over their Socialiste predecessor, with his succession of mistresses, including the unspeakable adulteress Trierweiler.

As for us -- the U.S. -- not since Jackie has so stylish a First Lady  captivated France.
Sample appreciations:



Tuesday, July 4, 2017


The Fourth of July celebration -- in origin quite earnest, and a time for historico-political speechmaking and some semi-military display -- has gradually softened and loosened, like an old sweater, into a fairly agenda-free holiday for kids:  Family, fireworks, fun, and french fries -- the four Fs of sweet July.  Well I recall, how we as kids  lined up along Ridgewood Avenue, excitedly half-comprehendingly, to watch the parade flow by.

As you grow older, some of it does get old.  Brief bursts of bright blotches against the night sky  no longer move me -- not, at any rate, so much as the least glimpse of God’s own handiwork, like the more permanent pattern-and-colorburst on the leaves of a coleus, or a lady cardinal in the bush.

But in another way, the meaning of this day grows ever deeper, even sombre.  For the success and permanency of the American Revolution was by no means a foregone conclusion -- we were truly in uncharted territory back then.   The more you learn about history, and the more history itself keeps happening, you are forced to conclude:  Most revolutions  go awry.

To begin with our own.   Contrary to the impression we got in school (back in the fifties, when we all sat dutifully at our desks), at the time of the Declaration of Independence, a bare one third of the American population was in favor of rebelling against Britain; a third against; a third undecided.   The perfect setting for an immediate post-revolution civil war.  Yet it did not happen (the Civil War a century later fell along quite different lines).  The only threat came again externally, in 1812 (“the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air”), when the wrath of the British Empire was again turned against us, and the nation’s capital was set in flames.   The pinwheels and cherry bombs of latter days  commemorate an actual peril.

Nor were the political logistics of the Revolution so simple as that of one entity rebelling against one other:  at the time, we were not yet quite even America, let alone the UnitedStates;  but an assemblage of upwards of a dozen colonies, founded at different times by various creeds and ethnicities (Catholics in Rhode Island, Puritans in Massachusetts, Quakers and various German sects in Pennsylvania, and so forth) many of which had been at odds with one another back in the mother country, which is why some of them came here in the first place.  Yet they fought side by side;  and when victory was won, did not then fall to quarreling over the spoils, nor into strife as to which should be cock of the walk;  but together founded  a unified nation.
By contrast, India was one country at time of independence from Britain -- yet immediately fractured, savagely, along sectional lines.  What had been contemned as the British “yoke”  turns out to have been a garde-fou (et les fous se sont emparés de l’asile).

Remarkably as well, we managed, over the years and (by now) centuries, to maintain (most of us) extremely cordial, even intimate relations with the Mother Country -- an unusual trans-hemispheric affinity, unmatched by the relations of the Latin American countries to Spain and Portugal (let alone Haiti or Algeria to France).

Consider next the French revolution -- “next”, because in fact it was subsequent to our own, having broken out in 1789;  though the way Europeans run on about it, you’d think it was the first revolution in the history of the world.  Anyhow, it remains a proud occasion;  the French version of Independence Day is Bastille Day, celebrated on July 14, with great fanfare.  (For our friendly nod to our old ally, click here:  Merci la France.)

Yet their revolution was -- franchise oblige -- a gorawful bloody cock-up.  Not content with overturning centuries of monarchy, the revolutionaries proceeded to la Terreur, and to a sort of overreaching ideological Gleichschaltung that foreshadowed the Bolshevik excess, and of successive waves of revolutionaries being eaten by their chilren, in a way that prefigured the Stalin-era trials. And to crown it all, it didn’t even stick:  within a couple of decades, the kings were back.
France did not ultimately found a Republic that stuck, after the imperial and revived-monarchical interludes, until 1871, with the Third Republic (which segued into the Fourth and Fifth, not without strife, but without a relapse into pre-Republican polity).   Nor did this event stem in any direct way from the events of 1789.  As William Shirer tells it, in The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969, chapter “A Freakish Birth): 

It came into being by a fluke.  The National Assembly, elected in 1871 … had not wanted a Republic.  Nearly two thirds of its members were Monarchists.  But they could not agree on a king …

So the lawmakers … sort of backed into the harness of a republic … by a majority of one vote … 353 to 352 -- though there would have been a tie  had one deputy, who was against it, not been late in arriving for the balloting.  Even then it was not clear to many members that they were actually choosing a republic.  The day before, they had rejected it, or thought they had.
By contrast, the Constitution that came out of our revolutionary days  has lasted and guided us down to the present, with comparatively modest and incremental additions.


Since the end of the Second World War, world history has been spotted by rebellions and revolts, mostly anti-colonial, in quest of independence.   And for the most part, the results have not been pretty.
MyanmarZimbabwe.   Algeria. Somalia.  Cambodia.  South AfricaCongo.  The fragment that is Pakistan, and the mini-fragment of Bangladesh.  And now most recently, South Sudan and Azawad.  Names like tombstones along the  the corpse-strewn path of History’s forced-march.
And thus the American declaration of independence, which shone at the time, shines yet more brightly now, against the contrasting dark.  It is as though the metal of which men then were made, deemed sturdy bronze at the time, were revealed, in the fullness of time, with the reckonings in and the dust dispersed, to have been, in actual and astonishing fact, of purest gold.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bait and Switch

John le Carré’s  Our Kind of Traitor (2010)  begins as auspiciously as any mystery-thriller in memory.
Among the chief pleasures of the mystery genre, is that the reader walks through its world with heightened senses:   Every oddity, each detail, may be a clue;  and the mind gathers them up  like a squirrel stashing-away nuts.    Ultimately, these clues need to cohere in some plausible way, or the reader feels cheated -- we have wasted our time.  But getting there is half the fun.

The old Cold War master’s recent novel  deftly adds another layer to that.
First, we meet an English academic couple, vacationing on a Caribbean island.   They meet a seemingly rich but rather louche Russian -- or rather, he scrapes acquaintance, via a dubiously ingratiating resort manager.   They agree to a game of tennis.  From there, things get a little strange, but not in a way that you can quite put your finger on.
So far so good -- the set-up is reminiscent of those superb opening scenes in David Mamet’s movie thriller-cum-puzzlebox “The Spanish Prisoner”.
But now comes the next narrative layer.
In the second chapter, the story suddenly breaks off, and we unexpectedly find ourselves amid the brick walls of a basement room, where our vacation-pair is being patiently, expertly interrogated;  it is unclear by whom.   This interlude lasts but a paragraph, as though a mental fugue, then we are back on the island, to resume the game.

Then again, we are back in that blank basement room.  Narratively, it is a flash-forward. The two interrogators have acquired names;  the interrogees  are wary but cooperative.   Are they themselves suspected of wrongdoing?  -- At this point, the rather dreamlike switching between the original “real-time” tennis-story, and this eerie alternate venue, is atmospherically quite effective, and reminiscent of William Kotzwinkle’s elegantly structured  The Exile.

Evidently the interrogators already somehow know a vast though lacunary amount  about some equally vast but perplexing conspiracy  that centers on, or at least involves, the Russian.   As in a police procedural, they proceed through the recounting of a seemingly innocent random tennis-match,  whose (bored) spectators consisted of the Russian’s friends and relations.  The female interrogator asks the wife:
“So where were the wee girls located at this point?  Below you?  Along the row from you?  Where, please.”  (Urgent italics in original.)
Somehow, such details are ineffably important.  The reader grows increasingly intrigued.

Only, it turns out the whole thing is an authorial scam.  None of those details come to really matter, most are unexplained;  and the only reason the interrogators even have a clue about the island events  is that the vacationers brought them a tape made by the Russian.   In other words, there was not some intricate pre-existing intelligence project, with Analyst-Notebook-style webs of interconnections  lining the walls;  so all that guff about where the wee girls sat  and the like, was just flimflam.
At that point, the only twist that might have saved the plot  would be if the interrogators turned out not to be MI5  (as we, and the vacationers, had assumed), but rather (in a false-flag situation) some sinister group connected to the Russian.   But no such luck.

In the end, the book does not deserve the category of mystery-thriller, but merely thriller (generally a lesser genre, except in cinema),  and not a very thrilling one at that.

Given that le Carré spent decades writing about British counterintelligence, and given the history of Kim Philby and his fellow-moles, the title Our Kind of Traitor quite definitely should point to a Cambridge Five kind of scenario, in which an English agent covertly working for the nation’s enemies  is tolerated far too long, since he is “our kind”, one of the Old Boys, the Right Sort.   But nothing of it.  There are no traitors here, Cantabridgian or otherwise;  the title seems to have been imposed by the publisher, on a whim or by mistake.

~     ~     ~

By way of somewhat compensating  for even having taken up your time with all this,  here are a couple of snatches of “found poetry”  quarried from the course of three hundred pages of prose.

In the road above the basement,    an ambulance tears past,
and the howl of its siren
is like a scream for the whole world’s pain.


The rain was rattling like hailstones   on the car’s roof.
The windscreen wipers   groaned and sobbed
as they tried to keep up.


Holidaymakers   with sticks and sunhats
peered into windows   of souvenir  shops.


[For additional reviews, see  The Thriller Literature.]

Cosmic Aging

Most everything in the Universe   changes with age:
Stars consume their fuel and die;
we humans grow wrinkled and wise.

-- Kip Thorne, Black Holes & Times Warps (1994), p. 479

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Are *you* ready for: The Hot Dog Experience ??

We earlier chronicled the depths to which the New York Times can sink, in trumpeting the self-licking gourmandise  endemic among the bobos of Paris:

This morning, a trio of chroniqueuses go down-market, selecting the top news of the week’s stories, the tippy-top of which is this one, showing that the gooey pleasures of the Gluttony of Delicacy  are available  even to those who merely chow down on weiners:

That First Crisp Bite
Can Make or Break the Hot Dog Experience’

Contributions for victims who have suffered  a broken Hot Dog Experience  can be sent to this address.   (Contributions in Swiss francs, please, in lieu of flowers.)

M-my h-hot dog wasn't c-crisp ...

[Update Sunday]

Predictably, the WaPo weighs in with a front-page tearjerker about a woman who had the misfortune to bite down on the wrong end of a frankfurter.   “It’s not about the money -- it’s about the families,” she sobbed.