Archive for the 'amazing' Category


Visual Images without the Visuals – 1a – Summer Camp, maybe 10 years ago

For the longest time it was the only place in the world where I always knew the exact location of the Big Dipper. As an awkward pre-teen, and teen, I spent at least one Saturday night there a summer. The incline of the hill just the perfect angle for stargazing. As I got older I could still spot it, to the bottom left, just above the ‘Boys’ bathroom, standing now instead of laying down. Generally speaking, they were always the same thing. The same ironic nostalgia, nothing current, that wasn’t the point. Eventually the clothes grew as ridiculous and gaudy as the music. Dressing up as a competition. Who can wear more differing prints? More neon? More costume jewelry? More sunglasses at night? More androgyny?

A dark and muggy night like so many others. The colored ropes and Christmas lights blazing. Tiki torches. Not taking requests. Before the switch to Ipods. For the life of me I can’t remember the song that came on before it. Of the cordoned off and encircled space, the least available could be found directly in front of the DJ Booth. A volleyball court, a full size basketball court, the perfectly slanted hill in between, and 3 by 12 feet of dried out and browning grass on the other side of both. The first electronic notes hit and there is no mass convergence inspired by something so out of character. This isn’t Bon Jovi or the Spice Girls. The crowd slowly gets its bearings, as certain people start to recognize what’s happening. It’s the kind of music that makes you lose your job as DJ. Radiohead. The early 2000s uniter, to some. The jam kids and the trustafarians, the punks, the hip-hop kids, the suburban and oblivious, they all collectively seem to have no problem with the band still. Perhaps because they were mislabeled for years as the next Pink Floyd. It’s starting to get really dark now. The crowd descends into the 3 by 12 space of former grass, slowly but en mass, and they don’t dance. They don’t stand still. They don’t mosh or pogo. There is no skanking or lip synching or air-synth jamming. The gathering crowd simply ceases to be single entities. Moving as a whole, up and down, to the constant electronic drum beat. ‘WHO’S IN BUNKER, WHO’S IN BUNKER.” The outfits, the rest of the nights music, including the perpetual last dance ‘American Pie,’ where your friends are, where your girl went, it doesn’t matter. No one lacking control of their facilities, most underage. A strange song for some standards. And yet, it inspires a reaction on a level never seen since. 5 minutes in the woods. Hours until the nearest city. Dial-up only internet. Piles of CDs in binders supplying the music, a stereo borrowed from a low wattage radio station.


Visual Images without the Visuals – 1 – Summer Camp, maybe 14 years ago

A lanky man in a dark vest with a name tag walking in circles, face shrouded in cloudy Coke bottle thick glasses. He’s holding a briefcase. As we get closer, collectively the group notices that that he is whispering to himself, muttering quickly and methodically, “I like cheese.” It’s hard to get close to him, nothing seems to stop him from walking in circles, not even the pole of a nearby soccer goal. It’s as if he is on some sort of premeditated route. He collides with the goal post so believably that most of the group jumps back in fear and concern. When we finally encircle him, holding hands as is the custom, he motions for us all to sit down. We do, and he sits as well, opening his briefcase in a swift motion. In the movies, when some sort of deal goes down, and large amounts of money are exchanged it usually lines a briefcase in stacks of bills. The briefcase is lined in the same way, with individually wrapped slices of American Cheese. My counselor dutifully takes off his shoes, as he is motioned to do without words, his socks as well, and then, even more methodically than the circles the man unwraps the slices of cheese and shoves them between the toes of my counselor.  Shoes and socks go back on quickly, without any sort of clean up, so as not to lose any time. All of this is for the lanky bespecteled man’s signature, on a pre-approved sheet of paper.


mingling in the multiverse: science, the infinite, & the sublime.



First of all, I’m no scientist, so all apologies if any of my scientific logic or resulting speculations are faulty.

Scientific American sent me a supplement on Parallel Universes the other day, and because of this supplement I have had an epiphany–physics and cosmology are terrifying. The article reminded me of Borges’ Library of Babel or Garden of Forking Paths (and according to Zachary Mason, author of Lost Books of the Odyssey, in an interview on BLDGBlog, Borges is a favorite of a “disproportionately many well-read scientists.”) Even accepting that science has become much more probabilistic in the 20th and 21st centuries, and that science and fiction have long had a mutually constructive relationship, it is stunning how much these descriptions of the multiverse are reminiscent of fiction and art concerned with the infinite or the sublime.

In this article I learned that we can assume space is “infinite (or at least sufficiently large) in size and almost uniformly filled with matter, as observations indicate.” According to the article, with these basic assumptions it is a small step to make the claim that “even the most unlikely events must take place somewhere,” which is to say everything that could possibly happen has happened somewhere in the infinite spread of space.

From there the article describes the various theories of the multiverse. The first has the multiple universes have been constituted and spread around by the big bang “with a degree of randomness, generating all possible arrangements with nonzero probability.” Since our universe is assumed to be typical, there is probably a high density of them in space, so they can say that your closest identical copy is about 10 to the 10 to the 28 meters away. In the space in between we could speculate that there are innumerable nearly identical copies. According to this theory we are, ourselves, a sort of book in the library of babel—an empty “box” with infinite permutations of content stretching out on every spatial axis toward infinity. I imagine a Borges story about an immortal man trying to find his exact double. Or a Nabokov story about a mortal man who tries to kill his double for the insurance money.

Another theory have each universe as a bubble floating in a nearly empty volume. Infinitely many other bubbles exist floating in this volume, in an infinite number of configurations, but have spread, “[nucleating] like raindrops in a cloud.” This volume they are floating in is expanding faster than the speed of light, so it is a cloud that is essentially infinitely large—we could travel at the speed of light forever and never reach another multiverse. We are alone in a void. Nietzsche would be thrilled.

A third is the quantum theory, in which “every conceivable way that the world could be (within the scope of quantum mechanics) corresponds to a different universe.” The die falls on all 6 sides. Another theory has even the laws of nature varying.

We can reason that these multiverses exist, but we can’t even begin to imagine them. These theories of the multiverses are, then, sublime. A sublime experience, as I read it in its most basic sense, is a reaction to the unimaginable that leads us to re-calibrate our awareness of our position in and relation to the space and time in which we are situated. Here we reason that there are multiverses, and it leads us to reconsider our position in the vastness of outer space. This reads as an intensely jacked-up version of that classic sublime experience in which a person looks up at the night sky and feels minuscule in comparison to the scope of the cosmos.

Whereas many theories of the sublime held that a thing must be aesthetic, or sensual, it’s clear to me in reading this piece that scientific thought (which few people would argue is remotely aesthetic) has tipped over another threshold into the sublime. In here there is probably an argument that could be made regarding the stubborn persistence of mind/body dualism. More fascinating to me, though, is that one might argue that science, with its habit of upsetting prevailing opinion, blind belief, and even itself, has always been an enterprise with intimate knowledge of the sublime.


The Other Side of the Mirror – 1963,64,65


When I was, maybe 8 years old, I remember really loving Aerosmith. I remember going to the library and getting their album and dubbing it onto cassette. Lynard Skynard, Aerosmith, anything like that that was on Classic Rock Radio, WPLR. Anything my dad liked. When I got older the MTV thing happened, the modern rock radio thing happened, and had my Green Days, my Red Hot Chili Peppers, and my 311s. Of this group, I remember particularly latching onto 311. They hit sort of, as the modern rock radio thing was petering out. Before it was so clogged with Stainds and Creeds, or maybe it was more important that it was my interest in it that was waning. All I remember is that, the only thing that really hit me after that was punk rock. The Clash, the first band that my dad, my brother, and I could all agree on. Nofx, H20, Guttermouth, Blink 182, the Sex Pistols. Somewhere amongst the crusty dreadlocks and safety pin ear piercings I was supposed to go to the Warped Tour. With a friend’s father as a chaperone. But still, the Warped Tour, the event of the year for anyone with a burgeoning collection of band t-shirts. After driving three hours in the rain, to find that it was rained out, I ended up at the now closed Virgin Megastore. Because some kids that I really looked up to in High School were talking about the final Pavement record once while I was in earshot I bought “Slanted and Enchanted.” While still hanging out with the punks, I never skateboarded and never got into Hardcore. Too much gravel. I got really hooked on College Radio, and the Alkaline Trio gave way to Pedro the Lion, Hot Rod Circuit, Jets to Brazil, Modest Mouse, and the Get Up Kids. One day on the school bus, I actually took the school bus as a primary mode of transportation throughout High School, an acquaintance suggested ‘The Dismemberment Plan.’ Something about the name stuck with me. The Dismemberment Plan I repeated in my head. This was just after “Emergency and I” was first released. Wanting to get the full effect, to experience things how they came to fruition, I chose to purchase the first album first. I remember liking it, appreciating the audacious and cocksure lyrics. It was punk, but it was intelligent. When did such things become mutually exclusive? If memory serves, just before leaving for summer camp several months later, I found “Emergency and I” at a Borders. In the suburban upbringing, at least in Connecticut,  Borders was an absolutely crucial part of the pre-alternative experience. The only place for miles the stocked Magnet Magazine, and things on labels I was yet to discover like Merge and K. I bought “Emergency and I” hoping it would improve and expand upon the first effort, and because it had great cover art. If memory suits, I played that album every single morning that summer. It became part of my morning ritual. Some people get up and brush their teeth or make coffee. I never do the former before breakfast, and at the time did not partake in the later because I was straight edge. The children would slowly rise to the ringing of the breakfast bell and the opening chords of  ‘Life of Possibilities.’ It is not a jolter and doesn’t really hit the listener over the head, rolling guitar couplets, lyrics that are easy to get lost in in an early morning daze. Then suddenly the bottom drops out of it when it hits the bridge, and that was really the first crash for the campers and for me. I was usually half asleep while reaching for the ‘disc 5’ button on my handy down CD changer. The song regains it’s mellow qualities just before the end, just to lull the unaware listener into a false sense of security, with dour synths, repetitious notes. It was always ‘Memory Machine’ that roused the final stragglers. Leaving the cabin to myself.  Somewhere about six or 8 lines in, when the chorus first hits, I was up, my robe and slippers on, and I was putzing around the cabin in morning light, making sure I couldn’t smell any urine created over night. Somewhere right around “If they can make machines save us labor, some day they’ll do our hearts the very same favor,” I had taken my usual morning perch on the stoop of the cabin, watching dazed children shuffle across sun roasted grass and gravel driveways to the dining hall. “What do you want me to say?” was usually a question I asked myself. Or perhaps, less commonly, a particularly reticent co-counselor. Which was for the best as it’s singular stabs of guitar and vindictive lyrics are at times the sort of thing a lovelorn teenager is best left to sing to himself. Following breakfast, while other counselors chose something upbeat for cabin cleanup, I hit play on disk five again, not missing a song, and made sure that contemplative sweeping occurred during ‘Spider in the Snow.’ For years the opening couplets to this song were my absolute favourite quote. Before I was 20 years old. Before I had ever heard of K street. I suppose what really matters now, is not that this was, I can’t even say how many years ago…8, maybe 9, that I religiously listened to this album every morning. In a way that, until then, I had never listened to anything with such love before. I mean sure, I had liked ‘Give me three steps,’ and I thought they I had loved “I Heard they Suck Live,” but I really had never connected to anything musical as much as I loved this album. At a certain point it wasn’t routine as much as it was a requirement. Perhaps the difference semantic. I mean my day could not begin without this album. That, had I any sort of musical ability, had I know anyone or, or believed in myself enough to write lyrics, I would write ones just like this, and I would learn to play just like this, and, we would sound just like this. That, I almost wish I’d thought of it first, because, not only was it Travis Morrison’s experience, it was my experience, and I assumed it was everyone else’s as well. In an ideal world, or, the idealist world of a pre-liberal arts college teen, I had hoped to share this with anyone that would listen, because, it was their life. They needed to hear it because they had already heard it, not coming from my stereo, or from a mix tape or CD of my creation, but in their own lives. Or perhaps everyone’s minute to minute thought processes weren’t nearly as disjointed as mine or certain lyricists. Generally, the public really seemed to latch onto ‘You are Invited.’ Being probably the most easily accessible and non-vulgar song on the album, with a teachable moral to boot. For years, not just that first one, that first summer of love, the song was a fixture in another ritual ‘Chill Time.’ As the campers fell asleep it fell to the counselors to discuss something with them, and then play some music to take them to sleep. In most cases, being the sort of summer camp that it was, this responsibility fell to someone like Jerry Garcia, Dave Mathews, Trey Anasthaio. Someone that could really put the kids to sleep. For me however, there was always ‘You are Invited’ and it’s unsure protagonist. It’s primitive Casioesque beat and spoken lyrics. It was all right there for the children to devour, a simple metaphor, a wonderful lesson. ‘Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so mean to so and so, perhaps I should have included so and so in what and what.’ At least, this was what I hoped was going through their minds. And, I would like to think it did. Certain sessions I would have campers who requested repeat ‘You are Invited’ Chill Times, or I would have campers come back to my cabin, having moved on to older cabins and other age groups, but still not having moved on from ‘You are Invited.’ Sometimes it’s legend would even spread through word of mouth, and children I never had as campers would come into my cabin during free time and ask to hear, ‘the one about Invitations.’ That’s the sort of song that it is, one so big that it splits the album in halves while making one of it’s defining statements. One of the few nice sentiments to be found within. Following this comes ‘Gyroscope,’ ‘The City,’ ‘Girl O’Clock’ and ‘8 1/2 Minutes,’ the sort of back to back to back to back perfection that  one can really only imagine. Had I ever owned this album on vinyl, which will be possible again come the new year, it would be an easy argument to say this was one of the best, most perfect b-sides of all time. But as ‘Gyroscope’ insists about happiness, “no one wants to be that tacky about it,” so excuse me if I get a little heavy handed here. Where that song is herky jerky, danceable but not perfectly beat driven, like the party it’s lyrics describe, ‘The City’ is remorseful and bitter, baring a final plea for the lost love of it’s narrator it is almost quiet, an almost awkward compatriot to ‘Gyroscope.’ This is just the first stage of the grieving, of the loss the lyrics discuss, it is the final, nearly blood curtling ‘GOOOOOODDDDDBYYYYYEEEEE’ that really gives ‘Good Morning Captain’ a run for it’s money. In the jittery ‘Girl O’clock’ our protagonist bounces back and goes all Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or almost Californication, sleeping with anything that moves and bringing out the Braniac like vocal tics to explore that sort of balls out recklessness. From that nervous breakdown and other self destructions, we head to the apocalypse and all the sirens and crashes involved in ‘8 and 1/2 minutes.’  While we’re at it, might as well throw a party to wash it down, like that Jennifer Lopez video, except before that, and not nearly as lame, or anything to do with Y2k. Because that would date the proceedings. And, in case you hadn’t gathered by all this , there is absolutely nothing dated about this album. When I go back and listen to things that I used to love, the hits from College or High School, lots of College hits stay with me. However, almost nothing from High School holds up. Where it was mostly all just heart on the sleeve romanticism or dated power chords, ‘Emergency and I’ seems to appreciate both, understand both, and use them to speak about a much more universal and timeless experience. The sort of things that we all think but are afraid to speak aloud. Or maybe not, I mean, It’s just a ten plus year old indie rock album by a bunch of guys who epicly flamed out in everything else musical they tried to do. No disrespect to “Change,” and album I loved and still love. But, it isn’t nearly half the statement that this particular piece of beauty is. It’s like trying to compare ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ to Wowee, or Slanted. I’m also not saying this because I, unfortunately, will not be anywhere near the East Coast of America this January, I’m saying all this because it needs to be said. Because it’s the same sort of awkwardly beautiful self interested tripe that you may have already heard in this album. Or hopefully now, will hear.

magnets: this is how they f****** work

In the Insane Clown Posse’s recently released song “Miracles” you will find the lyrics

I’ve seen miracles all around me, stop and look around its all astounding, water, fire air and dirt, fucking magnets, how do they work?

Followed by

I don’t want to talk to a scientist, ya’ll motherfuckers lying and getting me pissed

If this was Tom Waits I might not be offended. But I’ll answer ICP’s question, not because they’ve asked it, but because I think there’s honest wonder and fascination in how magnets work and also because the best explanation you can get will come from a scientist.

The most common explanation has to do with the magnetic “fields” that some materials create by net effect of their composition – some significant portion of their atoms/molecules has an inherent magnetic property that is oriented along the same direction. Nearly all materials are magnetic, but in most objects the magnetic orientations are scrambled and cancel each other out. If you were to take to a few hundred one-inch magnets and throw them together you would likely end up with a lump that is much weaker magnetically than if you were to take the time to orient their poles along the same direction. In short, commonplace magnets display an effect that is the sum of many small magnetic dipoles which have an associated field – a property of space dependent upon proximity to the magnet.

Objects with magnetic charge will feel a force when placed in a magnetic field, a phenomenon that is easily studied and well understood. There is a tremendously accurate description, Maxwell’s laws, that relies on mathematics (involving things like potential energy and field gradients.) But honestly this is not the most complete description we have – for that you need to invoke quantum mechanics, due to the following reasons: The explanation for why atoms and molecules have a magnetic property involves angular momentum (orbital angular momentum and the inherent property called “spin”) and movement as defined by a probabilistic wave function, and that the minutiae of magnetic  fields are so-called “virtual particles.”

According to Quantum Mechanics and earlier theories, magnetic fields are created by moving electric charges, or perhaps with QM it’s better to say charges with energy, since “movement” in this case means something different than what we usually imagine. It also says that charges with angular momentum create magnetic fields. So take, for example, an electron bound in an atom. The electron has angular momentum and charge (neither of which are separable from the particle) and therefore it has a magnetic component. Electrons behave as if they contain a tiny magnet.

The second quantum component, virtual particles, is more abstract. Virtual particles are called virtual because they only have consequence for that which creates them (emits them) and that which absorbs them. If they had their own independent existence they would be normal matter and therefore bound to a different set of rules.  In order to create normal matter, for instance, you need to contribute energy on the amount of E = mc², but for virtual particles, which are components exchanged “under the table,” you don’t.  What is actually happening when magnets attract or repel each other, as best as we can tell, is an exchange of virtual photons – the same particles that constitute light.

Photons are massless particles but they still have energy in the form of momentum.  Quantum mechanics tells us that all particles have wavelength, but the more energy a particle has the shorter its wavelength. Since photons have so little energy (the least of any particle we know of) they have a long wavelength. Another way to say the same thing is that photons’ position is not well defined. A particle’s energy and wavelength also have bearing on how easily their virtual version can be exchanged, and therefore affect the affect the range of the force they represent.

Magnets work by an exchange of photons which never interact with anything in the interceding space . There is a near constant stream of these virtual photons occurring, which is also the same phenomenon responsible for our ability of sight, but that is ironically completely undetectable in situ. No magic or rainbows, and while you can’t hold the magnetism you can feel the effect on the magnet. I hope this explanation wasn’t too technical and abstract for all the juggalos and juggalettes out there, but I promise I’m not lying.



In keeping with the currently jocky mood, a few reading suggestions:

Roland Barthes answers the question What is Sport?

“What need have these men to attack? Why are men disturbed by this spectacle? Why are the totally committed to it? Why this useless combat?”


Also see Robert Coover’s great baseball novel: The Universal Baseball Association Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

Here’s what the Times thinks.


Finally, if horse racing is more your bag, you could do worse than attempt some John Hawkes. I know one of you already took me up on this and should probably return my book…

August 2019
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