Roll Over, Einstein?

I find it odd that someone who counts on his fingers would even attempt to write about physics.  But there was an article in the paper a couple of weeks ago that grabbed my attention and hasn’t let go.

Particle physicists at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory, have been researching sub atomic particles called neutrinos.  Neutrinos do not carry an electric charge, which means they’re not affected by the electromagnetic forces that act on charged particles like electrons and protons. So these infinitesimal particles are able to travel great distances through matter without being affected by it. Essentially neutrinos move through all matter without being stopped—you, me, lead, planets, even the Sun.  Bizarrely, according to a physicist friend, it is possible to trap some of the weak ones with a dry cleaning fluid.

Anyhow, scientists have been shooting them on a 730km (450 miles) journey through the Earth from Cern near Geneva, Switzerland to the Gran Sasso lab in Italy. What was remarkable about the experiments is it appears that the neutrinos seem to arrive sixty billionths of a second faster than they would have been had they been traveling at the speed of light in a vacuum.

Which, if eventually proven to be accurate, would be the most important sixty billionths of a second in the history of physics.  It would overturn Einstein’s theory of relativity and turn our explained world inexplicable.  Because, if the experiment is eventually proven correct, it sets the stage for blurring the line between the past and present and decimates the notion of cause and effect.  (The last sentence is over my head—that is, the why of it.  Someone who actually understands this will need to explain it in a comment, ‘cause I sure can’t.)  But just a glimpse of the idea itself is, for me, a mind fuck.  I somehow see Superman rapidly flying backwards around the Earth again and again at super speed in order to change the past.

As you might expect, physicists can’t and won’t believe in that 60 billionth.  Some simply don’t trust the results. (“I’ll eat my shorts if this is true.”) Others have differing rationales, for example, suggesting that different gravitational effects at the two different locations might have affected the measuring clocks.  A few have quickly come up with a “New Physics” that still maintains Einstein’s theory albeit with modifications.

Even the scientists at Cern, who have been conducting the experiments over a long period of time, are skeptical.  In fact, they’ve put out a call for other physicists to go after their results.  To try the experiment (and others) to see if it could possibly be repeated somewhere else. They themselves are creating new experiments to try to explain/overturn their own findings.

On some level, it doesn’t matter to me if this experiment turns out to be accurate or not.  I don’t expect to do much time traveling.  It’s the notion that everything we believe can, in a heartbeat, (and years of experimentation is but a heartbeat of time), be turned on its head leaving us with little or no explanation about the world in which we live.

I love that idea.  Maybe because it fits with my own experience that knowing is often only that which we perceive at a given moment.  And that knowing can, and very often does, change over time.  Sometime quite quickly.

Maybe I love the idea because I believe in the fluidity of knowledge.  Hell, with all the data that’s been streaming in from outer space for twenty or more years, we’re bound to discover that what we believe isn’t what it is.

Maybe I love the idea because as a parent I’ve lived through the growth and changes my sons have gone through and watched how mutable a life can be.

Maybe I love the idea because I still believe that people change.  Or, at least have the capacity for change.  And I’m not talking just around the edges.  I’m talking core.  Most of us know people who have gone through one type of “conversion” or another.  Religious, political, cultural.  Deep enough changes to recreate themselves.

Maybe I love the idea because artists have shown over and over throughout time that what we take for granted, what we see, can be seen so differently that our eyes open to unconsidered possibilities.

Or maybe I love the idea because it thrills me to know I know nothing.

So good luck scientists, no matter how the 60 billionth turns out.  You’ve already made my day.

Video link NEUTRINO SONG-Corrigan Brothers

“What is to give light must endure burning.” Viktor Frankl

Give Me A Goy Or Get Me A Gun

(An Early Bird dinner in Florida)

It started when Barry, the 60-year old waiter, screeched to a stop at our table. “Your table is number twenty-nine, remember that. I stink at this job, so when I screw up you can just shout ‘table 29.’”  His Groucho was so good I wanted to jump up and stick out my knee to shake his hand.  Turns out he was funny—and, unfortunately, honest.

Things moved along, the occasional call across the room for “butter, not margarine” and “Can we get our coffee now?”  No problem, Groucho did his best.  But my Jewish self-loathing, usually reserved for the Israeli genocide of Palestinians, began to rear its head as the table next to us filled up with a nine person circus.

The women.  Ahh, the women.  Blonde hair, black hair, another, the hue of Rita Hayworth in Gilda—at least that reddish hue you’d imagine it would be if the movie were in color. If I had a dime for every nip and a dollar for every tuck, I’d buy the world a Coke.  We’re talking 80 plus without a single wrinkle or wattle.  Blonde hair, black hair, silver hair.  You gotta hope they shaved their legs.

And the men.  I couldn’t quite count the dentures and none popped out—at least that I could see from my seat.

“The game last night, my god, what a way to lose,” said the man, who became The Maven. (He who knows it all).

“I watched it but don’t remember the end,” said the guy who turned out to be The Forgetter.

“How can you not remember the end?  It was the best part.  Everything happened.  Did you fall asleep?  Mother, do you know what you want to eat?”

“What?  I can’t hear you!” Blonde Mama yelled from the other end of the table.

“Are you wearing your hearing aid?”

“What are you saying?” she shouted.

“He’s asking if you know what you want to eat,” Silver Hair explained, talking into her ear.  “Why aren’t you wearing your hearing aid?  You spent a fortune for it.”

“They make my ears look too big for my head. And I don’t know why he keeps asking the same damn thing.  I always get the veal.”

Which veal?” Silver Hair tries to shorten the inevitable process with a preempt.

“The Italian one. I just don’t know what’s the matter with that kid.  He must have a gene missing!”

The Blonde Mama had a problem hearing, but when the waiter finally came, her memory was razor sharp.  She ordered with machine gun precision: matzo ball soup, salad, blue cheese dressing, veal (Parmesan, it turned out), ziti on a side plate, vegetables, iced tea with two lemons, “make sure it’s two lemons.”  I idly wondered if she was going to take one of the slices home.  When she asked for a Styrofoam cup and top in advance for half her matzo ball, I was sure of it.

Meanwhile the table had moved on to politics.

“Obama, what’s to know?”

“Plenty, just listen to Colbert,” The Maven was saying to anyone who might be listening (loud enough that “anyone” could include the entire restaurant). “I’m telling you, he’s a genius!  Him and that other guy.  Pure genius!”

“Comedians can’t be geniuses,” the Forgetter responds, “anyway, both of them are slanted. And they don’t admit it.”

The Forgetter, who had forgotten that the waiter had taken all the orders added, “The waiter won’t know what veal dish you want.”

“Ahh, another country heard from,” said his wife.  “He just took all the orders,” shaking her head.

I’d fallen into one of the Seinfeld Florida episodes.  I also realized that Jerry might be a comic genius too, but in those cases, he just sat down with a pen and paper taking notes at the early bird.  It wasn’t parody or satire.  Just what it was.

At this point Groucho brought our $9.99s.  I thought about doing the hora around their table with a pork chop in each hand, shouting that I’d spent 12 years in a yeshiva.  Restrained by Sue, I quietly dug into my chops and continued to listen.

Their main courses began to arrive.  Act Three.

Barry began selectively scattering little side bowls of broccoli around the table.

“Where’s mine?” asked Blonde Mama.

“You ordered the vegetables,” said her neighbor.

“Broccoli is a vegetable,” Blondie replied and grabbed the dish.

“You got to take this plate back,” The Maven said angrily to the waiter.  “I must have said ‘well done’ four times and look at this!  Everything is bright red!”

The waiter, looking suicidal, to his credit, calmly picks up the dish and apologizes.  “I’ll take it to the kitchen,” he says, barely getting the words out in a strangled tone.

That Blonde Mama heard.  “Just eat what’s in front of you!” she bellowed to The Maven.

“Okay, okay,” The Maven replies. “Just give me the plate. It’s fine!”  And grabbed it from the waiter who looked like he wanted to jump through the window.

At this point I needed a Gentile. I needed someone who will think an underdone steak is a penance to bear.  Or, when he realized he had ordered mixed vegetables instead of broccoli, he’d eat that succotash in silence or just quietly leave it there until it was cleared away.

I really, really needed a Gentile.  Even one just to look at.  Hell I’da admired his plaid pants and golf club.  I needed a goy or I needed a gun.

Sue saw the look on my face. “Just be patient.  There’s vodka in the freezer at your dad’s.”

Silence descended at the group’s table as everyone decided to eat.  Didn’t last too long. Someone said, “They give you your money’s worth here, anyway.”  Which began an argument about where you could eat the most for the least until their food was gone.

“Gone” really isn’t the correct word.  Half gone, quarter gone might be closer to the truth.  But the eating had stopped with an air of satisfaction surrounding the table.

Barry came back.  He knew the drill.  “How many boxes?”

“Seven big ones,” The Maven demanded, still angry about his red meat.

I remembered a friend telling me about the ultra fancy Jewish country club a few towns over.  Although the place was filled with Caddies, Mercedes, Lexis’s, and Jags, no one was allowed to bring pocketbooks or bags into the restaurant for the fancy buffet.

Not so in the Grand.  Hell, they supplied the carry-out tools.

Again the table lapsed into silence as people shoveled their food into the Styrofoam until Blonde Mama forked the unfinished matzo ball, shook it into the cup, then tilted her bowl to make sure every drop of cold liquid made it into there too.  Practice makes perfect.  Somehow I believed she could have done it in her sleep.

And then they were gone.

My nerve endings still firing, we called for our boxes, filled them up, paid the check, got in the car and headed home.  No goys, no guns, but we made it back alive.

Judging A Book By Its Cover

 On 08/22/2011, I wrote a post titled “PHOTO SHOT” where I described the process of shooting the cover for STILL AMONG THE LIVING (which will hopefully be available for downloading sometime toward the end of this month).  What I didn’t write about was the process of choosing among a number of different possible covers and how the choice was made to go with the one I did.

The artist, Michael Paul Smith, (see “LINKS”) was kind enough to give me permission to post those that we didn’t use along with the one we did. So I thought it might be fun to let people see the ones we decided not to use and why those decisions weres made. The first two we, (Sue, Michael, and me), were easily able to lay aside.

Although we rejected both of these, one thing I really liked was the angle of the picture primarily because it showed Mark Harris’s book THE SOUTHPAW. On the other hand there was general agreement that in these versions the colors didn’t “pop,” my name and “A Matt Jacob Novel” were too washed out.  And no one really liked the lettering.





The next two engendered more debate:

This one’s lettering took too much of the picture of the table, plus the lettering itself didn’t cut it for any of us.







I really liked the lettering on the second of these two—given my deco predilections but Sue and Michael felt the picture wasn’t what they were looking for since there was too much of the table itself showing, especially the brown pattern, which took the focus off the other elements of the picture and again, my name and “A Matt Jacob Novel” were too washed out—though I argued if we lettered them white on this one, I’d be good with it.  Sue and Michael countered that once we cropped the picture the proportions of the whole cover would change.

Alas, these were also put aside though they left the one I liked in its own lonely pile.

Here were two were serious contenders.  No hour and out with these. In fact, both of them made it to the final pick. The fonts worked, the lines on the bottom this one worked, though again we were going to have to pop my name and “A Matt Jacob Novel,” something that Michael indicated would be no problem.






I, however, had an issue with this one. The left side shading on the picture seemed cool, and I liked the two-tone idea much more than the lines on the cover directly above. Yet I felt the left side shading seemed too washed out. By this time, however, I was feeling uncomfortable about sending Michael back to the boards.  He assured me that he was enjoying the project and would certainly be willing to give it another go.




Which he did and created the cover we all agreed upon:

Although THE SOUTHPAW doesn’t really show, everything else about this cover was appealing.  And so, when the book does go online, this is what you’ll be seeing.

Given that this entire process is pretty damn subjective, I’d be interested to know what choices any of you might have made.



Acid In The Water Supply

I’m not talking battery acid, toxins, or grapefruit juice.  I’m talking psychedelics here.  And I’ve long believed that every now and then, it’s been slipped into D.C.’s water supply.

The notion first hit while I watched the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings.  Wasn’t surprised he was ultimately nominated (despite my respect and belief in Anita Hill), but when senator after senator took to network television to use their senatorial, stentorian tones to speechify about “pubic hairs on coke cans” and Long Dong Silver over and over again there was simply no rational explanation why they would do that to themselves.  Even Democrats–especially in prime time.  Blew my mind.  The only thing I never understood was why there’s no Best of the Hearings video.  It would sell more than all the Spring Break movies combined.

There was only one explanation; acid in the water supply.

It happened again when the House of Representatives decided to hold impeachment hearings against Bill Clinton.  I’ve never been a real fan of Big Bill, but watching Congress go through months focused on blowjobs, dicks that lean to the left and despoiled dresses while ignoring issues that actually had something to do with governing, locked and loaded my belief that D.C. had a monopoly on LSD.

Well, I was wrong.  Some subversive brought the acid to Florida.

On October 8, 2011, The Boston Globe reported that a Florida legislator, Representative Ritch Workman, has introduced a bill to repeal a ban on “Dwarf-tossing.”

For those unfamiliar with the term or game, it apparently consists of dressing Little People into light weight protective gear so men in bars can take turns seeing who can throw them the farthest.  Although Representative Workman (who has the right name) won’t call his legislation a “jobs bill,” he does make the point that lifting the ban may put a few people to work.  According to the Globe, although Workman agrees that the practice is “offensive” and “stupid,” he thinks the ban keeps willing projectiles from gainful employment.  “If this is a job they want and people would pay to see it or participate in it, why in the world would we prohibit it?”

Now before my Ron and Rand Paul friends jump to Workman’s defense, let me explain why this is an acid-in-the-water-supply proposal.  I mean, The Right likes to talk about slippery slopes with regard to gun laws, let’s look at the grade of slope here.

Why not “whack a head?”  Folks of any height can wear a protective helmet and be gainfully employed, popping up from one side of the bar while those on the other side try to beam them with hammers.

Why not “water sports?”  I guarantee there’s a larger audience for that than Dwarf-tossing.  I mean if two consenting adults want to tinkle on each other in a public setting for pay, why deny them the right to earn a living?

Why not “bestiality?”  It’s certainly not unheard of in the U.S., so why shouldn’t someone get paid if there are people who want to watch?  Not exactly a “jobs bill,” but it could put a few good men and women to work.  Actually none of these proposals, including Dwarf-tossing are gender specific.

Worse, from where I sit, damn near every Republican has been sipping the acid.  Isn’t the issue to find jobs for Little People and “the little people” of our country rather than giving more money to the rich who already have jobs or don’t need them?  Then they call those folks, “job creators,” rather than “lay-offers,” which they’ve actually been doing to protect their own wealth and profits.

But hey, I’ve used acid and I understand how easy it is to come up with great ideas while you’re tripping.  Hell, a group of us once spent an entire evening trying to enlist Hubert Humphrey’s wife to talk him into moving in with us for a month so he could better understand what young people were thinking.

Problem here, these aren’t young people tripping.  These are people in power, who create laws, regulate industries, eviscerate environmental laws, and generally make it more, not less, difficult for people to get by.  And damn near impossible for poor people to have anything but a shadow life.

So I say to those reps in Florida who will eventually vote on Dwarf-tossing–STOP DRINKING THE FUCKING WATER!

I understand that Amerika has a fascination for circuses, but let’s try to keep the freak shows under the Big Top.

This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway. Bob Dylan

Not About Baseball

In 1968, Robert Coover wrote a novel called The Universal Baseball Association about a character named Henry Waugh, who created his own board game with imaginary teams and seasons that ran in concert with the real deal.  Although the book was published long before sabermetrics, Henry brought a statistical analysis to his game that mirrored real professional baseball.

Year after year he played throughout the regular season, his dice-rolling stats generally falling within his, and baseball’s, norm.  Then, one season the entire system began to crumple, dice roll by dice roll.  Henry couldn’t understand the statistical insanity that was occurring and the rest of his life fell apart in his desperate attempt to “get it.”  Something he was never able to do and for which he paid a dear price.

Well, I’m happy to report that despite Boston’s horrific Wednesday night collapse and Tampa Bay’s incredible extra inning victory, my life isn’t headed toward Henry Waugh’s mental dumpster.

I’ve been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember.  Sitting on a stool at my grandfather’s (then father’s) tavern, waiting for the arguments about which game to show on novelty of all novelties—the bar’s television.  I was a Dodgers’ fan, but when they and the Giants deserted New York for sunnier pastures, I became my Aunt Jeanette’s (who bartended at the tavern) Yankee disciple.  She took the time to introduce me to the game’s subtleties and the different nuances of each Yankee player.  She also had the uncanny ability to foresee when a Yankee batter was “due.”  “He’s due,” she’d announce to customers and the bets would begin to fly.  She won a hell of a lot more of them than she lost.

Jeanette was so entranced with the Yankees, I never had the guts to tell her about my infidelities.  At night, under the covers, I’d huddle up to my transistor radio to listen to the San Francisco Giants games—or, at least, New York-based Les Keiter’s version of it.  Using a ticker tape, a recording of crowd noise, two sticks, and his fluid patter, he made you think you were listening to the real thing rather than his reenactment.

But then baseball at the bar and under the covers came to an abrupt end.  It slid to the back burner as I attended yeshivas where emotional survival became my game, and University of Wisconsin, where we ran the bases of politics and protests.

I quit school, joined Volunteers in Service To America (VISTA) and was assigned to Chicago where the two team city reignited my love for the game.  Although I lived and worked on the North Side, I became a White Sox fan since they had one of my favorite players, Richie Allen.  And, like other two team cities, you either rooted for one or the other.  In Chicago, to this day, The White Sox were and are “the other.”  Despite their historically low status on the rungs of winning, the Cubs are, and always have been, Chicago’s “darlings.”

Now I’ve lived in Boston for close to forty years.  Which means I’ve lived for close to forty more years.  I now have more room in my psyche—I can do “and,” not just “either/or.”  My heart belongs to Sue and I still have affection for past loves.  And my heart belongs to the Red Sox with affection left over for the teams I rooted for in past.  Maybe that’s maturity, or maybe it’s because I just love the damn game.

Hell, sometimes I think it has mystical powers. Sue, her brother Jeff, sister-in-law Donna, and I took shifts caring for Sue’s dying mother, Tsiv, who lived outside of Detroit and was hospicing at home.  Sue and I were there together during the 2006 World Series and danced around Tsiv’s bed, singing, “Go Tigers, go Tigers.”  As sick and weak as she was, Tsiv invariably waved her arms and sang along with gusto.  Gusto which ‘til my dying day I will always believe added to her life and was fueled by baseball.

It’s the game that holds me captive.  I enjoy rooting of course, but it’s baseball itself I find beautiful and fulfilling.  The grass, (even the new turf), the grace of a second baseman leaping, twisting, and throwing the ball to first for a double play, the subtle but real strategies, the individual competitions within the larger struggle, the timelessness both in the game’s history and within any specific contest.  The late George Carlin has a bit where he compares and contrasts football and baseball’s vocabulary and the degree to which the words reflect each game’s values.  I’m not willing to say that any game is a metaphor for life or reflects our cultural ideals, but even cynical me would like to think that the game played between the white lines and within the diamond reflects the best of the American us.  The individuality, the collectivity, the energy, and perhaps most importantly, the hope.

Even this last Bad Day In Mudville when three minutes after the Red Sox blew their lead and Tampa Bay (a team I viscerally dislike) overcame a seven-run deficit to win the last spot in the playoffs, there was a rightness, a justice to it. My team had spent the month sliding down a cliff, Tampa Bay spent that same month climbing a mountain.

Sure I was disappointed.  But my cousin and I, who had been texting throughout night closed shop by writing almost simultaneously, “baseball is sure one amazing game.”

Ex-Commissioner and sadly departed “Bart” Giamatti On Baseball: “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”