Tuesday, January 7, 2014

“If You Think You Understand Quantum Mechanics, You Don’t Understand Quantum Mechanics” --Richard Feynman; Popcorn by The Colonel # 78

The German name for Charlemagne was “Karl der Grosse” (Karl the Great). Why it wasn’t Englished as “Charles [or Carl] the Great,” we don’t know (that’s the colonelic or popcornic “we” -- perhaps historians who know their business know).

Despite gaps in modern knowledge of Karl’s youth, it is known that he spoke Latin and understood Greek, among other languages.

Once in power as sole king of the Franks, a Germanic tribe, he set out to put all the Germanic peoples into one kingdom and to Christianize them. Pagan Saxons, among others, resisted him, but in the end, he pretty much succeeded. Some call him “the father of Europe.”

The pope in Rome approved of Karl (see Karl’s objectives above), and Karl protected the pope in order to add legitimacy and prestige to his (Karl’s) efforts. In gratitude, Pope Pius VII (thanks to the Super Bowl, we can count on people in 2014 knowing that “VII” means “seven”; in ancient times (i.e., the 1960s), some people called slain Black Power leader Malcolm X “Malcolm the Tenth”) crowned Karl “Emperor of the Romans” on December 25, 800 CE. Some Christmas present.

Karl didn’t snatch the imperial crown from the pope and put it on his own head -- that was Napoleon, who didn’t want the pope later to be able to say, “I made him, and I can unmake him.” Karl was happy to be crowned by the pope, as it gave Karl’s political ambition the prestige of affiliation with a large and growing religion.

In 1165, long after Karl’s death in 815, he was canonized under Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for political reasons, but the Catholic Church today does not recognize his sainthood.

On the debit side of the ledger, Karl had a reputation for brutality and ruthlessness. He reportedly ordered 4,500 Saxons slaughtered at the Massacre of Verden. He eventually forced the Saxons to convert to Christianity, declaring that anyone who didn’t get baptized and follow other Christian traditions be put to death. In addition, Karl had multiple wives and mistresses and possibly 18 children. All in all, not your best candidate for canonization.

(Digression: a favorite Onion headline: "Mother Theresa Sent To Hell In Wacky Afterlife Mix-Up.")

Karl ordered various ecclesiastical reforms, including vernacular masses. The order for that is interesting, suppressing liturgical “Latin” in favor of "the common roman.” Query what exactly  “common roman” was at that time and place. Some form of German?

A demographic mathematician has said that everyone of northern European extraction for sure, and possibly everyone alive on earth today, is a direct descendant of Karl. That is exceedingly counter-intuitive, and informed commentary is invited.

Karl comes to mind every year at Yuletide because of his Christmas coronation.

The NSA is working on quantum computers. A quantum computer takes advantage of the quantum phenomenon called “superposition” whereby a quantity can be one and zero at the same time. Superposition enables simultaneous and not merely sequential calculations. This speeds up computer work, so a code that would take a billion years to crack the “conventional” way takes only a million years using a quantum computer. Your antiterrorist tax dollars at work. “The NSA: it’s not just for phone calls anymore.”

Quantum computers are very fragile but still existentially dangerous. Superposition pairs up tiny things from parallel universes (value zero “here,” value one “there"). The pairing may let some tiny things leak from “there” to “here.” Those alien particles may interact with our-universe matter and multiply like little rabbits on hormones and infect our whole material universe, resulting in subatomic mind control that will make Mad Cow Disease seem like a hangnail. The infection may already have happened. It would explain much, like low turnout in primaries.

Dark matter supplies the extra gravity that keeps galaxies from blowing apart. If parallel universe particles infect our dark matter, how do we know it won’t gobble up all the bonus gravity and make "our" galaxies much more centrifugal, including the Milky Way? That would almost surely hurt our still-fragile economic recovery and prolong the Fed's quantum easing until it triggers accelerated inflation of our Big Bang universe. Don't let that happen! Do your part -- switch to decaf and tell your Senator to support the "NSA Abacus-Only Bill."

The struggle for basic human rights goes on. A Hawaiian woman whose last name is 36 characters long finally got the Hawaiian department of transportation to change its policy, letting more characters appear on a driver’s license. Janice “Lokelani” Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele (KAY'-ee-hah-nah-EE'-coo-COW'-ah-KAH'-hee-HOO'-lee-heh-eh-KAH'-how-NAH-eh-leh), 54, was happy with her victory.

Doubtless you counted the letters and noticed that there are only 35. The 36th character is an “okina,” a mark used in the Hawaiian alphabet and not reproducible here.

Anyway, Ms. K got the name when she married her Hawaiian husband in 1992. He used just the one name, like Liberace or Tamurlane (Timur). Mr. K’s grandfather gave him the name after it came to him (the grandfather) in a dream.

"Now, in the state of Hawaii, we are no longer second class citizens because of the length of our name," Ms. K said. Excelsior!

Colorado recreational pot. Routine pot-smoking creates potheads (fuzzy-minded, slothful people, or at least people more fuzzy-minded and slothful than they would otherwise be, with high-functioning exceptions). The states are the “laboratories of federalism,” so let’s see what happens in Colorado. As Princess Diana, a reformed Sloane Ranger, used fetchingly to say, “Fingers crossed!”

A friend writes: “I had a friend in high school who was a major pothead. He used to get furious that people were secretly writing on his clothes. At the end of the day, he had little swirls of blue or black ballpoint pen ink in the weirdest places, but mostly on his back. Eventually, I had to point out to him that he was absent-mindedly scratching his back with the tip of his pen during class.” The effects of pot on teenage brains may be particularly pernicious.  To misquote Tiny Tim: “God help us, every one.”  

Give George Orwell the last word on the subject: "A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure and then fail all the more completely because he drinks."

Bolster the launch, already under way, of your New Year with the fuel of the following miscellaneous quotations:

☻ “How can we change our minds so that whatever burns us out will in the future heal and renew us?”

☻ “Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”

--Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

“The good thing about having your back to the wall is that there’s no doubt about which way you gotta go.” --Jim Butcher

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was bedizened like one of these.” --Jesus of Nazareth (okay, this quote was largely an excuse to use the excellent word “bedizened”)

“A ‘sermon’ is a dry, scholarly, often lengthy academic parsing of some theological point. By contrast, a ‘homily’ is a short pep talk to energize us with hope and joy, the better to brighten our daily lives. Today, looking at your eager, smiling faces, I feel a sermon coming on.” --Rev. P. Dudley Einhardt, not a morning person, er, parson

☻ “Following awe and wonder to their logical conclusion doesn’t make an atheist suddenly Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, but it does make him not an atheist.”

Final exam question: “Why is there anything rather than nothing?” Put otherwise: “Why is there not nothing?”

“When the answer cannot be put into words, neither can the question.” --Wittgenstein

“The greatest threat to our national defense is our national debt.”

“An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Bugs Bunny's most notorious enemy is Porky Pig. While the two are known to frequently squabble, often in the public eye, they are in fact good friends.” --corrigendum in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz

“Journalists and news photographers who focus their coverage of Detroit on bad things that can be found in any city are engaging in squalor porn, and it’s deplorable.”

“This moment contains all moments.” --C[live] S[taples] “Jack” Lewis

“Never approach a crying woman entering a sports bar carrying a harpoon gun.” --George Carlin

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