Creativity and Science

Ambitious minds have to struggle for room in a world full of conformists. This is something I have experienced over and over again in life.

Scott Pearce & Sophia KimLately I have been thinking about the past a little bit more than usual. Reading Amy Kaufman Burk’s fine book about Hollywood High got me meditating about my own experiences. No doubt I was involved in a lot of stuff that other people would find to be of interest, right? I’ve got a lot of photos and letters and journals from back then myself. Probably I could write a book or two about my teenage years that could be turned into an excellent mini-series. Yes, and a little sincere effort would produce some pretty good literature, too. It’s important to give back something to the community, I’m sure you agree. Plus, it would be cool to make a few million bucks off of my personal experiences without having to do a lot of work.

My academic advisers at Hollywood High told me I should take a lot of math and science classes. They said studying that stuff would discipline my mind. The problem was that the school didn’t offer the science classes I really cared about! That, and the higher math classes conflicted with printmaking and the other fine arts classes that mattered to me.

You might be as shocked today as I was back then to discover that Hollywood High didn’t have a single class about numerology or astrology. You’d think a public high school in the entertainment capital of the world would actually teach their students about the key decision-making tools in The Industry, but no. Like I said, the big world out there tries to crush independent thinking at every turn, but some of us are strong enough to resist.

Unwilling to run with the herd, my thirst for knowledge wasn’t thwarted by people who only think inside the box. The school wouldn’t even give me independent study credit, but I persisted. After months of patient, hard work, you know, the kind that many great scientific breakthroughs are built on, I came up with a theory and an experiment to test the theory.

CB radio was a big cultural phenomenon back in April 1975. It seemed pretty sensible to me that extra-terrestrial life forms had to be monitoring CB radio transmissions. Plus, my careful study of ancient writings carved into the concrete in front of the Egyptian Theater revealed that they had the same numerological structure as the Hollywood High School Fight Song.

In the photograph, you can see I have a microphone. It is hooked up to the school’s PA system and to a CB radio. I’m tapping out a Morse code on the microphone to reach out to the aliens, and periodically I’m using a cassette tape machine to play the three notes of the NBC Chime, which insiders know is a universal greeting used by passing ships in space. My calculations strongly suggested that this formula would result in a flying saucer actually landing on the athletic field. (Steven Spielberg based the key scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind on this, but do you think he paid a penny for the idea? NO.)

As it turned out, my meticulous formulas weren’t correct. That’s OK. Everybody knows that science is advanced by errors as much as by breakthroughs. Probably you know all about the Michelson-Morley experiment, which sought to prove that light moves through an ether, producing waves that are strikingly similar to water currents. It failed, sure, but it made way for Einstein’s theory of relativity. You may also know that the guy who discovered penicillin, Alexander Fleming, had bacteria growing all over his lab, and when he started leaving fungus around too it turned out some of the bacteria wouldn’t grow near the fungus.

You might wonder who the other people in the photograph are. The young woman sitting next to me is Sophia, and the other students all were working for her. They were “serious” students, earning college credit from UCLA doing some independent study in psychology. Among other things, they included me in their final report. That’s fine; I’m glad to be helpful. I still remember the last words Sophia and her colleagues wrote about me: “…his unique view of reality doesn’t pose a risk to himself or to others.” Maybe not, but what about the up-side?

Track Meet

Modest Mid-Summer Musings

A nice afternoon at the pool.

 

It is wonderful to have a little time off from deadlines and job duties. Here’s a chance to observe the world a bit more quietly, maybe even think slightly beyond the next few items on the to-do list.

Shaved Palm Trees

Palm trees get their beards shaved off every summer in Ocean Beach. The dry old fronds are trimmed and mulched on the spot, with machines you can hear for half a mile. These palm trees are not native to California, use up a lot of water, provide no shade, and are nearing the end of their natural life span. I like them anyway. Even so, Ocean Beach would be a nicer place with different trees when these ones have gone to the big palm forest in the sky.

Youngest daughter Lana May was in two dance recitals yesterday, doing her first ballet performance, two jazz numbers and one rousing hip-hop routine. It was splendid to have the chance to watch both recitals and get a big hit of positive energy from dozens of young dancers. Still, it was impossible to escape completely from the Serious Concerns that seem to be permeating our lives beneath even the smooth surface of smug suburbia.

The program was started by the dance school owner leading the audience in Prayer to Almighty God. “Dear Lord, please give this audience the understanding of how much hard work went into all of these performances…” At intermission, a video was offered “in support of our military families.” It showed movies of families receiving charity with the old Bon Jovi song “Ring the Bells of Freedom” playing loud and proud in the background. What are we all so worried about? Why do we need to make a big deal out of Believing in God and Loving Our Soldiers all the time?

Public displays of piety coupled with a big dose of sentimental militarism seem to be a part of more and more events these days. Some of us are lucky enough to get a couple of weeks off from work, but there doesn’t seem to be any escaping the fact that these are twilight times, even at the height of summer. If you are curious about being serious, you can go here to read about reality in Gaza and here to read about reality in Ukraine. In both of these situations the Obama Administration is displaying dishonesty that would make L.B.J. and Nixon blush.

On the other hand, it’s possible that you are more interested in something a bit less serious, like a few wrinkly old men getting back together to relive their youth and make some money.

Sometimes it’s good to take a real break. Serious business always is just around the corner anyway. Soon I’ll start a new law professor job at San Diego Law School, which is being opened this fall by San Francisco Law School and Alliant University. I have little doubt that all our social problems will be solved by some well-trained young lawyers!

For now, let’s take time to notice the flowers and other daily magic all around.

Shire Flower

Justice: Winning at Trial

The road to justice isn’t always easy. We all know that. We also know that the road to our office each morning can be treacherous. Late last summer I was cited by the California Highway Patrol for an alleged violation of Section 23123 of the California Vehicle Code. The officer claimed that I used my cell phone while driving without a hands-free device, consciously disregarding the safety of my fellow travelers on Interstate Five.

San Diego Superior Court

You can tell a lot about a place by the way the courthouse looks. In southern California there are magnificent old court buildings in Riverside and Orange County. They are architectural artifacts of a time when folks were proud of their public buildings and designed them to be part of comfortable plazas for everybody to enjoy. The local courthouse for my traffic trial is about as elegant as a trailer with a foundation. This bare-bones operation suggests that the locals don’t take much pride in their justice system, however it does seem to function reasonably well under the circumstances.

San Diego Traffic Court

Now let’s all have a look inside Department A of the San Diego Superior Court. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it is a decent enough location for defendants to confront their accusers. One of the great things about being a licensed attorney is that I get to go in front of the bar and hand my business card to the bailiff. That means my case gets priority along with the other private counsel cases.

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” This saying has interesting origins that go back more than a couple hundred years. Whatever. I’ve been a lawyer for almost thirty years and I’ve spent plenty of time cross-examining police officers and other witnesses. I know what I’m doing. I know how to argue cases with seemingly difficult facts. I showed up at court ready for action.

OK, so it is true that the CHP officer did see me driving southbound on Interstate 5 in my Chrysler Sebring. It is true that he saw me holding my cell phone in my right hand. It’s also true that he saw me speaking at the same time I was holding my cell phone and at the same time I was driving. All of this is true. I admit it. But it isn’t the whole story. I deny that I violated Section 23123 of the California Vehicle Code. I insist on my day in court. Fair enough.

What is my defense? These are pretty tough facts I’m admitting to at the start, aren’t they? Maybe so. Let’s look at the key language of the law. Section 23123 prohibits “using” a wireless telephone while driving unless it is hands-free. I brought a physical object with me to court to serve as a defense exhibit at trial: the hands-free device in my car at the time I received the citation. What happened was that I got a call while driving. I pushed the answer button and the hands-free device broke, pushing the phone into my hand and also disconnecting the call. I looked up to see the CHP officer gesturing for me to pull over and accept a nice yellow traffic citation.

You be the judge. Do these facts constitute “using” a cell phone while driving? Should I be convicted?

The judge called my case. I indicated I was ready for trial. The judge called the CHP officer’s name. Silence.

“This case is dismissed for want of timely prosecution,” announced the judge.

I walked out of court with my head held high, a winner at trial. Did I achieve justice? Who cares – I won!

Reiki Appliance Repair

What is Reiki? The word Reiki is made of two Japanese words – Rei which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki which is “life force energy.” So Reiki is actually “spiritually guided life force energy.” This approach to healing is gaining acceptance beyond Asia.

I can fix them all!

According to the erudite authorities at Dummies.Com, Reiki can be used on pets with great results. Here in southern California, we seem to have a knack for adapting exotic spiritual healing practices to more practical ends. Yeah, it’s great to transcend our limitations and distribute our internal energy in healthier and more productive ways, but how is that supposed to save money?

It is my distinct pleasure to take a stroll with you down the path of progress. I know a lot of people come to this website for practical tips on how to cope with the challenges of daily modern life. Once again it is my privilege to be of service.

Why spend outrageous amounts of money on appliance repair? It is possible to use the spiritual power of reiki to heal your appliances and other equipment. Not everybody has the patience and the capacity for empathy required, but I can tell you from personal experience that if you persist your efforts will be rewarded.

The most important aspect of reiki appliance repair is to put your hands on the appliance and feel the energy imbalances that are preventing it from fulfilling its function in the material world. You have to merge your spirit with the spirit of the appliance. Let me tell you a true story from my own kitchen. In yet another example of hypocritical decadence, I have a huge fridge with a fancy ice maker that offers filtered water and crushed ice without having to open the door. This thing was expensive in the first place and I understand that it is not cheap to fix. A few days ago it decided to release a lot of its cold energy and merge with the outside climate. Cold water came out of the ice chute when I pushed the button. My Morningstar Farms Fake Bacon Strips came out of the freezer all limp and thawed out.

A lot of people would panic and place an urgent call to a repair person. Not me. I decided to embrace the big decadent fridge. I put one hand on each side and pressed my face against the door, the warmth of my body merging with the cold metal of the appliance without further warming the culinary treasures inside. I could tell that the fridge wasn’t really physically damaged. No, its feelings weren’t right; there was something amiss with the internal flow of spiritual energy. I projected my sense of inner serenity into the soul within the machine. Then I gently opened the doors and caressed the switches that control the freezer and fridge. I let them know that it would be OK if they had to quit working forever but that their natural purpose was to provide cold where before there was warmth. Couldn’t we all work it out and get along?

Within minutes both compartments of the beleaguered refrigerator were humming with activity. The internal energy balance of the device had been restored to a natural harmony with the external elements of the environment. By the evening it was as if there never had been a problem. That’s what a little applied spiritual evolution can get you.

Of course, it’s also true that there is a learning curve to consider. A few years ago we had problems with our water heater. I used the transformative powers of reiki to repair it. Unfortunately the results weren’t so good. I was able to restore full function to the water heater, but I failed to notice or to heal a small leak. A couple of weeks later the water heater failed again, after having soaked through a wall. We had to replace both the water heater and the wall, including a vast expense associated with getting rid of some mold. Sure, it was a costly little life lesson. My family had to take showers outdoors in the middle of winter for a couple of weeks. We all grew from the experience, and it did not deter me from continuing to pursue my own special spiritual path.

This time things are different. I know the fridge really is healed. As Chick Hearn used to say, “The eggs are cooling, the butter is getting hard and the Jello is jiggling!”

Nesting Hummingbird

Magic is all around if you take the time to look for it.

This hummingbird hen is diligent, persistent – and cautious. Yet I am patient. It took a long time to get a chance to take this picture. The bird was not interested in posing for pictures and she did not want me anywhere near her tiny nest. Since the nest resides on one of the lower branches of a ficus tree in our backyard, I had the advantage.

The nest had been vacant for a couple of years when I noticed this little bird flying back and forth, bringing little pieces of fluff with her to rehabilitate the dwelling for the next generation. A remarkable amount of work goes into the process. These birds are quite common in North County San Diego and all over southern California, but this is the first time I have been able to watch a working nest in operation.

With a little luck, soon I will get the chance to photograph tiny hummingbird chicks!

Intergalactic Cruise

Why don’t you write as much as you used to? A number of people have asked about this; we can put to one side the fact that this number is remarkably small. No, I was not subject to “extraordinary rendition” for questioning the Official Truth and Glory of our Nation, nor was I away at a European clinic having my blood changed. The truth is more interesting and significantly more comfortable.

Now that I am old and affluent, I can afford to do a lot of things that are denied to the less fortunate. Late last summer I decided it was finally time to take an extended intergalactic cruise. Like quite a few members of my generation, I’ve been involved with space travel since I was in my teens. However until fairly recently I have not had the resources to go “really out there” and stay away for a while.

One logistical problem presented itself. Although I’m affluent enough to go on this great trip, I’m not rich enough to quit my job and I’m not cold-hearted enough to abandon my family. To my rescue came the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation. This is the company that created the first talking elevator and the first to create synthetic personalities for personal robots. I learned that this company was experimenting with a new service here on Earth, one that had been successful elsewhere.

I could go off on my intergalactic cruise – and the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation would create a robot version of me to carry on in my absence! This seemed like a winning move. It took a long (and lost) weekend at the Sirius Earth H.Q. for them to extract the data they required. The less said about those details the better.

I went off on my trip and the substitute took my place. Intergalactic travel is more convenient when one is not hitchhiking. Sure, it’s quite a bit more expensive, however the itinerary and schedules are quite a bit more predictable, and there are fewer emergencies.

Those of you who are familiar with the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation know that shoddy workmanship and odd design and manufacturing errors are typical of their products, which is how they are able to keep their prices so astonishingly high. As it turned out, there was only one problem – the company created a robot that was significantly more ambitious and harder-working than I am in real life. So, while I was at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe enjoying multiple Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, my substitute was here, seeing how much he could achieve in my absence.

I returned and the robot went back to the shop for a physical makeover and a fresh personality implant to serve the next happy customer. Unfortunately for me, I am having trouble keeping up with the pace the robot set for me in my absence. I came home to discover that now I am a law professor in addition to teaching paralegal students and folks studying for the bar examination. Soon I have to face a tidal wave of papers to grade. If I’d known this, I’d have stayed away a few more weeks until the term was completely over! A machine already is scheduled to grade the multiple choice questions, why not get an upwardly-mobile robot to grade the essays?

Completely Spaced Out

Are you getting older and more annoying? (Hint – if you’re not dead, the answer’s probably ‘yes.’)

Do you need a quick test to find out if other people are going to be able to tell? Even if you color your hair and “get work done” you’re still not going to be able to hide. Certain things will give you away to your more youthful and less annoying friends and acquaintances. This is one of them.

How many spaces do you put after a sentence?

It’s a pretty simple question, isn’t it? The fact that I’m asking it at all is proof that I’m fighting a losing battle against unplanned obsolescence. Young and Sharp people don’t ask this question, because they are blessed with the certainty of their age and the consistency of their life experiences.

I’ve been using HTML for more than 15 years. Finally, today, after noticing that every on-line editing program I use, including WordPress, requires one space after a period in order for the justification feature to work properly, and after noticing that I still choose to put two spaces after a period into all of my other written work, I decided to ask the question. I typed, “What happened to putting two spaces after a sentence?” into my browser and hit ‘enter.’

The first article I got was entitled “Space Invaders – Why You Should Never Ever Put Two Spaces After a Period.” Then I read a considerably more gentle, less dogmatic piece called “One Versus Two Spaces After a Period.” Finally, desktop publishers argue that you should Use One Space Between Sentences. They also offer constructive help in removing the extra spaces from old documents.

Sometimes it pays to ask the question, even if it takes a few years longer for the question to come to mind than might be ideal. OK, so now we put one, not two, spaces between sentences. Why? Because we no longer use old-fashioned typewriters with fixed-width fonts! Very good. Got it. I’m going to Make Change My Friend.

Oh wow, man. I’m like, totally spaced out. Or maybe it’s more like being “spaced in” since now there’s less room…

Mark Twain & Joan of Arc

About a year ago, I got a first-edition Sony ebook reader, and it has been a regular bedside companion every since. Unlike many of my friends, I don’t miss carrying around physical volumes. I’ve read many thousands of electronic book pages on this gadget and I expect to carry on indefinitely.

You don’t need an ebook reader to enjoy these documents; any computer will do. I got my copy of Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc from Project Gutenberg. Plenty of interesting documents are available at the Internet Archive, too.

Like most kids of my generation, I was force-fed Mark Twain from time to time in school. I liked the Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, but I can’t say Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn did much for me. As an adult, I came to admire Mark Twain more, both as a writer and as a social critic. I found I liked his later stuff a lot better than the more celebrated and famous material.

Personal Reflections of Joan of Arc is not funny. It’s basically a docudrama based on the life of Joan of Arc as told through various church and court records. I enjoyed every page and I recommend it highly! It turns out that this is the last full-length book Mark Twain ever wrote, and he published it in the mid 1890’s.

My best guess is that this book is not taught in schools or widely read because it’s about events that took place in France in the 1400’s.  It’s not about American society. Apparently this book took our author many years to write because he spent 12 years researching it, while the others didn’t require any preparation.

This is my favorite Mark Twain book. Does anybody agree with me? Yes – it turns out that Mr. Twain himself considered Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc to be his best book. I recommend you take a short leave of absence and read it right away. (You don’t have to pause to wonder why you’re reading a stupid blog entry right now instead of classic literature, but it might not be a bad question to ask yourself.)

Sixth Grade Humor

You can learn a lot about a society from its humor. Here is a joke that’s making its way around the local fancy rich-kid elementary schools of suburban North County San Diego:

“What’s the difference between Tiger Woods and Santa?  Answer: Santa limits himself to three ho’s.”

I should mention that this is one of the jokes the girls are telling! This shows us all just what sort of a future we’re in for. Back when I was in sixth grade, we didn’t make fun of Santa! Sure, we might have told jokes about “cock fighting at a nudist camp” – and we might have turned a famous patriotic song into “You’re a Grand Old Fag” – but we had enough decency and respect to treat Santa with the reverence appropriate to the Christmas story and the holiday season!  People forget that Santa was one of the Three Wise Men.

Come on, sing a few bars with me!  “…Every heart beats false when you don’t have a pulse…”

Glorious Sunset

2009_1009_pescadero_sunsetWho said the California Dream was over? Today my cell phone jumped out of my pocket and started issuing demands. The first was that I hold it up high and push the correct series of buttons in just the right way. The result was the image you see before you, which was the view tonight from the front door of my office.

It’s easy to be impressed with the quality of cell phone pictures. Not to be outdone, the phone insisted I capture the scene with video, too.