Am Misbehaving

Teri Gross, interviewing a young female actor/writer/director tonight on Fresh Air, had an uncomfortable dialog concerning male role-models that have now been revealed as sexual predators. The discussion focused on the challenges of not saying “the wrong thing,” with “the wrong thing” never being elucidated. Presumably it would be something that could be interpreted as hateful of men in general, or dismissive of the human depth and value of the work of some of the men involved, or offensive to men that they might want to work with on future projects.

So they preferred to say nothing.

This contrasted with the All Things Considered interview of women from lineage of three generations that have worked in Hollywood since 1960. They spoke frankly about the problem of sexual harassment and what it takes to avoid degradation. They had direct experience, and so had a specific human story to tell.

In both contexts, their attraction to Hollywood was explained as a reaching for the opportunity to create dreams. Remember that these are successful creators, so they have not hit the wall that causes most workers to hate their jobs after they turn forty. That wall is the gate that narrows when the cost of providing opportunities to all qualified people exceeds the available resources. When opportunities for professional growth thin out, what characterizes those that stay the course?

I would hazard that it’s not just the opportunity to create dreams for others, it’s the link between their work and the expression of their own fantasies. The more powerful those fantasies are, the greater the commitment to their craft.

Perhaps the most disturbing experience I have had in church is being told by a pastor that I was not welcome because when I meditated on the cross, everybody in the congregation felt that they were being sexually harassed. To love someone is to affirm their personality – and if they find more joy in sex than in compassion, they will channel the energy that way.

Couple this to the desire of a director or producer to associate and control beautiful people – the people that we love to watch on the screen – and the adoration that we tender to our media figures is going to amplify their worst habits. The more we adore them, the worse their conduct will become.

The problem is related to the problem Jesus faced with his disciples. The disciples believed that they needed Jesus to tell them what to do, just as consumers of entertainment believe that they need someone to give them dreams. Jesus complained of the “little faith” of his followers because they didn’t believe in themselves. He died, was buried, rose and ascended to convince them that they should cast off their doubts and love others.

Rather than fixing our gaze on that story – the true and heroic testimony of the redeeming power available to all that choose to love – we choose to fill our dreams with fantasies that can’t possibly be made true. In seeking to entertain, Hollywood doesn’t create dreams, it creates illusions. Those that suckle on its teat shouldn’t be surprised when those illusions are pierced, unmasking the self-serving motives of all those that peddle illusion – and exemplified by those that have clawed their way to the top.

Our government is also riven by corruption – politicians don’t have the power to solve our problems, so they peddle illusions. And we are disappointed in our relationships, because we operate under the illusion that someone else can change our soul when that is work that only we can do in collaboration with God.

We’re not going to end exploitation by shaming people, or throwing them in jail. There will always  be replacements.  We’re only going to solve the problem by recognizing illusionists when they appear in our lives, and putting them off with “That’s all very nice, Donald, but I need to pray for a friend before I go visit them.”

Rock of Egos

NASA’s New Horizons probe is flying through the Kuiper Belt (home of the Solar System’s comets) and about to survey a large rock. The rock is named “(486958) 2014 MU69“, which would sound nice when tweeted from R2D2, but is a terror for newscasters.

So NASA is running a contest to select a name to attach to the rock for their PR campaign. Recommendations include “Mjolnir” (Thor’s hammer) and certain mythical cities in the heavens.

My suggestion is “Ziggy Froid.”

The rationale? In honor of David Bowie, of “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Because “Ziggy” is a diminutive of “Siegfried” and “Sigmund” which ties in to the Norse mythology of the Arctic Circle through Wagner’s series of Ring operas. And because “Froid” – French for “cold” – is a near-homonym of “Freud,” evoking my sense that it’s crazy to attach names of power to the first rock that we happen to encounter in the Kuiper Belt.

Though there’s no purpose served, you can visit the contest site and vote for my entry.

Disassembling the Sith Lords

When I was working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2004-5, I was housed in an uncleared “holding tank” while waiting for my security clearance to be approved. Many of my office mates were foreign guests that had come to pursue research projects as part of the Department of Energy’s effort to build an international non-proliferation community. Among them was a Bulgarian post-doc that swam aggressively through the psychic pool, claiming the talents of others as his own.

In a social gathering one evening, he found that he couldn’t gain any purchase on me, and instead attacked a close friend of mine. Understanding the ways of the world, I didn’t get upset, simply getting a good bead on him so that I could deal with him later.

That night, when I entered REM sleep I found myself having a series of dreams about the Russian mafia. It was like watching clips from movies. After being bounced through that psychic chain, I came suddenly awake while reading a sign that said “Hard Men.” I was in the presence of a man, deep in Russian, who visualized placing a gun against the top of my head. I could literally fell the pressure on my crown. Pausing to let fear take hold, he then pulled the trigger. I simply refused to accept the visualization, and felt the psychic energy flood out over the top of my head and along my skull.

He paused then, and I led him into a future possibility: “Do that again, and I’ll simply bounce the energy back on you. The visualization of harm is forming in your mind, and so you’ll be unable to prevent its affect from appearing in you. Do you want to go that way?”

He removed the gun and walked off into the psychic mist.

I was diagnosed with situational depression in the course of my divorce, and so couldn’t afford health care for myself when Kaiser identified it as a “pre-existing condition.” I regained my Kaiser enrolment as an LLNL employee, and on my calendar that next week was my first annual health exam. The doctor refused to do the physical assessment, offering only this elliptical explanation: “My father had a massive stroke last week.”

This was my first confrontation with the psychic network used by Vladimir Putin to project his will across the world. I started calling him “Mama Bear” in those encounters. While I can’t penetrate his control of Kremlin, I’ve been working the process described in my book Ma as the “Battle of Sequia.” Every time he reaches out to beat up on good people, I connect with the peace-loving birds and animals of Russia, and take another chunk of land away from him.

In the review of my book Golem, the writer avers:

[Dr.] Balke has a Ph.D in particle physics, so he understands better than most of us the true potentialities of the forces he describes in this paean to our own little piece of green, the planet Earth. Surprisingly, perhaps, for a scientist, Balke gives final and absolute credit to Yeshua, an obvious stand-in for the messianic father of all.

This is true, to a point: the community of particle physicists no longer accepts me. The understanding that Love has allowed me regarding the structure of the universe is uniquely my own. So I possess visualizations of psychic processes that no other does.

The efficacy of these visualizations gives me the confidence to respond pithily to threatening figures such as Stephen Bannon, who yesterday told the liberal press to “Shut up,” claiming that “they didn’t understand how Donald Trump became president” before referring the himself as the “Dark Lord of the Sith.” On the NY Times site (copied to my Facebook timeline) I responded:

Lolz. Dear Bannon, you’re so cute. Trump was elected because his voters wanted to throw an IED into our constitutional system. Unfortunately, IEDs are consumed in the course of manifesting the intended effect. Enjoy the ride!

There is a strong bond between Trump and Putin: I perceived it clearly when watching a clip of Ryan and Trump trying to suborn the will of Chuck Schumer. Ryan smirked like a viper in the background while Trump loomed bearishly over the victim. So Putin (“Mama Bear”) was in the wings when Bannon came to confront me last night.

Psychic parasites achieve their power by using their emotional apparatus to project fear into their victims. But that apparatus was patterned on God’s image: it thrills to the touch of love. So when Bannon came at me, I simply used my visualizations to peel away that part of his personality, telling it:

Come over here where you won’t be abused.

Republicans probably take offense at my political commentary, most directly characterized by Jesus’s edict:

You cannot love both God and money.

But I have been here before: in the aftermath of 9/11, when Dick Cheney and Karl Rove played at being Sith Lords in the psychic field of another poor little rich boy president. In that era, I was again threatened with physical and psychic violence. My response was to pull forward the image of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Death Star:

Destroy me now and I will become far more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

They perceive the endpoint of my visualizations, and walk away. I am less powerful alive than I would be dead – principally because I am still restrained by hope.

If only Hollywood understood the potentiality of love. I’ve done my best to explain it to them, but they are in the habit of trying to turn understanding into money. It is repulsed by their greed, and slips away. So the public is left without empowering visualizations. Instead, when they gather in hope, as at the Women’s March last Saturday, love stretches out to them as a warm affirmation and comforting bond in which they gather the power and will to resist fear.

You are undone, you Sith Lords. You are undone, you bears, eagles, lions, hawks, leopards, vultures and wolves.

You just haven’t yet resigned yourselves to it.

Internet Autocracy

Article at The Conversation on the internet as a centralized form of media that can be exploited by authoritarian regimes, particularly among citizens using it primarily for entertainment.

My comment:


I believe that the jury is still out on this one. One of the factors that fueled international respect for authoritarian regimes was external propaganda. Leaders of developing nations were beguiled by the perception that state-run economies and militaries were equally effective as those managed by decentralized cultures. The internet completely skewers that façade.

Most authoritarian regimes are sustained by revenues obtained through labor and resource exploitation by the developed world. As the consumer nations shift to automated and sustainable alternatives (respectively), those revenues will dry up. The old Roman dictum “bread and circuses” fails when there is no bread. When there is no bread, people will be forced to organize in a decentralized fashion to obtain basic goods. The internet will be the mechanism that facilitates that organization.

And there is still the lesson of the Cold War: if the international community can avoid creating external conflicts to justify the fear-mongering, the investment in lies eventually divorces the leadership from reality. The internet only provides the appearance of greater efficacy. The people learn to go about their business independently by pushing responsibility upwards. The retort is always “I’ll do it, boss, if you show me exactly how.” It’s like that scene in Life of Brian where the two prison guards stutter and garble words until the interrogator leaves, then start speaking coherently.

In the meanwhile, liberal societies will rocket ahead using the benefits of network effects (the value of a communications network goes up as the factorial of the number of participants). In the era of rapid change driven by global climate stress, that facility will be essential to survival.

Trimmed to Size

I am in the third stage of down-sizing my living space, preparatory to relocation from a 1200 square-foot apartment with attached garage to a 700 square-foot space. Considering the expense of a storage unit, I have steeled myself to discard or donate everything except the bedroom set and my tech tools. I began the final purge and boxing up for the move last night, and stuff that had survived the first two cuts is now either piled up in the garage pending a trip down to Good Will, or sitting in the dumpster.

Strangely, the two collections represent very different aspects of my life.

The primary impetus for down-sizing is that my sons are off to college. I’ve held back their child-hood memorabilia, most of it stored under my bed, which is were it will be again after the move. The rest of me as a father is destined for Good Will, including the power tools that I used in fixing up the house their mother now lives in, the racks that stored their backpacking gear, and the last of the storage bins that held their craft supplies.

In the dumpster lies the record of my intellectual life, starting with the journals I wrote in college that marked the beginning of my attempts to understand the power of love and why it was so hard to transmit it. Also from that era are the remnants of the comic book collection that I accumulated up to the date of my marriage at thirty-five. More significant are the last of the evidence of my investment in Diagrammatic Programming, the systems analysis technology developed by my father who passed away just before New Years.

The furniture and appliances are no loss. But these things hurt somehow.

From the comic collection I did hold back my run of The Puma Blues. It’s been sitting on a wire rack for three months, but made it to my bed last night. My elbow began aching around 9:30, so I decided to turn in. Instead, I ended up propped up by my pillows, trying to decipher the faded scratches of the hand-lettered dialog, while a voice in the back of my head keep on observing “This was the only thing in your comic collection worth keeping.”

Puma Blues, which ran only 24 issues, charts the experience of Gavin, a young man confronted on all sides with the futility of the struggle against death. It was created by two Canadians with deep environmental sensitivities. The artwork lovingly captures the natural world, with a moodiness that sometimes makes it difficult to discern the minutiae of artificial existence.

Set at the turn of the millennia, the ecological context of Gavin’s life is terrifying: global warming, acidification, ozone depletion and nuclear terrorism have brought the natural world to the point of collapse. Strangely, in seeking refuge from hopelessness, Gavin finds himself posted at a nature preserve, monitoring the pH of a lake that is being limed to allow the fish to survive, and thus to support the rest of the ecosystem. But with too much free time on his hands, Gavin is brought to confront a more direct experience of mortality, in the form of videos made by his deceased father that consider darkly the larger question of humanity’s relationship to eternity.

The storyline offers two promises for healing, promises that I regret were barely formulated before the series was dropped. The first is the assertion by Gavin’s father that “rebellion is the beginning of faith.” In the backdrop of Gavin’s life, the rebellion is evident in his rootless refusal to engage society, and it is indeed that rebellion that allows him the opportunity to engage his father’s voice. But from my writings here, it might be gleaned that I believe that the whole of religious experience is a rebellion against our Darwinian programming. In both cases, rebellion manifests as a pig-headed refusal to participate in systems that create death.

This parallel will be offensive to lovers of nature, but I stand by it: while it is fashionable to believe that humanity has disrupted a natural balance, that is only true on the human time-scale. Looking at ecology even on the time-frame of tens of thousands of years, and we see a constant rising and falling of species and ecosystems. There is no stability, and the instability brought by death was the agency of our evolution.

Gavin resists faith, however, even though the second promise for healing is nothing less than an absolute miracle. Symbolically, it reflects the hope of life itself, a hope that it will find some way to outgrow the disasters that humanity is visiting upon it. Along with his environmental monitoring duties, Gavin is occasionally ordered to seek out and “transmute” aerial manta rays. Physiologically, there is no concession in the artwork to biological necessity. The rays sport gills, and flutter their wings gracefully as though under water. But they fly through the air none-the-less. Obviously, the only explanation for their survival is access to some other form of energy, a form that is not channeled by the normal metabolic means.

This is the promise that I offered my sons all through their childhood. While I try not to show it, it hurts now to hear them enthuse about terraforming Mars (to which I think: “Really – invest all that energy so we can move there and screw it up?”) or spread nanoscale sensors all over the Earth (“Disrupting the digestion of the insects and worms just as our plastic refuse does that of the birds and fish?”). I do understand, of course: they must survive in a culture that abases itself before its technological avatars, because they offer the promise of complete control of the world through the use of digital technology.

But the problem, as I see it, is in seeking control.

Here’s an experience: I was working at a climate change modelling institute in 2004, back when the fossil fuel industry really began to push back against the scientific community. The ozone layer was a serious concern: the CFCs used for foam production and refrigeration catalyzed the breakdown of ozone, thereby allowing cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation through the atmosphere. While replacements had been found, the chlorine atoms at fault would remain in the atmosphere for decades.

As a physicist, I was mulling one day over the thought that neutrinos from the sun could catalyze electron emission from a neutron in the chlorine nucleus, transforming it into argon, which is chemically inert. Thinking more and more deeply about this, I visualized the neutrino field being emited from the sun, and then honed my attention on the thin shell of the atmosphere. I felt other minds joining mine, and then a frission of energy.

A few weeks later, one of the climate modelers came by after church to say: “We were pretty worried about the ozone layer, but it seems like it wasn’t such a big problem after all.”

And so I find myself a little disjointed today, juxtaposing my promise of hope against the paranoia of Gavin’s father, whose faith manifests as belief in UFOs and the hope that some higher species is standing in the wings to engineer our salvation. Neither my sons nor the authors of Puma Blues seemed ready to proclaim that we are the intervention. We are the tool by which God conquers Darwinian violence.

We just need our rebellion against death to mature into a surrender to love.

Wish You Were There

Google has recently announced a “photo location” service that will tell you where a picture was taken. They have apparently noticed that every tourist takes the same photos, and so if they have one photo tagged with location, they can assign that location to all similar photos.

I’m curious, as a developer, regarding the nature of the algorithms they use. As a climate change alarmist, I’m also worried about the energy requirements for the analysis. It turns out that most cloud storage is used to store our selfies (whether still or video). Over a petabyte a day is added to YouTube, with the amount expected to grow by a factor of ten by 2020. A petabyte is a million billion bytes. By contrast, the library of Congress can be stored in 10 terabytes, or one percent of what is uploaded daily to YouTube.

Whatever Google is doing to analyze the photos, there’s just a huge amount of data to process, and I’m sure that it’s a huge drain on our electricity network. And this is just Google. Microsoft also touts the accumulation of images as a driver for growth of its cloud infrastructure. A typical data center consumes energy like a mid-size city. To reduce the energy costs, Microsoft is considering deployment of its compute nodes in the ocean, replacing air conditioning with passive cooling by sea water.

But Google’s photo location service suggests another alternative. Why store the photos at all? Rather than take a picture and use Google to remind you where you were, why not tell Google where you were and have it generate the picture?

When I was a kid, the biggest damper on my vacation fun was waiting for the ladies to arrange their hair and clothing when it came time to take a photo. Why impose that on them any longer? Enjoy the sites, relax, be yourself. Then go home, dress for the occasion, and send up a selfie to a service that will embed you in a professional scenery photo, adjusting shadows and colors for weather and lighting conditions at the time of your visit.

It might seem like cheating, but remember how much fun it was to stick your face in those cut-out scenes on the boardwalk when you were a kid? It’s really no different than that. And it may just save the world from the burdens of storing and processing the evidence of our narcissism.