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Kiss This
They did it again at Wimbledon this year. After the awards ceremonies, champions Angelique Kerber and Novak Djokovic kissed their trophies. They did it repeatedly, but seemingly without passion.

They’ve been celebrating victory in tennis this way for as long as I can remember: kissing the trophy, smiling broadly, then kissing the trophy again. Over and over as the cameras click and whir. These champions are not really celebrating, though. The smiling part is genuine enough, but the kissing is almost certainly being done at the request of photographers.

It’s embarrassing, or should be, for everyone involved. I suppose we should cut some slack for the athletes themselves. Their ascendant performances, after all, are the reasons we are celebrating in the first place. They are in a generous mood during these moments of triumph and willing to accede to the lame suggestions from the crowd. We could hope for more dignity on their parts, but so far none has dared to resist the pleas of the press.

The photographers, for their part, have shown an abject failure of imagination in these matters. Instead of capturing something real or unpredictable, they shout out “Kiss it! Kiss it!” The champion kindly complies, and we get the same lame photo every year.

Rafael Nadal has tried to carve out his own exception to this sad tradition by gnawing the handles of his various pieces of hardware. Nice try, Rafa, but you still give in to the kiss requests. The women’s champions don’t really have the bite-it option since their trophy (at Wimbledon, at least) is not a cup but a plate. I keep hoping some rasty female winner will dare to bite her platter. That could end up looking a bit klutzy, but so does kissing the edge of a big silver plate.

I want to be fair. There have been genuine expressions of love between athletes and their metallic prizes. We have witnessed hugging, nuzzling, and even weeping. No less a champion than Michael Jordan blubbered like a toddler while clutching the very homely Larry O’Brien Trophy. The great Roger Federer has, in fact, shed tears over the Wimbledon trophy. Of course, that was because it was being handed to Rafael Nadal and not to him, but the emotion still seemed quite genuine.

It has been reported that hockey players have performed all kinds of lewd acts on the defenseless Stanley Cup. Most of this has taken place behind closed doors, but I have no doubt that those expressions of affection were sincere as well, albeit kinky. Consent by the trophy, I suppose, is assumed in such cases.

So that is all good. My quarrel here is with kissing done on command. It shames us all — especially the trophy and all that it represents about the game, sportsmanship, and fair play. Tennis trophies, moreover, are the most beautiful, especially in the Grand Slams. These bowls, cups, and plates are all both elegant and gorgeous. As the royalty of loving cups, they deserve something better than counterfeit passion. At the very least, they should have the respect of their suitors — no matter what the rabble might demand.

Yes, kiss the trophy. Just be sure you mean it.
Truth is Irrelevant, if that Helps
Trump supporters, when explaining their enduring faith in our President, often point to the way he “tells it like it is.” This rationale has long been a source of wonder to me. Until recently, that is.

What had stumped me was the disconnect between their perception and the mountain of evidence showing that almost everything he says is not true. What was even more perplexing was that his supporters seem to know that he regularly gets his facts wrong. How can that be?

I have finally solved that conundrum, and now that I have, in retrospect the explanation seems so obvious. When Trumpers say he tells it like it is, they are not talking about the factual basis for his declarations. Instead they are agreeing with his conclusions. This is not about evidence, then, but about a confirmation of what they feel is true.

In this universe of “truth” dictated by feelings, the mainstream news has to be fake. That's the only way to explain why the so-called facts contradict what our feelings tell us. The team of career prosecutors investigating Trump must be part of a secret deep state conspiracy. Why else would they keep investigating collusion and criminality that we know don’t exist? Of course immigrants and elitists are working together to destroy America. Why wouldn’t they?

I’m still not sure where these people’s feelings come from. Perhaps changes in our culture have made the Trumpers uneasy. When the majority of their fellow citizens have come to accept ideas they find troubling, even threatening, we should expect them to freak out. Add to this their frustration from generations of unfulfilled political promises (unless we count Obamacare, which for some reason they don’t), and we might get a glimpse of their rage. We should not be surprised when that rage seeks out some way to feel righteous — even if it has no basis in fact. I don’t really get it, but I have to acknowledge that it exists.

Even if I can’t fully empathize with their anger, however, at least now I can stop trying to make sense of their thought process. There isn’t one. It is their emotions we need to contend with, not their tortured logic.

I wish I found that realization more comforting.
F**k!
You see f**k in print a lot these days. It used to be spelled “f—k” or sometimes “f__k”, but because it’s thought to be so vulgar, so obscene, the whole word is rarely seen or heard. Up until recently, it was spelled “f___” in an even sterner attempt to honor civility and good taste. The K, apparently, was thought to bring the reader dangerously close to the actual expletive. “____“ has also been an option, though that choice requires parenthetical elaborations such as “a harsh vulgarity” or “a four-letter-word” or some such prim phraseology.

“The F-word” still enjoys wide usage for this purpose, as does “F-bomb” and ponderous evasions like ‘rhymes with mukluk.” For those of you who don’t know, by the way, the word we’re figleafing here is “fuck.”

F**k is an old, if not honorable, word, but only in the last decade has it gotten the attention it deserves. F**king, it should be mentioned, is a very common practice among humans, and it is certainly not obscene in and of itself. Even so, it didn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until 1972. Even now it is kept hidden in most public reporting when the usage is thought to be gratuitous (as in “that’s fucking gratuitous, dude”).

F**k has been getting a lot of play recently, mostly in connection with politics. Robert De Niro, for example, shouted “Fuck Trump!” from the stage at this year’s Tony Awards. That event brought on a storm of controversy. Since Bob’s usage was anything but gratuitous, many outlets printed the word (as I just did) or said it out loud. The nut of the controversy, however, was not the word itself but the effectiveness of the usage. Many thought that throwing the F-bomb was counter-productive and gave Trump a rare chance to seize the high moral ground in our political discourse. Rather than winning support for De Niro’s sentiment, the epithet was dismissed by critics as simply cursing to the choir.

Last week another F-bomb dropped after the murder of five journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. Trump (or at least his twitter feed) responded to the killings with boiler plate condolences about “our thoughts and prayers.” One survivor, apparently unimpressed, shot back that he "didn’t give a fuck” about the President’s thoughts and prayers. This usage hasn’t been critiqued in the same way, perhaps because it is not a direct ad hominem attack. Instead, it calls attention to the shameless hypocrisy of our leader, who regularly refers to the press as “enemies of the people.” The “f**k” in this case (if my outrage detector is functioning properly) was deemed acceptable.

I have tried to be scrupulous within this essay in the use of f**k and its derivatives. I wanted to hold the line against language that might offend you while exploring what the f**k is going on with the word fuck.

Maybe my effort is a waste of time. There was a time when uttering a public F-bomb would draw hard looks or even a punch in the nose. They’re raining down everywhere these days, and rarely get more than a shrug. Gratuitous usage has expanded into overuse. Even on news websites the word is used freely, particularly in sports sections. Sure, it’s vulgar, but it appears to have lost its status as an obscenity. So why try to keep the barn door closed if the f**k has already escaped?

I don’t know whether to lament the coarsening of our culture or celebrate our liberation from the taste nazis. I guess I will simply continue to walk the ever-shifting line between politeness common usage. At least I will be not participating in its overuse, which is an obscenity to me no matter what the word.
Not With a Bang But a Chirp
Normally, I hesitate to expound on the subject of theoretical astrophysics. I don’t want to give the impression that I am presenting myself as some kind of expert in these matters. I really prefer the term “gifted amateur.”

But let’s not waste time on such distinctions. I’ll let you be the judge. In case you didn’t hear the recent news from deep space, here’s the skinny: 1.3 billion years ago, two black holes in a galaxy far, far away were spinning around each other at the rate of 250 rotations per second. As they spun, gravity waves spiraled out into the universe in every direction at (what else?) the speed of light. The two behemoths’ frantic dance of courtship finally ended in a cataclysmic climax, releasing one last pulse that was equal in its power output to 50 times that of the entire visible universe.

The sex was so good, in fact, that both lovers died. But a new black hole, almost twice the size of both together, was born. Ordinarily, nobody on Earth would have noticed. The usual means of observing the universe — optical, radio, and x-ray telescopes — could not have detected this event. By the time that last wave reached Earth, however, it so happens that scientists had just created a whole different kind of observational device. Instead of looking for stuff, they were ready to listen for it — specifically, for the kind of gravity waves produced over a billion years ago by those two black holes in heat.

Those scientists and engineers weren’t even sure such a thing existed, even though Einstein had predicted that it did. They built LIGO, this 2.5-mile-by-2.5-mile right angle filled with precision gizmos, to see (or rather, hear) if Albert was right. Maybe, just maybe, these ripples in space/time could be discovered at last.

Bingo! Or rather, chirp! No Booms or Ka-blooies or thunderous roars to match the event itself…just this one little musical note. In the key of middle C, they said.

Big deal, you say? Nice goin’ fellas, but what’s a chirp when we can already see the universe bellowing at us? What’s so freakin’ special about this new thing? The answer: it’s special because it is new…a new and unique kind of information available in no other way than this. Furthermore, black holes aren’t the only things that produce gravitational waves. Any mass that moves will do it, and that includes everything in the universe. We are swimming in such waves.

A new kind of data means a whole different take on then universe. Have you ever stood on the roof of your house? It’s different up there, isn’t it? Gives you a different perspective, doesn’t it? You see things you’ve never seen before, you notice relationships you never knew existed, you’re above, beyond, and outside your previous understanding of the world.

So, yeah…it’s a big deal. What the experts can’t tell you, however, is what we will discover from observing these new data. They can’t, of course, because we haven’t discovered it yet. It’s been several months now since that first chirp. So where are the other chirps?

UPDATE: Hi, it’s me, interrupting myself. I wrote the above in February 2016, but never posted it. I was writing right after the LIGO team published its paper about their first big detection from the previous year. There have been (to answer my own question) several noteworthy chirps since then. The first four were also the results of colliding black holes. In October of 2017, however, LIGO and its Italian counterpart Virgo detected something new — the merger of two neutron stars.

Meanwhile, the LIGO team has copped several awards, including a Nobel Prize in Physics. LIGO-India, or INDIGO, is now under construction. Improvements to the original system continue to be made, increasing the sensitivity and scope of future observations. That means more people standing on the roof and enjoying that unique perspective on the universe.

So far, observations have confirmed what scientists had predicted. Einstein’s theory of general relativity got a boost because it had imagined gravity waves in the first place. The data from the black hole collisions proved that those mysterious objects do, in fact, exist. Observations of the neutron merger proved (when taken with data from regular, old-fashioned observations) that gamma rays ands heavy metals are indeed products of such collisions.

I do like that we’re getting confirmations of previous scientific insights. It goes a long way toward chumping out the science deniers, and that’s a good thing in this era of “alternative facts.” When it comes to what I look for as a gifted amateur astrophysicist, however, this is not the ideal outcome. For me to do my best work, there must be new, inexplicable data to contend with — something that utterly dumbfounds the scientific community.

So I’m fine with the chirps, but I want more. A trill, perhaps, or a cheep. A distant hoot would be great, or even a full-on gobble. That might be too much to hope for, but I will take anything that calls for the kind of analysis that requires no data to speak of — much less an understanding of the laws of physics. That’s where I will come in.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon