Thursday, May 11, 2017

Priming the pump

ight off the top, I have to admit something: I know nothing about quantum mechanics. The mere mention of the term sends me cowering like a Neanderthal confronted for the first time with fire.
I only mention this because our president, Donald J. Trump, in an interview with The Economist magazine, claimed he coined the phrase, “prime the pump.” If true, this would be downright supernatural, since Merriam-Webster says the term has been around since the early 19th century.
Priming the pump was something I did every day, working on my dad’s JV Bar Ranch in the desert hills north of Wickenburg, Ariz. Life was anything but easy on the JV Bar, where there was almost never enough feed or water to keep our scrawny herd of 350 mixed breed cattle alive.
Hand pump form of syphon
My job, from the time I was about 12, was to putter around the back roads of our ranch in our World War II vintage Jeep, pumping water from nearly dry wells for  our thirsty, bawling cows.
Some of those wells had gas-driven pumps on them. But a few worked the old-fashioned way, with syphons that had to be primed. I would lower a weighted bucket on a rope into the well, let it fill up with water, pull the bucket up and pour the water into a second bucket that emptied into a pipeline that ran a hundred yards or so downhill from the well into a trough.
And gravity did the rest. The flow from the pipeline created a vacuum that drew water out of the well and kept the life-giving stuff running to the cattle. Until the well ran dry, which it did often.

 bet Donald Trump has never driven a Jeep with no brakes or working starter  over ten miles of bumpy roads to prime the pump on a well that’s going to run dry before all his father’s cattle have had enough to drink. I’ll bet he doesn’t even know how to actually prime a pump.
But in a recent Washington Post story, Philip Bump sent me scurrying to Google with this nugget of a sentence: “President Trump’s conversations and statements and braggadocio,” he wrote, “all live in the same nebulous cloud encompassing all of those possibilities, a Schrödinger’s box in which the cat has no fixed state until you look inside — and even then you’re likely to be told that the very dead cat you’re holding is, in fact, alive.”
Wow. A real, maybe live, maybe dead Schrödinger’s cat inside a box. Whatever that is. But thanks to Google, I now know all about that box.
It is, in fact, not a box, but a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox. Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised it in 1935 to illustrate the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (Aaaeeeiiihhhh! Quantum mechanics!) applied to everyday objects. Schrödinger imagined a cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead, a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.
All clear so far? Me neither.
Anyway, Schrödinger coined the term Verschränkung (entanglement) in the course of developing the thought experiment.
Trump probably won’t claim that he invented the term Verschränkung.  And now, with political winds whirling around him after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, he may be wishing  he’d never heard of the term  entanglement.
That’s OK, Mr. Trump. You can claim you invented the term “Presidential Pardon.”


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, My name is Carla and I'm a friend of Mary's here in So. Calif. Mary gave me witsendmagazine years ago and I check it daily for tidbits from your sister. I love everything about how your sister writes, her humor and her wisdom and I miss her dearly when she has other things to accomplish leaving witsend behind for periods of time. Still I check everyday and I have now found your offerings which I enjoy immensely. I have begun looking forward to your stories, adventures and points of view almost as much as I look forward to Mary's. It's very nice to have met you here and I look forward to your next post. Carla

Tom Walker said...

Thank you, Carla. I'm enjoying the writing I do for witsendmagazine a lot, and I'm glad you like it too. I used to write often for witsend, but ran out of things to say. Now, happily, current events have given me a whole new reservoir of material. I'm like my favorite late-night comedian, Stephen Colbert: Thank you, President Trump.

Best wishes, Tom Walker