Showing posts from October, 2018

The Times They Are A Changing

In the old days we used to get hundreds of trick-or-treaters. A hundred or so from the local neighborhood and later in the evening van loads of twelve or fifteen kids from somewhere or other. The neighborhood has aged, so there are fewer local kids, and at 8:30 PM I have yet to see a vanload. Maybe they found greener pastures. This is a disaster, since I bought enough candy to induce diabetic comas in a couple of elementary school classrooms, or maybe a whole school, and, so far, at least, I've seen less than two dozen kids. I've been giving out four fun size candy bars per kid. I should have made it twelve. I will stay open until 9 - where are you van kids?

They've Gone About As Far as They Can Go?

Has the human run his race? The picture in art, science, and politics isn't encouraging. Sculpture reached its apex somewhere between 500 and 2500 years ago. Music, painting, and literature all topped out at least 150 years ago. Attempts to go beyond the works produced then either produced disasters like Ulysses or throwbacks like abstract art. Physics was the glamor science of my youth, but it hasn't produced anything notably new for almost 40 years. Chemistry has been reduced to a computer exercise in quantum mechanics. Biology is still mining the last gems of the DNA revolution, but the end certainly looks in sight - it's hard to imagine any more great revelations. Cosmology may have gotten us almost as close to the beginning of everything as we can hope to get. What about the supposed mystery of consciousness? My guess is that there won't turn out to be much there there. Robots (today) and earthworms will turn out to have a little bit of consciousness, ho

Incarnate Metaphor

I was driving home from the dentist when a campaign poster caught my eye. "Taxation is Theft" it proclaimed, along with the name of somebody whom I assume was running for something not mentioned. I could make a pretty good guess that he was affiliated with the Libertarians. They seem to have a predilection for this kind of metaphor made incarnate. Nobel economist and Libertarian icon Milton Friedman used to say that the draft was "slavery." Others on the fringe are not immune. Communists and Anarchists are known to propound that "property is theft." Right-wing cartoons of Obama liked to portray him as a monkey, and others compared the Affordable Care Act to Hitler's genocides. These abuses of language and thought exploit some point of resemblance to equating the phenomenon in question with the despised counterpart. If somebody steals your wallet by force or stealth, that's theft. Taxation also compels you to surrender some of your mone

Of Course Trump is to Blame

He assigned the bomber his target list. Essentially every person targeted by the bomber had been targeted by Trump lies and abuse. Trump wasn't alone, of course, all his lies were repeated and amplified by Fox Lies and the right-wing radio and social media freak shows - but something said by the President carries a lot more moment than the even the rantings on Fox. Trump is not innocent in the Pittsburgh and Kentucky murders either. Despite his Jewish Son in Law and family, he has trucked often in anti-semitic and other racist tropes, as well as giving comfort to various Neo-Nazi groups. Equally important, he devotes his public speech to dividing Americans and fulminating hatred among them. Trump, though is anything but sui generis . He is the organic product and natural culmination of the modern Republican Party as created by Richard Nixon, Roger Ailes, and Lee Atwater - a party created out of racism, fear, and envy. Maureen Dowd notes that Ailes, whose other poisonous creat

Red Giants and the Horizontal Branch

When stars of moderate mass start to exhaust the amount of hydrogen in their core, the core has to heat up to keep the fusion rate high enough to balance the pressure of the gas above it. As the core begins to exhaust all its hydrogen, burning ignites in a shell above the core of helium ash. This causes the overall luminosity, or brightness, of the star to increase, the overlying volume to expand, and the atmosphere of the star to cool - the star ascends the so called red giant branch, becoming brighter, cooler (and consequently) redder. Many find this intuitive, but there is one strange thing - why should the interior of the star becoming hotter make the exterior cooler? Our friend the virial theorem, which says that 2K+U = 0, where K is the kinetic energy and U is the gravitational potential energy, might have something to say. The interior getting hotter, and the star consequently expanding, increases both K and U, since U becomes less negative. Consequently K for the outer re

False Flags

The RW conspiracy sites were quick to claim that the bombs sent to prominent targets of Trump were some kind of left wing false flag plot, and parts of the so-called mainstream media were quick to pick it up. What little we know about the arrested suspect strongly argues against this notion - never very credible to anyone with a functioning brain. Not that fact and logic are likely to dissuade any of the inhabitants of Trumpistan.

Why Does the Stratosphere Cool When the Troposphere Warms?

There is more than one way to explain this, but one of the deepest relies on the Virial Theorem. The Virial Theorem says that the kinetic energy of a system of particles (atoms, stars, or galaxies) bound by gravity, and in suitable equilibrium, is equal to -(1/2) times the gravitational potential energy. This powerful idea explains a lot of things about stars and galaxies, one of which is why when the center heats up, the surface cools down. Thus, the Sun today is both redder and brighter than it was a couple of billion years ago. Let us see how this idea applies to a planet like ours with a warming surface. the kinetic energy of a molecule is given by (1/2)*m*v^2 and its gravitational potential energy is given by -m*M(r)/r, so virial equilibrium implies that (on average) v^2 = M(r)/r. When the lower layer of the atmosphere heats up, the kinetic energy per molecule increases, the layer expands, the average molecule moves up, and M(r)/r decreases (potential energy becomes less neg

Good Bombers On Both Sides...

Of course we don't know yet who the bomber or bombers are that sent their bombs to Obama, Hillary, Soros, and CNN, but it's easy to see who has been feeding the fires of paranoia and hatred: Donald Trump, Fox News, and their even more egregious fans on the extreme right. It is no exaggeration to say that we are moving into fascist territory here. If history is a guide, fascism can't triumph without a lot collaborators who are just around for the ride, and in this respect the modern Republican party fits the description perfectly. They will probably condemn the bombs, but which of them will condemn those who incite?

Senator Lindseed

... was deeply disappointed by Saudi Crown Prince MBS (AKA, Mr. Bone Saw). He says he feels betrayed. It's a hard lesson Linz, but here's the deal: a whore just can't always count on it being true love.

Teaching Corporate Ethics

Kara Swisher, writing in the NYT , ponders whether ethics officers for tech companies could make them better citizens. Swisher ponders all the Saudi and Chinese money propping up tech stocks, but I have what I call a market based theory. I say send a CEO or three to the slammer. The others are mostly pretty bright - I bet they will get the hint. I'll guess three to six months would serve to clarify many a mind. After Britain suffered a major defeat in one of its wars, it hanged an admiral. I believe it was Pepys who noted that it did serve to get the attention of the other admirals.

Choosing Your Identity

Trump's administration has apparently defined the "transgender" identity out of existence by saying people are stuck with the sex indicated by their chromosomes. There are lots of other possible arguments about identity. Elizabeth Warren has been pilloried both by Trump and Native Americans for mentioning and proving that she has Native American ancestry. Another woman was drummed out of a leadership position by apparently falsely claiming to be black. So which categories are up for choice? We mostly agree that Americans are allowed to choose their political party, religious affiliation, and what sports teams they cheer for - though some religions don't allow that kind of choice. Ethnic identity seems to me a lot more socially determined than biological gender, so why is that off the table or delegated to some bureaucracy? We know the reason. It's because some privileges or opportunities are reserved by ethnic identity. It's possible to argue that the

Indian Country

Evidently Elizabeth Warren became so tired of Trump's gauche "Pocahontas" taunts that she got a DNA test. If she had been a bit more cunning she would have waited to spring this on Trump in a debate, but she did spill the beans. Naturally Trump promptly welshed on his bet (that he would give a million dollars to the charity of her choice if she proved to have Indian ancestry). She also managed to annoy a number of Native American activists. Why exactly? Well, Native American tribes are jealous of their ability to control their own membership. This has emotional and social roots but is also based on the bones Congress has thrown to the tribes in scanty recompense for having stolen their Continent - a very limited sovereignty and some affirmative action competitive advantages in certain economic ventures. In particular they don't want tribal membership expanded by DNA test. I'm pretty sure that Warren has not claimed tribal membership in any economically or

The Long Con

Ever since Ronald Reagan, running large deficits has been part of the the Republican strategy. So why should their plutocratic masters want large deficits? It has never been a secret. These guys hate Social Security and Medicare more than anything, except perhaps the thought that some non-rich person might breathe an untroubled breath. If the deficits become large enough, the strategy goes, they can target these hated "socialist" programs. That's why Reagan financed his star wars program with increases in Social Security taxes and debt. That's why W. financed his Iraq adventure with the biggest deficits ever, and why W's Mega Recession was as much a feature as a defect. HW got the boot for quailing at going along with the program. As I say, it's not like it's a secret - you can find it right wing think tank stuff from way back. Still, I was a bit surprised to see Mitch McConnell brazenly proclaim his plans *just before* the midterms. I thought th

Murder Most Foul

The apparent murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Security forces was one of the most cold blooded and blatant assassinations of recent times. Israelis and Russians usually attempt to at least conceal or disguise their murders. The Saudis carry it out in their own consulate, and come prepared with their most senior forensic physician, armed with a bone saw, to dismember the body. Nothing is more startling than the flagrancy with which the murder was committed. Evidently the Saudis believe that the financial grip they have on Kushner and Trump gives them impunity, and it seems likely that once again they are right - the Trump family is already pushing the coverup. Right now, even Republican Senators are making noise about doing something, maybe because their constituents are no big fans of Saudis and Muslims more generally, but I suspect that they will fall into line when Trump whistles. Of course many are terrified that punishing the Saudis will trigger a

Entitled Rich Kids Stick Together

The late Michael Kelly cast some justifiably famous shade on liberalism. From Bret Stephens: [he] once wrote that the “animating impulse” of modern liberalism was to “marginalize itself and then enjoy its own company. And to make itself as unattractive to as many as possible.” “If it were a person,” he added, “it would pierce its tongue.” Pretty funny, even if one thinks that it was itself animated by some ugly prejudices against liberal support for then unpopular causes like gay rights. Kelly himself was killed in the idiotic Iraq invasion that he helped promote, but Bret Stephens liked his joke enough to make a whole column based on it. So what are the ways that Democrats ("liberals" in Stephens' parlance) are piercing their tongues these days? Opposing his fellow entitled rich kid and fellow Brett, Kavanaugh? Daring to actually question BK about the crimes he accused of. Daring to suspect him of transparent perjuries. Responding with measured anger to the


One other damned thing about getting old: I am increasingly impatient with stupidity. Especially my own.

The Supreme Court

I think that even Libertarians would concede that courts are an indispensable function of government.  In the case of the United States, where the Supreme Court is not only the ultimate interpreter of the laws but has also appropriated the right to judge laws against the template of the Constitution and strike down those it finds wanting, that function is exceptionally powerful, since the Constitution is concise, sometimes imprecise, and very difficult to amend. Which I suppose is why a group of American oligarchs, featuring some familiar figures like the Koch brothers and the Mercer family have poured millions into the so-called Federalist Society, an institution dedicated to getting its choices onto the Supreme Court.  To that end they have promoted partisan figures like the current conservative bloc on the Court by systematically recruiting them early in their careers and greasing the skids to get them appointed. The exceptional success of this project has now produced a US judi

Sorry Alexa

Amazon is flacking a new voice controlled microwave.  Because punching in 2:00 minutes or pushing the popcorn button is really difficult I guess. I like the idea of robotic food prep, but I want my robochef to take the stuff out of the fridge (or better, do my shopping), peel and chop the onions, and follow the recipe. Come on back when you've got something useful.

The Big Defeat

It would be silly to think that the Kavanaugh appointment to the Supreme Court is anything but a giant defeat for worker rights, voting rights, health care and reproductive choice.  Kavanaugh made it clear in his "goes around, comes around" remarks that revenge on his real and imaginary enemies is high on his priority list. Democrats' talk of reinvestigating him if they get a house majority is just a good way to ensure that they don't.  The whole struggle, well intentioned and necessary as it was, has probably torpedoed Dems chances of taking the Senate.  Don't ask me how Americans could be so stupid, but polls suggest that they are. Personally, I'm starting to look forward to the robot takeover.

Tribal Triumph

Once again we see the triumph of tribe in American politics.  Perhaps not since the Civil War have we seen a more odious tribe than the Tribe of Trump, but there it is. Once again we have seen Susan Collins do her Hamlet act, and once again she collapses with the vapors when faced with the question.  Not for her to strike out against a sea of troubles - rather the choice of the coward, but I'm really getting a bit tired of watching her work through her thousand deaths on national television. I suppose this conclusion was evident as soon as we saw that the FBI "investigation" was to be a fake, a little phony cover for all the Republican Hamlets. Apparently Kavanaugh's sterling demonstration of character and judicial temperament went over well with Republican women, who seem to have been energized by the spectacle.

Galaxies: Books

The study of galaxies has radically transformed our ideas of the universe, but there is also the fact that they are gorgeous photographic and romantic subjects.  We rely on a few textbooks in the graduate galaxies class I'm taking, so this has capsule reviews of the main ones.  Roughly in order of  how technically demanding they are. BOB - The famous Big Orange Book, An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics by Carroll and Ostlie.  1359 pages of reading fun on all aspects of Astrophysics.  Aimed at undergraduates and demands some calculus level physics and math.  Fear of this monster was one reason I decided to start my astrophysical study at the graduate level, but it is a great book.  Develops your mind and your biceps. Galaxies in the Universe: An Introduction by Sparke and Gallagher (2007).  Aimed at Junior and Senior undergrads in physics.  Easy to read with lots of good problems. Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology , by Schneider.  Aimed at the sophisticated advanced p

Cover Up

The so-called FBI investigation is looking a lot like a cover up whose only purpose was to give protection to a few GOP Senators who wanted to look open minded.  Not only did the FBI only interview only a few witnesses, they apparently ignored numerous individuals who attempted to come forward with directly relevant testimony.  Did they even interview Blasey Ford?  Not at last report.  Meanwhile, Grassley and company keep circulating anonymous and uncorrelated smears against Kavanaugh's accusers.  What scum! I hope I'm proved wrong, but from here it sure looks like another Trump special.