Monday, July 28, 2014

What 'Spiderman" In Times Square Could Learn From Austria's Mendicants

By now the youtube video is all over the place, showing a "Spiderman" character being throttled by New York's finest for unsavory behavior - which presumably the real character would never project. As the story goes, according to CBS Morning News, the character was given a buck tip by a woman but he felt that was way way too small after having to get dressed up in tights and all. So he demanded fives, tens or twenties only. When she didn't comply he got disgusting, insulting and rude - whereupon the police stepped in, demanded his ID - and then this guy (who fancied himself a real superhero) started throwing punches. See also:

Evidently, according to the report this morning this isn't unusual. The cartoon and comic book characters parading on Times Square - mainly for tips - do go ape shit if the tips aren't as large as they expect. In the last two years:

- A woody from 'Toy Story' and a Mario Brother were accused of groping women

- A Cookie Monster shoved a two year old boy

-And an 'Elmo' became notorious for his anti-Semitic rants.

New York Councilman Andy King also reported the experience of his grand daughter and family who were accosted by 'Strawberry shortcake" - who became dissatisfied with his tip started cursing at the family

New York is not alone, as costumed characters also roam the Vegas Strip and Hollywood Blvd. (where two Captains America got into a fist fight last year).

The question is why these costumed characters can't be more like the dignified ones we encountered in Innsbruck and Salzburg, Austria, like 'Charlie Chaplin":
Photo: This photo appears to have vanished from my FB page, so am re-posting: "Charlie Chaplin" in Innsbruck.
Who, on being provided with a tip (of any size) would do a little dance and give a bow. There was no berating or rude accosting if the tip was a half euro instead of a euro. Tourists could also have their photos take with him and there'd be no hard feelings - irrespective of the size of the tip. The guy exuded class, unlike "Spiderman" in NYC (maybe one reason Americans need fewer "super hero" costumes, and more cultural or historical ones - say like Abe Lincoln, Gen. Patton, et al)

Ditto with the Painted Lady of Innsbruck, where I'm shown below giving her a euro tip.
Me in front of the 'Painted Lady' of Innsbruck.
Did she bash me on the head with her umbrella because the tip was a single euro and not five? Of course not! Did she sic her doggy after me: "Get him Napoleon! Bite his ass for only giving me a euro tip!"

The Austrians, in whatever character guise, have way too much class for that! The reason is that they don't just get decked out and panhandle, they provide performances too.  Allowed to ply their trades in assorted locations in both Innsbruck and Salzburg, these creative performers - which is really what they were- never disappointed.  Each street character, whether the "Headless Puppet", Painted Lady and "Charlie Chaplin" in Innsbruck, or "Mozart", and assorted RC "Cardinals" in Salzburg, knew their stuff and how to beg with aplomb - while not seeming to beg.

This is an art form, make no mistake. Having seen how panhandlers operate (including those in comic book costumes) in cities from Vegas to New Orleans to San Francisco to Baltimore, they could take a lesson or two from the magnificent mendicants of Austria.  These latter street characters understand how gauche and unseemly it would be to simply beg, so they turn their need for money into practical street theatrics. They also probably grasp that donning a super hero outfit only tempts the wearer into out-sized, radical rude behavior - which is why you won't see a single "Spiderman" or "Wonder Woman" anywhere in Innsbruck, or Salzburg.

One pointed attribute stands out above all others: There are NO aggressive moves toward any passersby - even if you (and your spouse) are the only ones in the vicinity. Every single mendicant performer respects his or her "guests" (even if they tacitly ignore the costume or act) and also refrains from  meandering into other mendicants' staked out realms.  These are very important aspects!

I've always noticed in the U.S. cities mentioned,  irrespective of having a costume or not, most street characters  approach rapidly and aggressively  toward their targets and either scare them off, or turn them off. They also behave in an unseemly fashion if the tip isn't large enough, by their reckoning.  Thereby they forfeit a possible extra buck, and are 'bucked' in their pleas for more instead. They fail to grasp that if one goes into the begging field, at any level, some type of social interface is needed to ease the transaction.

A proper costume and a shtick (some performing act - singing, dancing etc.) can also help by deflecting the inevitable attention away from the implicit begging itself.  In this way, the Euro beggars appear to have achieved something their U.S. counterparts can only dream of, i.e. encouraging passersby who willingly put out cold hard cash for what they believe - and actually are - receiving!  But again, a major reason for this may be the choice of costume - which differs radically from the childish, clownish wear of American street beggars. (Likely reflecting the childish, clownish mass entertainment culture which keeps most people at an infantile consumer level.)

Take note, Times Square  costumed  characters - and maybe take a clue from your classy European counterparts- on how begging can be elevated to an art form - as opposed to a gauche, rude display of bad behavior. You might want to ditch those superhero costumes too!

The Gamma Ray Bubbles In The Milky Way - Linked To Super Massive Black Hole?

Gamma ray bubbles in Milky Way
Two images of the gamma ray bubbles in our galaxy as recorded by the Large Area Telescope during 50 months of observations. (From Physics Today, July, p. 61)

Question: If a stellar black hole, i.e. as one member of a binary system, is capable of pulling the outer gaseous envelope of its companion off and generating x-rays in the process (by which we can confirm its existence) is it possible the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy could emit much more powerful gamma rays – as matter accretes onto it?

This is a question researchers Anna Franckowiak and Stephen Funk  (of SLAC) seek to answer with their research as proposed in their article, ‘Giant Gamma –Ray Bubbles in the Milky Way’ (Physics Today, July, p. 60). The authors refer to gamma rays recorded by the Large Array Telescope (LAT) aboard NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope as an indicator, revealing two giant structures (“Fermi bubbles”) that appear to emerge from the galactic center. These bubbles “extend 39,000 light years above and below the galactic center and have well-defined edges.”. In addition, the intensity of the radiation doesn’t vary across their expanse.

As usual with a new concept in astrophysics the proof will be in essentially explaining away all other possibilities and leaving the Fermi bubbles as the only viable hypothesis. At present this isn’t possible because the origin of these ‘bubbles’ can be explained without recourse to the supermassive black hole.   If the bubbles can be tied exclusively to the supermassive black hole at the galactic center then the way is paved for “better understanding of the energy output of the enigmatic massive object at the center of our galaxy.”

As most physics students and aficionados are aware, gamma rays are the highest energy photons. Generally, they earn their keep by exposing the highest energy processes in the cosmos which are most often predicated on relativistic charged particles. (I.e. those traveling near the speed of light, c).  Since the atmosphere blocks them, fortunately for us, special detectors have to be dispatched into space on satellites.

A few words are in order for the LAT and its capabilities: It is sensitive to gammas rays in the energy range of a few tens of MeV to a few hundred GeV. (Recall here, MeV refers to one million electron volts. Recall the energy conversion: 

1.6 x 10-19 J = 1 eV  so that:

1 MeV =  106  eV (1.6 x 10-19 J /  eV )  =      1.6 x 10-13

Similarly for 1 GeV, the joule equivalent is:

1 GeV =  10 9  eV (1.6 x 10-19 J /  eV )  =      1.6 x 10-10

The LAT has a field of about 20 percent of the sky at any given moment and continuously scans the whole sky with unprecedented precision. (The images shown were taken over a 50 month time frame.)

If the reader examines panel (a) in the top graphic, the sky as recorded by the LAT at energies above 6.4 GeV is seen.  As the authors note (ibid.):
Clearly visible are the galactic interstellar emission and point sources well within and beyond the galaxy. Less evident, but still visible, is an additional component of gamma ray emission above and below the galactic center, extending perpendicular to the galactic plane.”

In panel b, meanwhile, “the symmetrical Fermi bubbles stand out once all known sources of gamma rays in and outside the galaxy are subtracted and the Milky Way Band is masked. “

The authors note that the alternative explanations still hold court and it may be difficult to ultimately tie the Fermi bubbles to the supermassive central black hole. The primary reason for that is that the latter is currently in a “quiet phase ” – meaning the rate of material accretion onto it is low, so that gamma ray generation would be low. Franckowiak and Funk acknowledge that the supermassive hole can go through quiet and active phases and point to “x-ray light echoing off interstellar gas clouds” as evidence for “a prior episode of intense eruption that occurred a century ago.” (One alternative hypothesis is that a burst of star formation in dense gas clouds occurred in the vicinity of the galactic center.)

In any case, we will have to let the extended investigations play out and see if the Fermi bubble link to the galactic black hole is real or just a mirage.  The physical processes for such generation are at least well known and may exhibit one of two forms: 1) Inverse Compton scattering, i.e. in which relativistic electrons collide with low energy photons and boost them to gamma ray energies, or (2) high energy protons interact with the nucleons of interstellar gas to produce pions (pi mesons, neutral particles) that immediately decay into two gamma rays each.

The stage is set and perhaps a renewed “active” phase may soon arrive. In that case all eyes will be (via LAT) on these Fermi bubbles and also whether they have companion microwave bubbles.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Libertarians Will Never Win a National Election

While the political philosophy of libertarianism remains popular, especially among a specific demographic - mainly young 'up and coming' professionals and a segment of high I.Q. societies - such as Intertel and Mensa- the fact remains it is a bankrupt engine for real political change. There are sundry reasons for this which I'd like to examine more closely in this blog post, which will show why the 'Libbies' can never win any national election.

For a fairly generic idea of the core libertarian principles we can consider Charles Murray's statement in What it means to be a Libertarian (p. 6):

“It is wrong for me to use force against you, because it violates your right to control of your person....I may have the purest motive in the world. I may even have the best idea in the world. But even these give me no right to make you do something just because I think it's a good idea. This truth translates into the first libertarian principle of governance: In a free society individuals may not initiate the use of force against any other individual or group

Of course, this is also undoubtedly where the pet libertarian canard that “taxes = theft’ comes from. But look at it objectively (not to be confused with ‘Objectivism’) this is arrant twaddle and illogical to boot. Further, it takes no note of actual political and social reality which may make these perceptions even more egregious.

I mean “libertarian principle of governance”?  This is an oxymoron! Governance presumes and demands the non-passive act of governing, which means the projection of force for enforcement of laws.  Someone is invariably and actively setting standards of expected action, and also providing the means to uphold the standards. In other words, force inevitably backs up governance. Why do you think cities maintain police forces, and the nation a large volunteer standing army - along with assorted weapons to control crowds?  It is to sustain coherent and FORCE-ful governance. The libertarians, then, espouse a philosophy which cannot possibly work in the real world - because that world implicitly recognizes and declares government the primary agent of force, i.e. to enforce laws. Look around for a "force-less" government, i.e. which retains adherence and respect for its laws with no use of force. I defy you to name one!

If governments aren't enabled to enforce their laws , what’s the point? It’s all an exercise in mental masturbation. People can do whatever the hell they want!  Set up sex store emporiums or pot shops next to schools, or sell cocaine  and semi-automatic weapons in open stalls on the sidewalks of major cities!  Freedom thereby becomes perverted into a veritable "free for ALL". In other words, unless governance declares limits to actions - and someone (coercively) enforces governance, a functional society becomes  impossible. Now, maybe there IS a docile libertarian principle of “governing suggestion”- but this in no way is the same as “governance”! I also warrant such "suggestion" will always remain that and never be adopted.

One of the examples assorted libertarians invoke is that public tradespeople ought to be free  to decide with whom they trade. Thus, the druggist, the restaurateur, the hobby store, the home renovation store --- whoever- ought to be free to decide themselves with whom they trade. Of course, this is a prescription for absolute chaos. If every person, corporation, etc. could decide with whom they trade we'd have market bedlam. Economics would be in an even worse predictive position than it is presently.

One libertarian actually wrote in a blog comment several months ago:

 "If it is morally wrong to force someone to work for you against their will, how is it any less wrong to force someone else to trade with another against their will? I'm sure you will disagree on this point, but it is really about extending the same freedom to everyone, even if they choose to use that freedom in ways that you do not approve of."

The error the Libbie commits is conflating slavery ("making someone work for you") with  making someone trade with you. But this is mixing chalk and cheese. Free trade is regulated by licensing from the local community, county, state or nation (commerce clause).  The restaurateur or trader is afforded certain privileges (via licensing)  that a slave is not. These include the ability to manufacture goods and create services that can be publicly offered for sale in the market realm.  The trader's  so called "freedom" is thereby  limited to do whatever the trader wants - and hence he can't include refusal of service unless there are extenuating circumstances, i.e. the customers enter drunk and disorderly. The trader doesn't have the latitude  or "freedom" to refuse service on basis of ethnicity, skin color, or sexual orientation. It does not matter what personal likes or dislikes the trader has, or his preferences. If he is to trade in the licensed public domain he is obliged to put these aside. If he can't handle that, then his only resort is to create a "black market" where he can choose as he sees fit. Or he can barter on the individual level and decide with whom he'll trade to his heart's content.

But to do otherwise in the PUBLIC regulated domain flouts Civil Rights legislation passed in the 1960s which again is an example of government force to assert and promote citizens' rights.  The impetus of any trader to willingly impose racial or ethnic bias  to delimit with whom he does business is thus rightfully outlawed.  Meanwhile, the government's right to forcibly shut down any trader  - say selling knockoffs of trademarked products, or selling harmful products or marijuana (in a non-legalized state) or illicit sexual services, is preserved.

Again, traders are delimited and can't do whatever the hell they want. Their freedom is naturally circumscribed by the state. Any state!

Let's bear in mind that anti-statism is a central tenet of libertarianism, but it rests on no foundations, other than the so-called libertarian principles babbled by Murray and others. For example, Frank Chodorov, quoted by David Boaz of CATO Inst. in ‘Libertarianism: A Primer’, goes so far as to write:

Society is a collective concept and nothing else; it is a convenience for designating a number of people... The concept of Society as a metaphysical concept falls flat when we observe that Society disappears when the component parts disperse

Boaz himself joins in on what the “individual” means:

For libertarians, the basic unit of social analysis is the individual.... Individuals are, in all cases, the source and foundation of creativity, activity, and society. Only individuals can think, love, pursue projects, act. Groups don’t have plans or intentions

But, as Prof. Ernest Partridge puts it in his 2012 article, ‘Liberals and Libertarians’:

Now consider the implications of this denial of the "independent existence" of "the public" and "society." If there is no "public," then there are no "public goods" and there is no "public interest." If there is no "society," then there is no "social harm," or "social injustice" or "social (and public) responsibility." It then follows that government has no role in mitigating "social injustice" or promoting "the public interest," since these terms are fundamentally meaningless. Poverty and racial discrimination, for example, are individual problems requiring individual solutions”.

I can assure the Libbies here that if Boaz’ concept held sway and government force was not used in Alabama in Sept. 1963 (JFK nationalizing the Alabama National Guard to enforce school integration) and the later passage of the Civil Rights Act we would still be a segregated nation, with blacks sitting in the back of the bus, ‘colored’ water coolers and restrooms, and the rest. Only someone totally divorced from reality would claim individual African-Americans could have obtained their civil rights with mere individual effort and no government input.

Meanwhile, The Libertarian Party Principles state:

We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”

Again, more inherently contradictory twaddle and piffle:  Interference with the lives of others is permitted, so long as it’s not “forcible interference”?   This is incredible! So,  if a neighbor has a "rape room" where teen girls are regularly taken - so he can "live in whatever manner he chooses",  we are obliged to not forcibly interfere? And what if it comes to attention that he's making bombs of assorted types, we're still not permitted to forcibly interfere - or notify law enforcement to do so?

 Their definition also excludes much that others would see as coercion. For example, to me, the TABOR law in Colorado is coercion, because it continuously and aggressively scales back tax support for the public domain (based on the past year’s population and growth) under a rigorous "formula" that is never subject to alteration - whether in good economic times or bad. Thousands of disabled people across the state may stand to lose their services thanks to TABOR and controls like it. all with the best intentions of course. The perverse basis of this law is that we not “take by force” those hard-earned gains of the filthy rich bastards ensconced in one of several of their 45.000 square foot mansions in Aspen!

As one critic has put it (to do with libertarians’ convoluted principles):

Libertarians make exceptions for defense of property and prosecution of fraud, and call them ‘retaliatory force’ But retaliation can be the initiation of force: I don't need force to commit theft or fraud. This is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand that libbies like to play so that they can pretend they are different from government”.

Libertarianism clearly posits initiation of force for what it identifies as its cosseted minions' interests and calls it righteous retaliation, and uses the big lie technique to define everything else as “evil initiation of force". (As they would certainly call JFK’s nationalization of the AL guard in ’63 to force school integration) They support the initial force that has already taken place in the formation of the system of property (e.g. the seizure of Native American lands and violation of umpteen treaties), and wish to continue to use force to perpetuate it and make it more rigid. It is this inchoate ethics that translates into the system’s weakness and exposes libertarians as true hypocrites.

I warrant libertarianism and its fanciful  world of minimal force might work, in a fantasy parallel universe where all citizens are equally educated and have equal access to facts and information, and equal opportunities to advance their social-economic station. But that is emphatically not the world we inhabit, whether the Libbie concedes it or not. This is why libertarianism will remain the province of the very few, though it is disturbing to behold all the inroads it’s made into the high I.Q. societies like Mensa and Intertel. To read some of the letters or articles is almost like witnessing a collective mind-virus unleashed, and by people whose “bible” is ‘Atlas Shrugged’.

More sobering, it is virtually impossible to reason with these individuals. They have so bought into the airy fairy ideations of Libertarianism they won't deign to remotely entertain the notion that it  simply can't work in the real world.  For this reason too, since it is so useless to debate, I no longer accept comments from libertarians on this site, even say in response to this post. They will have to set  up their own blogs and make their rejoinders there!

Of course, for all these reasons libertarianism will never garner more than the 2 percent or so it barely manages in national elections. Even in local elections one seldom sees libertarian candidates running on their own (not aligned to either party) barely reaching the 5 percent level. The reason is clear: most voters see that the Libertarian principles can't work in the real world humans inhabit. The presumptions libertarians hold are simply untenable, unworkable and non-existent in the real world.

Thankfully,  there are still many of us-  certainly in Mensa and Intertel - who don't buy the resident Libbie bunkum, no matter who tries to peddle it. Call us proud “statists” (or "liberals")  if you will, but we will continue to advocate expanding government so that it serves all citizens – not merely the corporations, the rich, and not so rich, or any who can afford the luxury of Libertarian codswallop. And luxury it is, because I guarantee you that if you poll the homeless in Denver, Baltimore or San Francisco you won't find any libertarians there. You won't because it is a creation for and by the cosseted and privileged few, including pampered academics of the Walter Block mold, who never have to worry about THEIR precious properties or rights taken away - unless in some pseudo-political realm fabricated within their own paranoid brains.

Finally, to anyone out there whose mind hasn’t been infected by the libertarian mind virus, I commend Paul Kurtz’s excellent Editorial ‘Overcoming the Global Economic Tsunami’ in the  ‘Free Inquiry’ magazine, e.g.

Kurtz has it exactly right in his proposals, especially when he avers:

Effective regulation must be reintroduced to protect the public interest”.

This is antithetical to libertarianism because it recognizes no public interest, since it recognizes no "public". As Ernest Partridge put it: If there is no "public," then there are no "public goods" and there is no "public interest." If there is no "society," then there is no "social harm," or "social injustice" or "social (and public) responsibility.

We have to thank the libertarians for creating a reflection of a fantasy world which will never come to pass, other than in their own deluded craniums. Hence, for exposing "principles" that the true rationalist can never accept - because it would mean he has detached himself from any grounding in reality. This is a service because one can then concentrate on making other, existing political systems more workable.

Have they "over thought" political ideals or extended a concept of "freedom" beyond any reasonable bounds? Very likely!   This is why I commend to all Libbies the excellent book by David M. Potter, Freedom and its Limitations in American Life, (Stanford University Press, 1976)

See also:


"Anarchism was libertarianism fully realized. Political libertarianism was a deformation of the ideology, only attractive to those who valued the sentiments of libertarianism but weren’t principled enough to carry it to its logical (and moral) conclusions."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Calming the Hysteria: No, Earth Wouldn't Have Been "Destroyed" Had That Flare-CME Struck

Solar flare nearly destroyed Earth 2 years ago: NASA

As usual, much of the media has to use hysteria to command attention. And so numerous media sources reported in the past few days that a monster solar flare- that erupted two years ago (July, 2012) could have "destroyed the Earth", while others asserted "we'd have been sent back to the Dark Ages."  All that, if the event had occurred a week earlier.

According to an astrophysicist from University of Colorado quoted by The New York Post:

"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,”

He then added:

"I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did.  If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”

Yes, but "line of fire" doesn't mean the end of civilization.

Sadly, much of this was based on exaggeration and hysteria.  Note I had also referenced the effects of CMEs or coronal mass ejections in earlier blogs, and the expected effects on human civilization, e.g.

Based on the above content (and other posts I've written on the subject) the Post did get this much correct:

"It’s believed a direct CME hit would have the potential to wipe out communication networks, GPS and electrical grids to cause widespread blackout.......Just 10 minutes without electricity, Internet or communication across the globe is a scary thought, and the effects of this event could last years. It would be chaos and disaster on an epic scale."

Well, uh yeah, things would get very inconvenient! Make no mistake people would likely have to do without their computers, smart phones, Ipads, Facebook, GPS systems for 6 months or so, maybe longer. The NASA release also made some rough analogies to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and "disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket" as well as "most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.”

In other words, you'd definitely be faced with horrendous and messy issues in the wake - but "back to the Dark Ages" ? Well ok, maybe for a few months. But it would not compare to the aftermath of a nuclear war, for example, which could erupt if we were stupid enough to follow the advice of Johnno McCain and other dumbass Reeptards to "teach Putin a lesson".

But equating not having internet or smartphones or Facebook to the "dark ages" - that's a bit of exaggeration! Well, ok, maybe not given the extent to which most moderns are hooked on all these devices and pastimes.

But as I noted in the above line to do with CMEs, many of the problems that might be caused by their smacking us at the most inopportune time are soluble. For example, our power grids could be protected by the simple expedient of installing large enough resistor -capacitor systems at critical locations (e.g. near power plants or major cities)  in order to sever any CME-driven upward field aligned current connection to the grid. Recall from my basic physics blog, e;g.    that resistors act to limit current and also capacitors can do the same by collecting charge.

The problem? Major U.S. power companies don't want to assume the cost for any voluntary installations, which could run $100,000 per transformer. Hence, the grid remains unprotected against the rare - but potentially calamitous - Carrington event CME that smacks us broadside.

Government, of course, could easily provide subsidies to help pay for the C-R systems to protect the transformers, but the moron Tea Baggers infecting our nation (and one whole party)  won't hear of such a thing. They won't tolerate giving any "blank check" to government to subsidize  power companies, especially to build capacitative-resistance systems to protect our power grids. These jerks with their triangle hats still live in the 1790s, after all!

Ok, so forget the "expensive" solution above. Even a bit of help could still be available if we knew the direction of an oncoming powerful CME event and had some time to prepare. Right now such an entity exists: the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite which can measure the intensity and magnetic orientation of any CME that sweeps by it. The problem is that ACE is nearly on its last legs and a replacement monitor is needed.

Fortuitously, a fully -ready space craft that can undertake ACE's duties exists. The problem? This Deep Space Climate Observatory (or DSCOVR) sits mothballed in storage at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,  Maryland. It sits idle because the Obama administration's $47.3 million budget request to refurbish and launch DSCOVR has been forthwith rejected by the Republican-controlled House.

So there it sits, and here we sit, on a planet becoming ever more vulnerable to the ultimate 'blowback' from  the Sun's "burps" - as Neil deGrasse Tyson called them on Bill Maher last night.

So maybe, just maybe, the Reepos really don't care if people have to do without Facebook or smartphones for a half a year, or can't flush their toilets for lack of electric power. I mean, they still haven't furnished all the money needed for the Superstorm Sandy victims, many of whom still sit in darkened homes without electricity or running water.

Maybe the Republicans would prefer that condition for the whole country!

Drones Gone Wild- Why More Air Disasters May Be On the Way If The FAA Keeps Dragging Butt

The Youtube video of a wayward drone scoping out people below on the observation deck of the Seattle Space Needle has commanded lots of attention, as it should.  In fact, this drone - shown in an ABC segment last night - was sent on its mission by some goober in a nearby hotel - who released it from his window. This stunt followed an earlier one a month or so ago when a drone flew high over the wedding of the daughter of a congress critter (who had a hand in fashioning the 2012 bill allowing millions of these things to take to our skies by next year)  In both cases the unleashed drones were in violation of laws prohibiting such drone flight until late next year.

The existence of the relevant bill was first reported on Feb. 4, 2012 in The Wall Street Journal  ('U.S. Skies Could See More Drones', p. A7)and it came as a shocker of sorts. First, because it disclosed yet another federal agency (FAA) held hostage to the corporatist-industrial complex, now attempting to find new avenues for drone production since the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are ending (well the first has officially ended, the second nearly may not until 2024). And second, because it discloses how secretive this corporate-benefiting information is.

Medea Benjamin made reference to the spectacle of congressional corporate compliance and being bought out by the drone makers, as she said:

"They’ve been able to write the drone legislation and get their lackeys in Congress to push it through and get the president to sign it.”

In other words, the congressional rats and whores placed the bottom line of corporations over citizen welfare. But this is what we expect in a corporatocracy.  In the case of the FAA bill, worth some $63 billion (and nearly four years in the lobbying and rewriting), U.S. skies would be inundated with tens of thousands of unmanned drones sharing airspace with commercial planes - and recall these are already at the beck and call of overworked air traffic controllers, as gauged by nearly 300 near misses per year. Imagine if they now had to contend with thousands of these unmanned drones flying who knows where?
Well, we no longer have to imagine! We now know how bad it can be! Records and data are now available showing dozens of near misses of commercial aircraft with drones, near major airports - highlighted in the FAA map below:

Photo: FAA Map showing locations of near collisions with drones at major airports.
These incidents, exposed in an investigation by the Washington Post,  include one in which a pilot descending into LaGuardia observed a drone with a 10 -15 foot wingspan above lower Manhattan. In another LA incident, two separate pilots reported a drone "the size of a trash can" perilously close by.  The FAA was not able to pursue or identify the offenders because either "radar data was not available" or "the operators could not be identified." (Denver Post, 'Drone Close Calls', June 25th, p. 17A)   The Post notes that (p. 22A):

"The close calls were the latest in a rash of dangerous encounters between civilian aircraft and drones flown in contravention of FAA rules intended to safeguard U.S. airspace.."

Beyond that, the Post reports that "in 15 cases the past two years, drones flew dangerously close to airports or passenger aircraft" (including the incidents noted above in New York and LA.) The accumulating incidents so spooked one commercial pilot (Greg Cromer) that he actually wrote a letter to the FAA opposing the whole insane idea of opening U.S. airspace to these mechanical beasties, writing (ibid.):

 "I can see no way to prevent a collision with something that could be as small as a bird or a plane or kitchen appliance."

In addition, "the NASA database confirms that dangerous brushes between drones and passenger aircraft are more common than the FAA acknowledges." 

Is the FAA already co-opted and bought out? We hope to hell not!  According to the database, there've been 50 incidents since 2005, including potential disasters. Meanwhile, Chris Stephenson, an operations coordinator with the National Air Traffic Controllers' Association, described the pending integration of drones into national airspace as "a tsunami headed for the front porch". Other drone advocates (e.g. General Dynamics' Krista Ochs) are concerned with how the industry will be set back if and when the first major crashes with commercial airlines occur.  As she put it (ibid.):

"If we have a major catastrophe that involves some type of midair collision it could set us back years."

She has a point!

This past week saw three air disasters racked up, one in Ukraine (the shoot down of MH-17 with 298 onboard), one in Taiwan, and one over Africa. Nearly 500 lives lost in a skein of disasters that even has the most savvy frequent fliers biting nails. Steve Kornacki, on his show this morning, observed how the three plane disasters has him asking why (after taking 13 flights and surviving) he'd ever fly again. An aviation guest he had on said he needs to stop his "catastrophic thinking" and give control back to his rational brain.

But that will be hard for any rationalist knowing that because of a worthless, bought out congress commercial aircraft will be under constant threat when millions of unmanned drones with very few regulations, are released.

The inherent problems,  as noted by the Post report, include:

A limited ability to detect and avoid trouble. Cameras and high-tech sensors on a drone cannot fully replace a pilot’s eyes and ears and nose in the cockpit. Most remotely controlled planes are not equipped with radar or anti-collision systems designed to prevent midair disasters.
Pilot error. Despite popular perceptions, flying a drone is much trickier than playing a video game. The Air Force licenses its drone pilots and trains them constantly, but mistakes are still common, particularly during landings. In four cases over a three-year period, Air Force pilots committed errors so egregious that they were investigated for suspected dereliction of duty.
Persistent mechanical defects. Some common drone models were designed without backup safety features and rushed to war without the benefit of years of testing. Many accidents were triggered by basic electrical malfunctions; others were caused by bad weather. Military personnel blamed some mishaps on inexplicable problems. The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been “possessed” and plagued by “demons.”

Unreliable communications links. Drones are dependent on wireless transmissions to relay commands and navigational information, usually via satellite. Those connections can be fragile. Records show that links were disrupted or lost in more than a quarter of the worst crashes.
The FAA was to have issued regulations controlling drone flight in commercial airspace - but so far they are dragging their bought out asses. According to a disturbing report in The Denver Post ('Flying Blind', July 6, p. 1D)
" agency official reportedly has warned that the entire rulemaking process could take up to a decade."
A decade! That means the rules governing unmanned drone flight won't be available until 7 or so years AFTER the drones take to the skies!   The Post article goes on:
"Although rule-making for small, unmanned devices could begin by the end of the year, even the Inspector General of the Transportation Department has concluded 'the FAA will not meet the September 2015 deadline for safe drone integration and it is uncertain when it will be achieved,"
Then the solution ought to be obvious to our illustrious congress critters: the integration of drone flight into commercial airspace needs to be postponed! No unmanned drones going up until such time the FAA has its house in order and proper regulations published and mandated.
According to the piece, the FAA "disputes that it is creeping along" and even put out a pamphlet, 'Busting Myths' purporting to show how on target they are and calling out "myths and misconceptions".  One myth, according to the FAA, is that it is "lagging behind other countries in approving commercial drones."
But to show how Neoliberal logic has infected even federal agencies, the FAA  - as the Post article notes - "never explicitly denies it is lagging behind other countries in approving rules."
The Post goes on: "Because it can't.  Australia, Japan and even Britain has moved on with their own regulations".   But wait, the FAA has a built in excuse:
"The comparison is flawed, because the U.S. has the busiest, most complex airspace in the world" and "developing rules is a very complex task".
Okay, fair enough. Then delay the integration of drone craft until you have the rules in place!
Do not be pressured by the drone makers or their congressional whores! Do what is in the interests of the citizens for once!
Steve Kornacki may well worry about three airline crashes in a week - but what if that turns out to be 30 incidents a month by September 2015? That could happened if the FAA allows drones to run wild in our commercial airspace before it has solid regulations in place.
It is time for government to act in the interest of we the people for once, and not the corporations who are only interested in making profits.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Challenge: Can You Go 99 Days Without Facebook?

The blog post header refers to an experiment, or perhaps more accurately, a mission, proposed by the Dutch group '99 Days of Freedom' - to  see if Facebook users can break off from its use for 99 whole days, or just over three months. They warrant the users will be a lot happier, but need to have people carry out the proposed mission to see.

Most of us not living under rocks have already heard or read of the Facebook -conducted experiment  in which the social media site conducted an "emotional manipulation" investigation on 689,000 unknowing users. Evidently, at assorted odd times, FB inserted negative news stories on the users' news pages to see if they elicited negative emotional reactions. This was kind of dopey since it's already well known that media can shape our thinking - for good or ill - depending on the stuff we allow into our cranium. Thus, if we watch only FOX and listen to Limbaugh,  our brains will likely be distorted and accept nonsense few other literate citizens would, such as that:  "Saddam caused 9/11" or "Obama is a terrorist sympathizer" or "Obama lacks a legitimate birth certificate".

As for Facebook, it has its social uses but can also be somewhat of a burden, and the content on most of it is nowhere near the more in -depth material found on most blogs. Basically, people can throw up whatever they want including images of kitties beating doggies, lizards crapping on flowers, or even obnoxious pseudo-political content which I'd prefer not to describe. But those are a few reasons I spend little time on Facebook, other than to make the occasional connections with family -who find FB more convenient to use than email. (It's true that some bloggers too put junk political stuff on their blogs, as well as outrageous images, but they're not likely to be taken seriously and have few followers.)

Facebook has also been maligned on account of  breeding into users a "single-minded attachment or obsession which has contributed to an artificial,  solipsistic view of the world" (cf. Mark Bauerlein, 'The Dumbest Generation'). Thus, instead of being a channel of information and knowledge consolidation, the monitor screen becomes a mirror of the users’ own limited selves and under-developed psyches. That Facebook would insinuate itself into a life to the extent of excluding so much else in the world is not surprising, and Bauerlein shows how this is done by blocking out all unwanted material on one's FB pages.  Author Sara Scribner  herself noted ( piece)  that while she first joined to share family photos it gradually descended into random, driven 'rummaging' and time wasting. As she put it:

"We know the pattern by now. That initial rush arrives with the first “like,” comment, or share. Then it becomes a habit. Instead of reading a book or the newspaper, I would troll through my friends’ pictures or comments, jumping from one stray, random idea to another. I was feeling fragmented, even a bit wasted, by the end of my daily FB journey."
Adding to the preceding are the encumbering (and often discomfiting) social burdens imposed,  a phenomenon of interjected -interlinked differing social milieus and often clashing personas that needed to be reconciled. As she described it:

"I had to switch roles often on Facebook. Students at the school where I work would friend me, and then I would have to alter my comments"

This effect emerges because one's "friend" universe is often populated by radically different people and types. So, for example, how do you navigate your FB world if one half is made up of religious or very conservative family members, and the other half made up of very liberal and non-religious (other) family members, and friends?  Well, you have to tread carefully because it can be a literal minefield, especially when a hyper-liberal friend happens to see what s/he regards as an offensive comment from a conservative family member.  So you're constantly having to steer clear of 'oil mixing with water' situations or whatever.

Sara Scribner herself describes it thusly:

"It’s not easy to make all these projected selves cohere: My friends and family include folks from Southern evangelical Christianity, from the rap/rock critic subculture, from ’90s bohemia, from mommy-land, from the public-education universe. My guess is that most people on social media have some variation of this problem. In life, I entered each space separately; on Facebook, it all happened simultaneously."

But that's another reason I use FB infrequently: first, because the odds are high I'm liable to run into comments or images I don't like - so I won't be compelled to "like" them or be outraged by them enough to respond, and second, there's too little dimension for more complex expression of thought, which a blog post allows. Truth be told, for communication purposes - especially on important issues-  I actually find email much superior.

And all that brings us to this new Facebook experiment, or should I say - on Facebook, In this case, a Dutch group ('99 Days of Freedom')  is asking users of FB to see if they can go 99 whole days without once bringing it up on one's computer, liking anything, or posting any pictures or comments. The group is interested in finding out if people would be happier without Facebook. (I suspect many people would be happier if they just limited their FB use. I mean 2 hours a day ought to be enough for anyone.)

So far, according to the Washington Post, over 100,000 users have signed on to the freedom pledge.

Meanwhile, Sara Scribner was able to totally go 'cold turkey' after seeing how much time she was wasting. The fact that she could do it shows perhaps anyone else can, if they set their mind to it!

Is G, The Newtonian Gravitational Constant Variable?

Gravity gradiometer
Gradiometer method for measuring the Newtonian gravitational constant G - a take off on the simple pendulum.

Newton’s law of universal gravitation:

F = G M1 M2/ r 2

Is one of the most important in physics, as is his constant G, of universal gravitation. But now, according to a new article  (Newton’s Constant) recently appearing in Physics Today, (July, p. 27)  it appears new measurements of G are arousing more questions than answers. Why? Because although G  is considered a constant of nature, “experiments have yet to yield a consensus on the constant’s value”.

In other words, 'G'  may not be a true constant at all.

This is not a new concept, and indeed, my former professor in mathematical methods of physics – Carl Brans – was one of the first to propose a variable G along with his co-contributor Robert H. Dicke. What they did is propose a scalar-tensor theory whereby gravitational interaction is mediated by a scalar field (in which the reciprocal of G is replaced by f  )  which can vary over time and from place to place.

In an earlier blog post,

I also examined a test of the Brans-Dicke  theory using solar oblateness.

According to the Committee on Data for Science and Technology which issues recommended values of scientific constants every 4 years, their last value from 2010 was:

G = 6.67384(80) x 10-11 kg-1m3 s-2.

This value reflects “nearly a  dozen experimental measurements made during the past three decades.”  Interestingly, though many of the individual measurements have an uncertainty of less than 50 parts per million their collective spread is nearly ten time larger.   The graphic shown below gives a number of the recent G measurements made with different instruments.
Measruement errors for G, Newtonian gravitational constant

The torsion balance results are in maroon, beam balance are in green- and the year made is given too. (To see the basis of the torsion balance, go to:

A beam balance form of measurement is depicted below, based on apparatus used by a team in Zurich, and the comparison of the weights of two 1.1  kg test masses. (By switching between the left and right configurations, the differential weight or M2 – M1 changes by an amount equivalent to a millimeter sized drop of water.
Gravity beam balance

The error bars shown in the measurements graphic correspond to one standard deviation, and the shaded area indicates the assigned uncertainty of the value as recommended by the Committee on Data for Science and Technology.
What is most noteworthy is that the apparent uncertainty is extremely large compared to that of other physical constants, many of which are known to a few parts in 108.

How much does this uncertainty and variation matter, if at all? According to the authors (op. cit., p. 28):

The actual numerical value of G is of little consequence to physics. For example, planetary orbits in our solar system are known to follow Newton’s law and can be used along with G to estimate the mass of the Sun. Revising G upward by say 0.05 % would simply reduce the Sun’s mass by the same fraction.”

 In other words, by about:

(1.99      x 10 30 kg) (0.0005) = 9.95 x 10 26  kg

Then subtracting:

(1.99 x   10 30 kg -  9.95 x 10 26  kg) =  1.989 x 10 30 kg


In other words, a negligible difference.

The authors add correctly:

At present we do not have models of the Sun that usefully constrain its mass at such small levels.”

Indeed! And the typical  class 4 optical solar flare will hurl out vastly more mass than this differential.

So in other words, what matters isn’t G’s actual value but “to show that it is, in fact, constant.”

Sadly, unless nature “misbehaves” in a radical way (say Earth’s surface gravity value suddenly diminishes by 5 %) , so it is of such magnitude to allow all the metrology to exhibit it, we are stuck with these variations. But as the authors also point out:

Discrepant measurements of G may signal we do not understand the metrology of measuring weak forces, which may in turn imply that the experimental tests establishing the inverse square law (and universality of free fall) are flawed in some subtle fashion.”

This, in fact, is what I take to be the actual case, so we may have to refine our techniques away from suspending 1.1. kg masses or the like to obtain the best  measurements of G. Perhaps some future genius can devise a far more sophisticated method that’s  not so ham handed, i.e. using gravitational waves. Who knows?