Sunday, July 31, 2011


The latest, from DailyKos:

By all accounts, it looks like a deal is about to be announced in which the debt ceiling is hiked in exchange for the promise of major spending cuts, including to entitlements, totaling at least $2.4 trillion.

Anything can happen, but it apppears the GOP is on the verge of pulling off a political victory that may be unprecedented in American history. Republicans may succeed in using the threat of a potential outcome that they themselves acknowledged would lead to national catastrophe as leverage to extract enormous concessions from Democrats, without giving up anything of any significance in return.

Not only that, but Republicans — in perhaps the most remarkable example of political up-is-downism in recent memory — cast their willingness to dangle the threat of national crisis as a brave and heroic effort they’d undertaken on behalf of the national interest. Only the threat of national crisis could force the immediate spending cuts supposedly necessary to prevent a far more epic crisis later.

Since last night I've had the ominous feeling that behind-the -doors meetings with Boehner and McConnell at the White House were nearing a "Neville Chamberlain" moment. I deduced this mainly from the shit-eating grins on the faces of the two Repukes which could barely be concealed. As I said in an aside to my wife: "I just hope Obama isn't planning to give away the farm to appease these guys!!"

Then, this morning the leaks began and none of them sounded good which is why the Net and especially Left Blogosphere has erupted like a supernova. Because what those like me smell is a grand betrayal.

MSNBC correspondent Luke Russert in one interlude mentioned trying to reach a point of "equal pain" divvied between both sides. But the plan on the table, for which some details have leaked, is ten times worse than Harry Reid's!

What "pain" might the Repukes endure?

"Some" defense cuts!

What pain might our side endure?

Possibly automatic cuts (up to $1.8 trillion) on Medicare!

Are you shitting me?? Defense cuts on their side for massive Medicare cuts on ours! That's no deal! That's not shared pain!

Meanwhile, Obama (now being called 'O'Bummer' on more and more left blogs) continues to bend over backwards to appease these miscreants to the point where you now actually wonder if he'll give in the whole 9 yards and allow a "balanced budget amendment" which would be the end of this nation. At one time, Obama said emphatically NO deal unless revenues are on the table, at least $400 billion in tax increases (he wouldn't even put the repeal of all the Bush tax cuts on the table).

Then, next, we heard he agreed with the Reid plan which offered NO revenue and $2.7 trillion in justy spending cuts, but at least no entitlement reforms.

Now, we hear that because of Repuke intransigence (and it is THEIR intransigence) he's prepared to cop to this cockamamey "automatic trigger" cum 12-man committee deal that pairs deep social safety net cuts vs. defense cuts for the repukes and again, no taxes!

This is an outrageous piece of bollocks and unworthy of any Dem president. You cannot give all your cards away and take all your D-poker cohorts' money and chips and give to the other side just to get them to keep playing! This is nuts!

Grow some balls, Mr. President! At least stick to your guns and demand the other side allow some revenue increases! You can't put ALL the onus for deficit repair on spending cuts! Apart from wrecking the economy (given it's poison in a demand poor environment) it will eliminate your plans for a 2nd term, by not only engendering a diminished no-growth, high unemployment environment but also pissing off your base!

Now, we need to get into some cartoon logic now which is being circulated by the WH gurus or some aides within. That is, no matter what odious, sellout deal is struck, the progressives will go along and stop bitching and also cease any efforts to force Obama into a primary competition next year.

The cartoon reasoning implicit in this hogwash is that progressives will be so terrified of the nutsos on the Right, say like getting one look at Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin and pondering them with the red box, they'll run to the polls to cast votes for Mr. O. Unfortunately, this is batshit crazy-think.

First, it shows these dipshit, pro-sellout aides aren't following the left blogs very carefully (especially the letters sections). One of the recurring themes in them is to just LET Bachmann or Palin and a Repug majority get in to "teach the Democrats how to fight for once".

The reasoning is that since Dems won't act like real Dems, since they take the base for granted given they have the Senate and the Executive, then mayhap being in the political wilderness for 4-6 years (and being forced to fight endlessly) will incite them to grow a spine. I don't say I necessarily see the benefit of this tack, but it is gaining momentum and gathering memetic inertia which will be difficult to stop.

Second, the pusillanimous tactics of the Dems, especially the White House, are beginning to feed the same lackadaisical attitudes embodied by the question: 'What's the point?', that created the massive abandonment of voting last November and drove the Repuke capture of the House. It seems to be accumulating pressure now, especially among the youngest voters, as well as many blacks and the elderly (who may just be put off by possible Medicare cuts on the table).

Do I think Obama will have to face a primary challenger next year? No, but it won't matter. If the base is de-energized because they've beheld their once proud and self-proclaimed fighter cave, it'll all be over but the pundit post -mortems.

Now, WH pseudo-experts may query why the Left and their cohort would "allow" this to happen? The answer inheres in what I call the "American Idol" voting paradigm. (Which I hear - from my wife, an avid fan- has often caused many worthy singers to be ditched in favor of lesser ones because the superior singers' specific fans just assumed everyone else would vote for them.

In the same manner, no single, de-energized pro-Dem person staying home will believe he or she could be uniquely responsible - say if Bachmann wins, or Palin- but will just assume too many more will go to the polls and vote anyway. After all, on many forums and blogs you still see often as many Obama apologists and defenders as critics. So the 'stay home' voter will simply assume those defenders will make up the slack of those like her who refuse to go out, not being motivated enough. Thus, one has at once the disqualification of any personal liability or responsibility for the bad outcome, matched with the passive-aggressive act of rejecting the standard bearer - by simply not showing up. ("Well, I didn't actually vote against him, I just expressed my discontent by not voting!")

But, as we know, that passive strategy can and does backfire, which is why it's so very dangerous and ALSO dangerous for WH über-strategists who believe the "base will be too terrified" not to stay in line. What they aren't processing is that each leftie is supposing his fellows will "remain in line" while he takes the election off as being uninspired!

If this occurs in states in which Dems have lost governorships and legislatures (like Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana) it means Obama could easily lose those states and end up a one-termer. Especially if he loses Colorado too.

The moral of the story? It would be better for Obama to take a chance and courageous dare by invoking the 14th amendment (sec. 4,5) and raise the damned debt ceiling unilaterally, than to accept a tawdry imitation of a deal which will entice his base to finally abandon him as an empty suit...and more talk than 'hope and change'.

If, on the other hand, the repugnant "deal" cited by Daily Kos (top) is made, then we must rely on the House and Senate Democrats to shoot it down by vote. If Obama refuses to save himself, they must do it for him!

THE WAR ON YOU! (Guest Article)

- By Michael Collins

Let the word go forth from Washington! The corporate rulers occupying our nation's capital have declared war on just about every citizen.

Have no doubt: those in the upper ranges of the top 1% of wealth in this country (aka The Money Party) want to kick you to the curb.

They want to reduce your social security and make you go broke paying for medical care.

They want to lower your wages and trash your retirement.

They ignore the clear facts that we've had negative job growth since 2000 and the situation is just getting worse.

They want to ship jobs, factories, and entire businesses overseas and give companies that do that a big fat tax credit for doing so.

They've been given so much for nothing for so long. Now, they're ready to take it all. It's their time!

The most recent assault is the ridiculous debate about raising the debt ceiling. There should be no debate. Failing to raise the ceiling right now means deliberate default on debts, refusing to pay bills the government can pay. It's called fraud.

The pressing need to fix the budget is a separate issue. Reduced spending and increased revenues should come through broad public involvement and open debate. It mandates that the rulers behave like adults.

But this crisis isn't about putting together a real budget. It's about creating a budget that punishes you, your family, and friends. It's about taking your attention away from your vital interests to maximize income and control by The Money Party.

Were the leaders on either side of the debate serious, the Bush era tax cuts would never have been restored. These cuts on the top 1% were temporary. Guess what? Congress lied. When the temporary tax breaks ran out a few months ago, they were revived and renewed just when we had the greatest need for revenues.

The Money Party won't give up its wars either. Iraq and Afghanistan have added $4 trillion to the national deficit of $14 trillion. Why not stop the wars? How hard is that to figure out?

Getting rid of Bush tax cuts for the super-rich, ending the wars, and moving out of the recession/depression would be huge steps toward balancing the budget. But that won't happen with this Congress and this president. Why? That would cost the financial elite money for taxes and lost income for all those weapons they sell to support the wars.

The Attack on You Began in Earnest Just Years Ago

Congress repealed Depression era banking regulation that kept your banks from risky investments in 1999.

Congress enacted legislation in 2000 that allowed extremely risky investments in real estate and other derivatives, illegal for nearly a century.

In 2001, the big banks and Wall Street celebrated its newly purchased freedoms with a decade-long binge of fraud and risky investments. Like a greedy con artist, they took everything they could from people here and around the world until there was no more to take. We have now hit the wall thanks to them.

The outrageous expenses of wars based on lies caught up with us and shoved the deficit to new heights. The tax cuts for the top 1% took away revenues needed to balance the budget.

The money they steal from the Social Security surplus is no longer enough. They want to keep the tax in place for us and take an even bigger rake-off.

This crisis is manufactured by the ongoing greed of The Money Party. It is funded by the US Treasury.

You pay for it, all of it.

Did Brain Parasites Send Breivik Over the Edge?

Parasites feature prominently in numerous grade B or C science fiction films, for example, The Puppetmasters (1994). But what I'm about to ask readers to consider is no daffy scifi plot, but the possibility that an infestation of brain parasites impelled Anders Breivik to go over the edge and carry out his dastardly deed. This in no way is meant to excuse it, but rather to raise the question of degree of culpability for his actions. (Which in the end, let's admit, only an autopsy at his death may be able to ascertain for sure!)

In the meantime, consider the parasite (a protozoan), Toxoplasma gondii. As the horrific book Parasite REX (p. 67) observes:

Few people know about Toxoplasma even though there's a fair chance they are carrying it by the thousands in their brains. A third of all the people in the world are infected by it, and in parts of Europe almost everyone is a host

It further notes that in Norway and Germany the infection rates are 90% and more.

While cats are the primary destination hosts for the parasite, humans are the secondary hosts and can pick it up from just about any place a cat has been, or left droppings, even in the vicinity of food. Indeed, the parasite's oocysts can lie in wait for many YEARS (ibid.) before being picked up by another animal, a bird, a dog...or a human being.

The author, Carl Zimmer, goes on to describe this critter's nasty habits (ibid.):

Once Toxoplasma has invaded a cell, it starts feeding and reproducing. after it has divided into 128 new copies, it tears the cell open and the new parasites spill out ready to invade fresh cells. Now, instead of invading cells, it builds shells, each of which hides a few hundred Toxoplasma individuals. Every now and then one of the cysts will break open and the parasites inside will invade new cells and produce Toxoplasma

Among the favorite destinations for these parasites are the neurons of the human brain. Indeed, a thoroughly parasitized brain might hold thousands of these cysts each with hundreds of individuals. If they rupture on the average of one per day it is easy to see that millions of parasites can occupy a badly infected brain within a year.

How do you know the thing is even getting into you, to possibly commence its voyage to your brain? As the author notes, you don't. If you were to swallow the eggs of the parasite, say from an infected animal (raw or poorly cooked pork or whatever) the only first sign you'd notice is a light fever or maybe some sniffles (as a result of the body's immune reaction) not unlike a mild case of flu. Most people would dismiss it as that and not remotely think of a parasitic invasion.

Again, note that Toxoplasma is not a killer per se. Why would it if it can happily survive in a host by manipulating its immune system, or brain?

Speaking of the latter, what happens in that case? The author observes (p. 93):

"Psychologists have found that Toxoplasma changes the personality of its human hosts, bringing different shifts to men and women. Men become less willing to submit to the moral standards of a community, less worried about being punished for breaking a society's rules and more distrustful of other people.."

In the case of women, he notes that they "become more outgoing and warm-hearted".

Now a conjecture: What if Anders Breivik's brain harbored millions of these Toxoplasma parasites and they effected not just a mild change in his personality but a major one? Not merely becoming more distrustful of others (which he indeed was, of Norway's reigning Labor Party and its newcomers) but prepared to break his society's rules not in a small way, but via mass murder. Clearly if the parasites affected his personality to this degree, they'd also influence his thinking and get him to crank out the insane manifesto he did (most of which was really copied from Unabomber Ted Kasczinski's).

If these parasites were responsible for pushing Breivik over the edge, then how does one measure or inflict "justice"? Can a man be held accountable for what millions of parasites effect via massive personality change? Inquiring minds want to know!

Also, if half the world's population is infested, and likely a quarter in a massive form, to what extent are they responsible for their actions? if they died, after committing some horrific act spawned by the brain parasites, are they to be sent by the Fundies to their Hell? (Or more accurately, do the Fundies seriously expect this is a just destination, given parasite infestation and massive personality change?)

Again, inquiring minds want to know! Maybe, just maybe, most of humanity's most bestial crimes and genocides have not been spawned by "evil" per se, but a lowly parasite that fond the perfect niche in the human brain, and was able to even manipulate its personality toward evil ends.

Then, in that case, maybe we need to blame the parasite!

Another Global Warming Denier Simpleton

Well, let me clarify that: there are two types of simpletons: 1) those who have this condition as a result of DNA, and are congenitally so (and hence, we try as far as possible to give them a break) and 2) those who become de facto professed simpletons at the behest of special interest groups that hire them to dumb down science and turn it into PR, via a process we call "agnotology".

Stanford historian of science Robert Proctor has referred to the trend of skeptic science sown for political or economic ends - e.g. in imparting ignorance and faux skepticism, as agnotology. Inevitably, as the warp and woof of agnotology metastasizes like a cancer, people (mostly those lacking the benefit of physics or even general science education) become dumbed down too, and hence climate science simpletons - as bereft of empirical grounding as those sowing it.

Agnotology is derived from the Greek 'agnosis' and hence the study of culturally constructed ignorance. Proctor notes that when a society doesn't know something it is often because special (often paid) interests have worked hard to sow immense confusion on the issue. People read 'A' then see 'B' ostensibly refuting it, and without a hard science background themselves (at least two years of university physics or chemistry plus calculus), are "lost at sea". They lack the critical thinking scaffolding necessary to pierce the veil of buillshit and confected bollocks.

Now, enter the latest simpleton: University of Alabama "scientist" Roy Spencer. As Discover Magazine's "Bad Astronomy" blog points out, Spencer is an author for the über-conservative Heartland Institute, which receives substantial funding from ExxonMobil. He is also affiliated with two other think tanks funded by ExxonMobil. Hence, he is a useful "idiot" for them and a simpleton in the cause of its agnotology agenda.

Anyway, Spencer's latest agnotology foray, in the journal Remote Sensing, argues that heat is actually escaping from Earth much more quickly than current climate models predict. This assessment, if accurate, could mean that the dramatically rising temperatures that scientists currently anticipate would not ultimately occur. In other words, all the newest global warming models would turn out to be wrong.

The hypothesis hinges on the idea that clouds trap heat in our atmosphere, not carbon dioxide, and there's nothing we could, or should, do to affect that. According to prevailing (and well-accepted) global warming theory, carbon emissions warm up the atmosphere, which causes greater quantities of water around the world to evaporate. This, in turn, increases the rate of cloud formation, which exacerbates the warming. (While greenhouse gases are certainly effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere, clouds are even better at it.) The additional warming causes even more evaporation, followed by cloud formation and more warming.

This is referred to as a positive feedback loop.

Now, we do concede here (as per past research), clouds are very poorly parameterized in climate models as a whole. This has led to an ongoing debate over the past 5-6 years of whether in fact the sign of albedo change is positive or negative. (See e.g. Can Earth’s Albedo and Surface Temperature Increase Together? in EOS: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, Vol. 87, No. 4, Jan. 24, 2006, p. 37)

As the authors note, though there is some evidence that Earth’s albedo has increased from 2000 to 2004 this did NOT led to a reversal in global warming. The authors cited the most up to date cloud data released in August, 2005 from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP). The data – from a range of meteorological satellites covering the entire Earth, disclosed the most likely reason for the anomaly is primarily in the redistribution of the clouds.
Thus, as the authors pointed out (ibid.):

whereas low clouds have decreased during the most recent years, high clouds have increased to a larger extent leading to both an increase in cloud amount AND an increased trapping of infrared radiation

The point is that the role of high clouds as heat "incubators" (trapping IR) does not ipso facto remove or preclude the role of CO2 as an additional warming contributor. Spencer's primary error then is in adopting rigid either-or logic to say well, if the heat is insulated from and emanating from clouds then carbon dioxide is irrelevant.

The other specious part of the argument (since clouds are mainly composed of water vapor, H2O) is that water vapor is a more effective agent than carbon dioxide for heat trapping. But this is patently false! Even a tiny, minuscule amount of CO2 is vastly more efficient at blocking the re-radiation of energy than any amount of water vapor- at those bands. (See the NRC Report published ca. 2001 that gives the relative W/m^2 forcing contributions of each greenhouse gas). Part of the misconception- which persists (as evidenced by Spencer's work) arose because early researchers, lacking the current technology of infrared spectroscopy, assumed that water vapor bands already blocked out most of what would (ordinarily) be taken by CO2. (Cf. ‘The Discovery of the Risk of Global Warming’, by Spencer Weart, in Physics Today, Jan. 1997, p. 34).

Meanwhile, other sources (including at NASA) have blasted Spencer's conclusion (that cloud formation drives temperature change) as unrealistic. Others questioned the statistical significance of his findings. The overwhelming sentiment is that the satellite data is inconclusive, but when compared against a large body of evidence from other sources, Spencer's findings seem unremarkable.

People should also be reminded here that Spencer's satellite-based research has been refuted in the past. In 2005, he and a colleague were compelled to apologize for a report in which they suggested that the lowest layer of our atmosphere is cooling, when the data he used actually supported the entirely opposite conclusion.

Meanwhile, specious research by the likes of Spencer has diverted attention from genuine findings and projections such as released in a report by the UN earlier this month, noting:

It is rapidly expanding energy use, mainly driven by fossil fuels, that explains why humanity is on the verge of breaching planetary sustainability boundaries through global warming, biodiversity loss, and disturbance of the nitrogen-cycle balance and other measures of the sustainability of the earth’s ecosystem.

At the same time, a group of American researchers released a study showing that rising temperatures in the Arctic could exacerbate climate problems as massively carbon-producing forest fires heat up the permafrost region, releasing trillions of gigatons of methane - another greenhouse gas. This will amplify the heating effect by 50-100%!

Lastly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that extreme weather in the U.S. has caused $32 billion worth of damage so far this year. Eight such disasters have cost more than $1 billion each, one shy of a record.

As we know, one of the consistent predictions of early global warming is extreme weather episodes, including extended heat waves (with persistent high night time temperatures) as well as extended droughts and heavy rainfalls in other areas. All of these have been borne out the past year.

Will this stop the agnotologist-simpletons like Roy Spencer? Not likely, not so long as they're being paid well to use their "Ph.D." labels to peddle this ignorant propaganda. Just as Jason Lisle has been paid well by his Young Earth creationist benefactors to flaunt his "Ph.D." letters to promote their pseudo-science.

The conclusion is clear: Americans need to examine carefully the sources from which they're receiving their information! Better yet, try to take a real physics course to be able to critically parse these issues on their own!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

One of the Worst Astronomy Questions....Ever!

In a previous blog:

I noted (at the end) an example of the sort of dreadful exam questions that led to the eventual downfall of astronomy in the Caribbean Examinations Integrated Science curriculum. Why or how were such "dumb" questions - which bore no relation to the actual content or course objectives - ever thought to be worthwhile or useful?

Long before the first CXC June (1978) exam, the astute outside observer would’ve surmised the seeds for the eventual destruction of astronomy teaching in the infighting and political battles between competing organizations that wanted their own inputs into the teaching, syllabus.

Let us begin by examining the players and the assorted roles they had, and when each originated. The Caribbean Examinations Council was launched in 1973 to : “conduct such examinations as it might think proper and award certificates and diplomas on the results of examinations conducted”. (E.N. Lambert, ‘Integrated Science to O-Level: A Caribbean Case Study’ in Proceedings of the Science Education for Progress (A Caribbean Perspective), ICASE, 1979)

CROASE (Caribbean Regional Organization of Associations for Science Education) was formed in November, 1974. It was CROASE, in early 1977 (after the Schools Examination Committee named CXC Integrated Science a “new subject for which an examination syllabus should be developed”)(ibid.), which assigned me the task of astronomy curriculum creation, design and writing both Teachers and Pupils Activity Books. In other words, astronomy would officially now be taught in Caribbean Secondary schools as part of the CXC Integrated Science Curriculum

It would have made more rational sense for the CXC not only to test the subjects but develop their syllabuses-curricula. Instead the two functions were separated. The reason was that CROASE took it upon itself to “immediately and decisively act in taking up curriculum innovation. As Lambert (op. cit.) observed:

“CXC administrators took the view that Council’s concern was only with syllabus formulation. CROASE, quite rightly, decided that curriculum development and related matters were its concern, but CROASE had no funds.

Those of us trying to prepare the Teachers and Pupils’ materials were thereby caught in the middle between the objectives and aims of CROASE and the agenda of CXC. In addition, it would later become evident that we’d be caught between the Activity teaching objectives and the examination objectives. For example, take the “creative exam format” with “a high emphasis on inquiry skills” (Lambert, ibid.).

The problem, only visible in retrospect, was that the inquiry skills didn’t match those which an astronomy specialist would designate, but rather what a chemistry teacher who thought he knew astronomy would designate. Hence, the groundwork was laid for extreme conflict!

At one CROASE Meeting, the only one I attended (in January, 1978), I was assured that whenever the CXC Integrated Science testing of astronomy commenced it would match the objectives set out by me and actually taught in the Pupils/Teachers Booklets. In other words, they’d be tested just like physics objectives are tested. At the time I wasn’t fully aware that CXC had already enlisted specialized examiners, mainly in Guyana and Trinidad, who’d set most of the future questions according to a creative format. As opposed to knowledge, this format placed more emphasis on:

- Social implications

- Inquiry skills

- Attitudes

Ultimately, this format led to the question on differing opinions of Earth's shape, such as that noted in my earlier blog. But, I believed after that episode (which caused consternation among many teachers and students) the CXC Examinations Council would've learned its lesson. Little did I realize an even worse exam question would materialize the following year!

This question is shown below:

In a number of ancient legends from around the world, the statement “the Sun stood still” has appeared. One writer has suggested that a very large comet came close to the Earth about 1500 B.C., disturbing the rotation of the Earth – so the apparent motion of the Sun in the sky was briefly halted.

a) Using your knowledge of the SOLAR SYSTEM and FORCES, try to visualize the situation. Write a paragraph that describes in what way the comet and the Earth could have been affected so the Sun appeared to stand still.

b)The writer claimed his theory was supported in various ancient writings that mentioned violent upheaval, and stoppage of the Sun. If scientists today wished to test the theory, what sort of evidence would they look for on Earth?

c)Finally, the writer suggested that the motion of the comet was so disturbed by interaction with Earth that it became the planet now known as Venus. Explain why, on the basis of energy change (potential, kinetic) considerations alone – this would be most unlikely.

In many ways, while more “astronomical” in content than the preceding test question (for 1978), this was more objectionable. The reason is blatantly evident to anyone who is remotely familiar with the sham Worlds in Collision book and speculations of psycho-therapist Immanuel Velikovsky.

For those not aware, ‘Worlds in Collision’ postulated the dynamical idiocy that Jupiter belched out a "comete" with the mass the size of Venus, which then blasted off toward the Sun, passing so near the Earth en route that it caused it’s rotation to halt (coinciding with Joshua’s famous trumpet blare) and in the process triggered the precipitation of carbohydrates (from hydrocarbons?!) – manifesting in the manna for the Israelites.

The venerable Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley was so outraged that he mounted a successful effort to prevent this insane gobbledegook from being published as a Harvard University imprint, and also from being picked up by any other major academic publishers. As Shapley noted, and I reiterate here, there are so many aspects, issues of scientific fact wrong with the book (such as mixing up hydrocarbons and carbohydrates) that it merits being sequestered from humanity forever lest the weaker –minded among us fall prey to its rank idiocy. Of course Shapley was pilloried for his “narrow-mindedness” but in truth he did everyone a favor – including the thousands of astronomers who’d otherwise have to correct this dreck.

But there it was, in all its odious glory, being tested on a CXC Integrated Science exam! Inquiry skills? How can you have an inquiry skill predicated upon rubbish?

During a CXC marking exercise in the summer of 1979, after the question appeared in the June exam, I confronted the examiner who wrote it and asked what he was thinking of, or if he was thinking. He actually said he wasn’t concerned with the astronomical accuracy or facts but rather how students might inquire into whether it could be true and put forward certain lines of investigation.

I informed him this was stark rubbish, and the question – as well as last year’s -belonged in a dumpster. He (and others) then objected and asserted if I had a problem I should set my own questions. I told him I damned sure would, but no one up to now had ever invited any from me! (After that I submitted several, including detailed marking schemes, some of which CXC used in later exams.)

Not long after, I encountered a (circulated by CROASE) article of Judith Reay of the School of Education, UWI, Trinidad. In that piece, she writes ('Where Has All the Wonder and Delight Gone?’ in The Journal of Education in Science for Trinidad & Tobago (Vol. 6, No.2), p. 37):

“In the last few years I have been reading some of Velikovsky’s books. Immanuel Velikovsky maintains that the principle of slow change (which is the basis of Darwinism, radioactive dating, geological studies and so on) has absolutely no rationale from evidence. His theories suggest a series of catastrophes, the latest of which occurred as recently as biblical times, and his documentation is enormous. Just one example of his ideas is that petroleum is by no means a fossil fuel but rained as ‘naphtha’ from the skies during a close approximation of a comet and the Earth about 1500 B.C.

Whether Velikovsky’s interpretation of his documents is sound I am not scientifically knowledgeable enough to judge. But it does seem to be the case (at least in the literature I read) that this kind of upsetting proposition is not given the thoughtful analysis that ought to be the essence of science. The reaction of scientists seems to be that Velikovksy is upsetting the sacred cows of science and they don’t like it.”

"Don’t like it?" She wrote as if serious scientists were objecting to something as simple as a personal taste or preference! Apple pie, or cherry? Or: we don’t like the flavor of poupon mustard and prefer the stone ground! Nowhere was there any remote appreciation for WHY 99.99% of all scientists (mainly astronomers, obviously) object to Velikovsky’s claptrap even being upheld as a theory!

This woman, purportedly an educator in science at UWI, wasn’t even aware of what the term “theory” implies: that it presumes observations that have already validated its hypothesis, and which itself is testable in respect of its own falsification. In addition, it permits formal predictions based on the model. Velikovsky’s nonsense does none of these!

Consider just the simple aspect of the alleged close approach of "comet Venus" to Earth as depicted in the diagram. According to Velikovskian "physics" the near approach of "comet" Venus would've halted the rotation of the Earth leading to an incident reported in the bible as "the Sun stopping" (e.g. rotation halting) when Joshua made his famous trumpet sound. The trouble here is that an OFF-axis torque is needed to effect this, and the only "torque" he has is mythical, based on: N = F_r X R_c. But F_r is a fantasy force that doesn't exist! The only actual force acting is an attractive (gravitational) one through the centers! Hence no external agent is available to halt the rotation! (And even if it could exist, and did occur, as the late science writer Isaac Asimov noted in an essay, the conversion of such rotational energy into heat would have melted the Earth's crust!)

Thus, Velikovsky is writing bollocks! Indeed, he doesn’t even do science, opting instead to plow through the world’s ancient myths as opposed to starting with scientific observations and data! He then ends up with a morass of anecdotal and circumstantial findings that he takes to be the equivalent of satisfying a scientific hypothesis.

Reay criticized scientists’ ‘lack of thoughtful analysis’ but she herself doesn’t even demonstrate the most rudimentary elements of critical thought - which a quantitative analysis of Velikovsky’s claims would have exposed! For example, the “comet” of which she writes (according to Velikovsky), is none other than the planet Venus! We are thus talking about a putative mass of nearly 4 x 10^24 kg suddenly gravitationally dislodged from Jupiter (mass 1.9 x 1029 kg) and traversing a distance of nearly 5.2 AU – 0.72 AU = 4.48 AU = 6.7 x 10^11 km, in going from Jupiter to the present orbit of planet Venus.

Had she actually done the math, she’d have discovered that the ejection of Venus from Jupiter would have required an explosive event on Jupiter more than one thousand million times more violent that the most energetic flares on the Sun. This is in defiance of all reason and commonsense. Even if the ejection had occurred suspending all known laws of physics – Venus would have melted in the process. It would not have delivered “naptha” and subsequently “manna” to Earth!

So why did a supposedly intelligent educator like Judith Reay write so fawningly of Velikovsky’s idiotic conjectures? My suspicion, supported by experiences in teacher workshops conducted in St. Lucia and Guyana: they’re too insecure in their knowledge of genuine science and so latch on to and promote a specious pseudo-scientific substitute. They then mistake this pseudo-version for some kind of “missing wonder”, when we are all best off without its spurious siren call of baloney.

There is surely enough true, exciting wonder in the universe around us, not to waste time on specious imitations!

But I will go more into these aspects in a future blog, including how the hyper-religiosity of many Caribbean science teachers adversely contributed to the outcome of the astronomy section of the curriculum.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Let's Drop the Pretense Right Now!

One thing I've always abhorred is pretense. The fraudulent and dishonest posturing over some claimed position, but which is really a cover for a deeper, unspoken agenda. Such is the case with all this debt ceiling and "deficit reduction" brouhaha which is merely a conveniently ploy to conceal the real agenda: destroying Social Security and Medicare once and for all. The Tea Party brigands and their ilk know they can't eliminate these programs directly, so are doing it through the "back door" as it were, using a "starve the beast" modus operandi based on draconian spending cuts in combination with preservation of Bush tax cuts that all ought to have expired last December. (Even Alan Greenspan agrees that those cuts need to be retired, a move that would save us $4 trillion over ten years essentially resolving this impasse on deficits with minimal pain)

But this is not what the Tea Baggers and extremist Republicans are about. At the behest of benefactors like Peter G. Peterson, they see a golden opportunity to employ the mania and hysteria for "deficit reduction" as a means to gut Social security and Medicare.

They aren't honest enough to explain or admit the real long term deficit problem hasn't been caused by "wasteful" social spending but by conservatives' own 30-year project of starving federal, state and local governments of revenue via tax cuts for the affluent and for corporations, coupled with insane, unpaid for military spending which for the past ten years has included "off budget" supplementals averaging $150 billion each per year. And how were these paid for? By raiding Social Security monies!

As a wake up call here, in 2010 the total raided Social Security monies amounted to $87 billion out of a total of nearly $140 billion. The grand total raided from S.S. from 2000 to 2010 exceeds $1.92 trillion. THAT is where the Social Security money has gone- to help support off budget accounting gimmicks and disguise the size of the real deficit.

But see, now that 44 million Boomers are ready to collect Social Security - with some 10,000 added each day (and the likelihood its finances will now be a losing wicket), the disgusting pols want to kill it or reduce it so dramatically as to barely allow the elderly to choose between meds and food. This is their golden moment, using "deficit reduction" as the pretext to go after "entitlements".

The problem for these miscreants is that we the aware citizens, can see right through their subterfuge.

We see how the hysteria is being whipped up, and the nation held hostage by a few radical fiscal extremists, to wring every last concession they can from a hobbled Dem party, which can never seem to get ahead of the curve. We can see how their true objective has nothing to do with deficits, but rather adherence to ideological purity in killing social insurance programs.

If these nuts really were invested in solving the DEFICIT problem they could so so easily, just by passively allowing all the Bush tax cuts to expire next year. But that's not what they want! They desire holding the nation hostage to force social program changes and hoping the weak-kneed, pussified Dems will cooperate, which they are.

On another level, beyond the social insurance programs, there is the specter of years of massive spending retrenchment including to food stamps, unemployment benefits, child school nutrition and health care for indigent well as utility subsidies for poor seniors. All stand to be on the chopping block if either one of the current plans (Reid's or Boehner's) somehow passes, with no revenues at all.

This has led a group of influential Christians (the only apparent 'real Christians' I can see) to rally in Washington and implore congress to shield the poor from spending cuts (see: 'Coalition of Christians Urges Budget Cutters to Spare the Poor', The Denver Post, July 27, p. 9A).

One of these groups, Sojourners, a liberal evangelical group, has taken out ads in Las Vegas papers which read in part:

The Book of Proverbs teaches that where there is no leadership, a nation falls, and the poor are shunned while the rich have many friends. Sadly, Congress has failed to heed these biblical warnings."

Another ad headlines itself with:

What Would Jesus Cut?

The answer is primarily wasteful military spending, including on two occupations which have brought little constructive benefit to the country, while seeing mammoth waste of taxpayer dollars, whether to private defense contractors (like Bechtel, Halliburton etc.) in Iraq or to Afghan warlords and the Taliban via corrupt banking practices, in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, our own country's infrastrucure is collapsing from neglect and disrepair - even as R-TP-nincompoops on the Hill argue further on what cuts to make (including leaving more than 70,000 jobless as a result of no agreement to an FAA funding!)

Fifty years ago, corporations contributed to 30% of federal tax revenues while they only contribute 4% of them today. For example, right now as I write this, PhRma companies are permitted to leave all foreign, out of country profits off the table in terms of tax scrutiny. Other corporations, via defective laws passed in the 1990s, are allowed to just hang shingles in some little dump in the Caymans or elsewhere, and escape tax liability at home. There was some talk during Obama's 2008 campaign of addressing this, but so far I haven't seen a thing and it continues.

And yet, disreputable Tea Baggers want to take food out of poor seniors' mouths! Just so we are clear on this, let me also provide a quote from the article: 'Stealing From the Poor, Making Rich Richer':

"Social Security isn't broke, but millions of retirees who depend on it are, and many more would be broke without it. The average retired worker's Social Security benefit is just $922 a month--about $11,000 a year. Disabled workers average just $862.

One out of three seniors depends on Social Security for 90 to 100 percent of their income. Two out of three seniors depend on it for more than half their income. Even with Social Security, many seniors must choose between eating and heating, paying the mortgage or paying for medicine."

The preceding article appeared about two years before former Fed Chairman Allan Greenspan's term expired. It had to do with Greenspan's (then) recommendation to congress that cuts in Social Security be used to finance the ongoing Bush tax cuts. In other words, help the rich continue to invest in hedge funds and buy their furs, yachts, blood diamonds and Bentleys off the backs of poor seniors.

That episode over, with seniors able to breathe a tad easier (since the Bush S.S. privatization plan was scotched) we now have the Tea Baggers and conservatives humping and pumping to demand social spending cuts, including to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while they tout a bogus "deficit reduction" front, and hold the nation to ransom over a debt ceiling increase.

As for the "solutions" thus far offered (Harry Reid's or John Boehner's) don't make me laugh! What with the news that the GDP is now at the lowest it's been -for the 2nd quarter - in the past two years, ANY prescription relying only on massive spending cuts is a recipe for financial disaster! Don't these IDIOTS grasp that in a low aggregate demand environment you need to spend, not CUT! Are they totally mad? Do they want a second depression? If NO ONE spends, not business, not the consumer, not government - WHO do they think is going to hold up the GDP??? As one blogger, RJ Eskow, recently put it:

"As the economy burns to the ground, nobody's calling the Fire Department. Both parties want to throw gasoline on the fire, and their only disagreement is whether to use regular gas or unleaded."

I couldn't have used a better analogy!

We hope that by the time this fiasco further unfolds with no resolution in sight by Monday, Obama will finally act like a man and leader! This as opposed to an overly cautious, wimpy, former state Senator with a fetish for "splitting differences"! As more and more reasonable voices are adding to the crescendo, if he is a responsible leader - with his oath of office at heart- he MUST invoke Sec. 4 of the 14th amendment to pass the debt ceiling increase on his own! He can't allow a first time ever (hence historic, with his name on it) national default, or even a downgrade! The other side has disclosed it's playing with 52 cards short of a full deck, so he now has to act as the true Grown-up. That means going beyond the conciliator and compromiser -in -Chief, to the Decider, and Agent of Action!

He doesn't need any "approval" from wimpy, conflict-shy aides, or parsing any fine legal arguments (from Lawrence Tribe, or any one else as to the validity of this move), or acting like a Harvard law professor or Spock. He just needs to act like the determined Leader and PRESIDENT we expected him to be, as opposed to a hapless bystander while maniacs seek to tear up what's left of this nation! Making that one bold move will show in no uncertain terms that he's a decisive leader on a par with JFK, and truly ready for a 2nd term. It will also finally staunch this hideous conflation of social spending cuts to deficit reduction. An attachment that the Dems and their leaders never should have allowed to metastasize to this degree anyway!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is the Believing Brain Similar to a Drug Addict's?

This is the ostensible premise of Michael Shermer's latest effort, The Believing Brain, wherein he uses an impressive compilation of research - from neuroscience, to biochemistry to evolutionary psychology- to show that belief inevitably trumps reason. Also, that in many ways, the unchecked brains of believers are like those of drug addicts run amuck...say on meth, or crack. Except in believers' brains, it appears to be dopamine levels that are the culprit.

Shermer, the editor of 'Skeptic' magazine, is perhaps best known by many for his superb insights in the book: The Science of Good and Evil in which he introduces the concept of "moral provisionalism". This is described as a midway position between moral absolutism and moral relativism. As he defines it (p. 168):

"Provisional ethics provides a reasonable middle ground between absolute and moral relative systems. Provisional moral principles are applicable to most people, for most circumstances, for most of the time - yet flexible enough to account for the wide diversity of human behavior"

But in the current book his focus is on belief and how it manifests in human brains. What is there about brains which predisposes them to believe in everything from "alien abductions", to Abominable snowmen, to a "rapture" which will instantaneously remove millions of special believers (of course!), or that a god-Man once existed who could walk on water, raise the dead or resurrect himself from the grave. Of course, many apologists - especially in the latter case- will assert "it's in the Good Book!". But why believe such a book is itself a font of truth, especially when it embodies thousands of blatant contradictions?

Shermer has part of the solution, particularly of how strong belief often precedes other senses. While the old saw "seeing is believing" is often used, the true dynamic is the reverse: Our believing dictates what we are seeing!"

Thus, if a person doesn't wish to believe any contradictions exist in his bible he won't see them. He will simply explain any or all objections away by whatever rationalizing arguments he can muster. "Oh, that's not a real contradiction, it's just a mild difference in meaning!" and so forth. (Or he'll appeal to a specious "hermeneutics" when anyone with two grains of sense realizes that can't apply if a book is regarded as able to be taken as literal! Hence, no qualifying interpretations or supplemental readings are required!)

As an extension of this tendency, according to Shermer, the brains of believers actively seek out any and all sources and information which confirm their pre-existing beliefs. Meanwhile, they actively avert their eyes (and brains)from any information or sources that appear to controvert those beliefs. In this way, they protect their self-running program loops, and auto-approving brain dynamic while keeping irritating skeptics at bay (as well as any skepticism that might emerge from the rational centers of their brains)

Thus, if they fully believe Yeshua resurrected himself, everything they find in their special books or other sources will seek to confirm it, as they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge any evidence that refutes it. Similarly, if they firmly believe in a "Hell" as a place for dead humans to finally get justice, they will relentlessly seek out all sources that try to confirm it, despite the fact only one gospel verse (in Matthew) refers to "everlasting punishment" and that was a result of an erroneous Greek translation!

Shermer covers wide swaths in his book, but he's at his level best when he takes on religious belief. As he notes:

"As a back-of-the envelope calculation, with an order of magnitude accuracy, we can safely say that over the past ten thousand years of history humans have created about ten thousand different religions and about one thousand gods."

Which leads on to the definition of an atheist: the person who simply believes in one god less than anyone else!

But Shermer's point is that not all of these can be true or valid. The very fact so many religions exist, and so many gods, means humans would do well to look with suspicion on their own brains as the primary virtual generator. Until one can actually bring a god into the room and inspect it or him under the microscope- or however- one is not talking of anything real. (Though those who worshipped the Sun, at least have a much better case!)

The other problem that arises for the believer is how can he isolate his god or religion as the "true" one from all the others? Merely citing a special book of revelation is no use since all are replete with other writers' brain errors, and their own false beliefs. Hence, no single source can be proven as uniquely superior to any others. All are subjective and all are relative. do you get outside the matrix of textual relativity, false beliefs and errors to show yours are true?

As Shermer shows, you can't ...because the only reliable method we have for discerning truth is reason, and in the case of believers, their own beliefs undermine that very reason. They do so because the dynamic is to ignore all information that contradicts the belief(s). But if critical information is ignored, then the reason that emerges is stultified, or better, dysfunctional and crippled. It isn't able to go the distance. For example, it would need to identify the necessary and sufficient conditions that make its belief system absolutely true, to the exclusion of all others. But because of ignoring critical information, no n-s conditions of proper utility can be proposed. (This may well be why most believers consistently avoid giving them!)

Now, what I'd have liked to see is much more detail going into the recent work based on SPECT –scans that appears to zero in on the region designated “OAA” – the orientation association area. Much of this work has been done by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and his associate Eugene Daquill M.D.. Their main findings are published in their book, ‘Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief’.

Most pertinent to me is the authors’ portrayal of how the brain’s OAA translates an image into a religious reality, described in detail on pages 121-22. This is in connection with a person given an image of Christ and asked to focus on it. Within minutes, neurological measurements show electrical discharges spiraling down from the right attention area (right OAA) to the limbic system, hypothalamus “triggering the arousal section of the structure”.

We know the hypothalamus has both arousal and quiescent components. The authors’ test results and measurements actually showed that as the subject focused on the image of Christ BOTH were activated. As assorted cortical thresholds were crossed, a maximal stimulation (given by spikes in the SPECT -scans) produced a neural “flood” that generated feedback to the attention association area.

To make a long story short, the attention area of the OAA was seen to deprive the right orientation area of the OAA of all neural input not originating with the contemplation of Jesus. In order to compensate, and thereby preserve the neuro-spatial matrix (in which the self could still exist) the right orientation area had to default to the attention area focusing on “Jesus”. As the authors put it (p. 121):

“It has no choice but to create a spatial matrix out of nothing but the attention area’s single-minded contemplation of Jesus”

To me this would have perfectly melded with Shermer's hypothesis of a default agenticity of the brain and believers' perceptions, which enables them to sustain and even nourish cognitively dissonant beliefs daft as those one finds commonly in the Christian religion. (Such as a god-Man resurrecting himself)

Anyway, Newberg and Daquill go on to note that as the process of re-cerebralization continues, all irrelevant neural inputs are stripped away until the only reality left is Jesus. That reality (actually a pseudo-reality confected by the right attention area) thereby takes over the entire mind. Or, in the words of the authors, “it is perceived by the mind as the whole depth and breadth of reality.”

Would this not be a "super default" in the agenticity model of Shermer? I believe so!

This is a profound insight, and fully explains why it's essentially impossible to wean believers away from their objects of worship or devotion based on logic and reason alone. What has happened, in other words, is the subject’s whole existence and identity has become bound up with the focus of his OAA, or more specifically – the right attention area’s focus which channels nearly all neural inputs to that region.

No wonder when Michael Persinger ceased electrical stimulation of his subjects' temporal lobes, creating religious scenes in their noggins (see The Neuropsychology of God Belief), many felt almost suicidal and he had to re-initiate the stimulations. Clearly, these beliefs are almost like crack.

It is evident that even if the ardent believer could part with his addictions, it might not be healthful or helpful to him. So long as he stays in his cubbyhole or church, no harm, no foul. It's when he might go out into the world to seek "justice" and vindication for his belief system, a la Anders Breivik, we need to clamp down.

Speaking of right wing whacko conservativism (such as demosntrated in the Tea Bagger nuts), I loved the last part of Shermer's dissertation in which he ties conservative political beliefs to an assortment of "psychopathologies". (Such as schizoid paranoia, and schizotypal personality disorder. As an example, look at the recent exposure of Tea Bagger Joe Walsh who made Youtube video about not saddling his kids and grand kids with dbets, yet HE still owes $117,000 in back child support!)

In line with this is another news report out of today's WSJ op-ed page: seems that increasingly baby boomers (the 'flower children' of the 60s) are mutating into conservatives at an ever higher rate! When surveys plumbed the source of this mutation, the answer most often given was: We felt compelled to because we started raising a family.

This may be as good a reason as any to start clamping down on the breeder syndrome, since it now appears to engender a predisposition to certain human psychopathologies (in tilting to conservative political thought), in addition to massively increasing the human carbon footprint on our planet. Already we are using the equivalent of 1.5 Earths each year, which is obviously unsustainable.

But that will be a topic for a future blog returning to over-population and how all our life indices are plummeting because of it.

Money in the Market? Now's the time to BAIL!

We could see the writing on the Wall Street Wall for some time as this manufactured debt crisis exploded, thanks to the nation being taken hostage by the Republican Tea Party Brigade. Now, after the Dow lost 199 points yesterday, and is at its lowest in nearly a year (and 4% below its 2011 high), the red alarms have sounded.

It is clear the radicalized Tee Pees plan to play this one right down to the wire, and have even expressed smug comfort that they're A-ok with allowing the nation's credit rating to be downgraded or, in the worse case scenario - suffer a first ever default. Many of these people are so financially and economically illiterate that they can't even tell the difference, and their expectation that "nothing will happen" discloses they're no more than know-nothings.

But the markets are already expressing their fear, with consecutive days losses now totalling 500 points. Expect today's loss to further increase, to about 295 points, assuming there is no counterbalancing "good" news to diminish the dip. By Friday, if there's still no deal reached, I predict a 450 point loss and a total of nearly 1400 points for the week. By Monday, expect a 600 point loss for the Dow and if Tuesday's dawn still sees no resolution, expect an 1100-point drop on that date, the debit ceiling deadline.

The signs are already out there for anyone paying attention. Not only in the successive Dow point drops but in the low volume and high volatility characterizing Treasurys. Meanwhile, in the event of "just" a downgrade, look for absolute chaos to erupt in the Money Market funds which currently hold some $684 billion of Treasurys. But with a downgrade, say to an 'AA' rating like Slovenia, those funds will have to dump treasurys en masse and buy enormous amounts of commercial paper to replace them, risking "breaking the buck". (As occurred with some Money Markets after the crash in the Fall of '08).

Why the move? Because in the event of a downgrade and AA rating, interest will immediately zap up on the Treasurys, from about 2.9% now to over 3.5%. This means yields will dip since yield responds inversely to interest rates. Since Money Market managers are already at minimal profit levels (thanks to Ben Bernanke's near zero interest rates, and 'quantitative easing 2') and they don't want to break the buck (i.e. end parity with $1.00 for each dollar invested) they have no choice but to drop higher interest Treasurys. This will set the stage for stock market panic and "blood in the streets", to adopt the colorful parlance of Alan Simpson describing what would occur in the debt ceiling rise back in December.

Best advice? If you don't wish to lose 40-50% of your investments, now is the time to bail from the stock market and seek out cash: money markets, or money funds. If you can take money out, put in in savings accounts at the highest interest you can get or into short term CDs.

If you remain in, accepting the "buy and hold" mantra, I hope you have enough disposable income that you can afford to lose. If you have $150 grand in stock mutual funds in a 401k, get set to lose maybe $60,000 of it, possibly more. Of course, if you stay in you can always make up the losses, but given we expect no more than 1% gains each year in the Dow (thanks to the new jobless economic environment, and even lower spending power if massive federal cuts are enacted) it may take a century or more to get to the break even point! (This is in respect to all the losses suffered in 2008, and likely this year).

Who to blame? While the corporo-media has played its usual false equivalence game, and many citizens still say "THEY" need to get their act together, in truth there is no "they". This is a mcguffin manufactured by the false balance media cult. It is ALL on the extremist Tea Party Repukes and their enablers. Even Republicans with a grain of remaining sense have come out against these fools, as John McCain did yesterday on the Senate floor, lambasting them for their unwillingness to put the nation's welfare over their own ideology.

Meanwhile, the Dems' deficit reduction plan, $2.7 trillion in harsh spending cuts (including to unemployment insurance, Medicaid matching funds to the states) is a clear giveaway and reminiscent of what one sees with a victim of kidnapping or Stockholm syndrome. The Dems have literally "given away the store" to the Repukes in the Reid Wussie Plan, since no revenue increases are found. Indeed, as some astute commentators (such as Ezra Klein) have noted, it is basically the original plan of the REPUBLICANS!

So please, don't anyone - any numbskulls - hand me any baloney there is any "they" responsible meaning both sides! Oh no! As a matter of fact, to illustrate the gangster tack of the Reeps, they were all called into a session two days ago to get pumped up by one of their Teepee honchos -who showed them clips from a Hollywood film, 'The Town'. The clips showed Ben Affleck's character telling his pal that he "needed his help" but he couldn't tell anyone. In the next scene they are baseball bat beating the holy crap out of guy as he lay on the floor. Obviously, that guy was supposed to represent the Dems and it was not lost on a number of appalled House Dems, including Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, after the clip was leaked.(Personally, Debbie, I'd hire security protection for yourself in case any of the Teepee reeps - like Alan West- lose it after seeing that flick segment!)

So this is the M.O. of today's Repukes: brutally beating the opposition to a pulp and taking no prisoners.

Or as one Denver Post columnist (Mike Littwin) described in today's column: reminiscent of the National Lampoon cover from the 1970s in which a small, cute cocker spaniel pup is shown and a guy is holding a .44 magnum to its head with the underlying text: "Buy this magazine or we blow away this pup"

Or in the case of today's Tea Bagger Repug party:

"Accept our terms on the conditions for debt ceiling increase, or we blow this country to kingdom come"

Hopefully, most citzens won't be taken down with them, if they have money in the markets.

You have all been forewarned!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Sad State of U.S. High School Physics

The news in the most recent issue of Physics Today wasn't encouraging in the least, for those of us who'd like to see more U.S. high schoolers studying physics. First, the article (July, p. 29, 'Convincing U.S. States to Require Physics') notes that in terms of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) core subjects, the states by and large a doing a lousy job.

Based on data from the Science and Engineering Readiness Index (SERI), Massachusetts continues to do best, and Mississippi the worst. SERI, it should be noted, differs from many other indices in that it focuses on physics. (A map of the U.S. attached may be consulted to see how the separate states vary on the SERI index).

At stake is obtaining a degree in one area of the STEM field. According to Paul Cottle, a physicist at the Florida State University:

"Having taken physics in high school is the strongest correlation to STEM degree attainment."

However, according to the Florida Dept. of Education, 95% of the state's high school students took biology, 70% took chemistry and only 23% took quantitative physics (i.e. integrating some level of mathematics with the presentation, usually at least algebra.) Meanwhile, data obtained by the American Institute of Physics found a physics taking rate of 31% for Florida high schoolers, vs. 37% nationally. This is very strange in a state that for the last 30 years has launched everything from space stations to Space shuttles.

By contrast, in Barbados, all students are required to take at least a term of physics (this is for most of the comprehensive schools) while at Harrison College (where I taught for 5 years) every student had to take at least TWO years, and most students took 6 years. Unlike in the U.S., physics is taken in cumulative stages with each stage accumlating more material - year by year. Thus, not only is the past material not forgotten, but it's applied each year in new ways to different parts of the curriculum.

In this way, Harrison College students graduate with top achievement levels (via A-levels) and many go directly on to become juniors at MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Harvard, Oxford and other elite institutions. In other words, they put rings around their U.S. counterparts.

According to Prof. Cottle, cited again in the article:

"It's very tough to sell physics to school districts."

One wonders why. For example, why is it that a small 3rd world nation like Barbados with much lower GDP and resources than the great U.S. can manage actual lab physics courses to all students, while the U.S. can't or refuses to do so. There are a number of possible reasons and two might be: 1) Including Physics will put more pressure on teachers in an environment where schools are hostage to state aptitude tests, and 2) Not enough qualified teachers are available to teach the subject.

Maybe it's past time we stopped talking of cutting school budgets and started paying exceptional teachers in elite areas like physics more, while also teaching less nonsense (like 'creation science' or Intelligent design).

WHO gets to call themselves a "REAL" Christian?

It has been very interesting, in the wake of the indiscriminate slaughter perpetrated by Anders Breivik, how many would-be rock solid "Christians" are asserting that in no way is he a "real Christian". These same people, when they attack atheists, have no problem whatever in referring heavy-handedly to "self-professed atheists" as if all who call themselves such are just that. And yet they seek to turn the tables when one of their own (at least in terms of self-professed) admits to being not just Christian but Fundamentalist Christian. In other words, the ostensible "purest" form imaginable to hear some blogs tell it.

This leads me to examine who has the right, by which standard, to decide who is a "real Christian" and who isn't. This is not an idle question or issue, because it can easily be extrapolated to many other epistemological domains: Who is a "real" Republican?, Who is a "real" atheist?, Who is a "real" astrophysicist?, Who is a "real" Democrat? or the classic, Who is a "real" Socialist?

First, let's be advised any time one interjects the adjective "real" in any of these settings, one is setting himself up as some doctrinnarie authority or some final judge on the matter. This is very dangerous, because unless one is 100% "pure" in any arena in which he interjects the issue of the "real" - he's setting him up for a huge fall!

For example, if he interjects that only so-and-so is a "real" astrophysicist, has he himself studied the subject to any degree? If he has not, and can't even distinguish an apparent from an absolute magnitude, or a spectrogram from a spectrum, or the virial theorem from the vis-viva equation, then what the hell qualifies him to say so? Because he sees some letters after a name, and infers those imply he must be "real"? Because he reads somewhere that a guy with 3 magic letters performed some research claimed to be 'ground breaking'? But this is what I call cartoon or idiot reasoning, because as I showed in an earlier blog, special letters after a name confers no assurance of quality or authentic work!

Also, great accomplishments so claimed - say by dedicated groupies - may not be so at all on more detailed inspection. Thus, the only sure standard for assessing if one is a "real" astrophysicist must be exclusively if one has himself studied the subject enough to be able to discern wheat from chaff.

Or, consider interjecting 'WHO is a "real" Socialist?'. Has this person who makes such interjections, say about Barack Obama, studied Socialism or even lived in a Socialist nation, or in a Socialist U.S. City (Milwaukee in the 1950s, 1960s)? Or, is he just shooting his mouth or brain off digitally, and making assertions neither can back up? Again, this is what I call idiot reasoning because anyone who's ever lived in an actual Socialist state knows Barack Obama is the farthest thing from being any kind of Socialist!

The very fact this guy actually broached cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of his bargaining with the Republicans over the debt ceiling increase, shows he's no Socialist. Because a genuine Socialist would have kept all cuts to social safety nets off the table.

Again, this shows we can't trust the words or blogs of those who bandy about words like "Socialist" if they don't know anything about what constitutes it. Hence, calling Anders Breivik a "Socialist" is bollocks, especially as he murdered 68 of those he regarded as Socialists!

All this applies to religions as well.

If one then uses the term or invokes the notion that Breivik is "not a REAL Christian" then it implies ipso facto he knows what a REAL Christian is. But does he?

The odd thing here, is that ANY ONE of the 1,080- odd Christian sects will each define themselves as the "real" versions to the exclusion of all others. (Which they dismiss as heretics, or pretenders).

The Roman Catholics will claim primacy as the original Church-religion and hence the original (and ONLY REAL) Christians, since Yeshua conferred on Peter the authorship of his Church ("Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I shall build my Church..").

In fact, in terms of seniority, RCs do apparently have the best claim to being "the REAL" Christians. The only fly in the ointment is that alignment with the Roman Empire and Constantine after the Edict of Milan in 313 CE. One could then argue, because the RCs accepted said alignment (and thereby the Emperor's protections) they ceased to be real, especially as their religion from then co-existed with Constantine's Sol Invictus (Sun worship) cult. Indeed, the two became so interbred that the Christians adopted as their nativity the date for the Sun God's birth (Dec. 25th, or the approximate) which anyone with any astronomy background knows is the winter solstice or that date on whch the days begin to get longer in the northern hemisphere.

Perhaps it was this unholy alliance that spurred the Protestant Reformation hundreds of years later, with Martin Luther's rebellion. Then leading to Henry VIII's revolt from the RCs later (but we suspect it was mainly because he wanted to change wives and the Pope said 'No!')

Then we have the johnny-come-lately Evangelicals who wish to make the sole claim to being the 'real' Christians, based on their acceptance of the "only true" Bible, the King James version. But is this true? Hardly!


What eventually became the "King James Bible" by 1526-30 was in fact NOT the original, but rather 75% to 90% adopted from William Tyndale's English New Testament, published in 1526. This version was actually published in defiance of then English law - so it is amazing so much of it was then incorporated into the original KJV!

Sadly, most Americans- especially Evangelicals- know nothing about how the Bible was compiled and that it is not one Book, but 66 assembled (with the inevitable insinuation of thousands of copyist errors, deliberate editing additions, and mistranslations) over 1,000 years and often as a result of voting or meetings (determining which parts are apocryphal and which aren't).

Thus, the claim to being uniquely REAL Christians by the Evangelicals is sterile at best, and unproven at worst, especially as they're never able to justify all the errors and insist on a biblical "literalness" while at the same time claiming passages must be read via hermeneutics. They never process logically that these are contradictory and if one employs hermeneutics one does so because literalness isn't available.

Second, the claim of a "real Christian" is a version of the long since disproven 'One True Scotsman' logical fallacy. Thus, from the original illustration of it by Antony Flew ('Thinking About Thinking') 3 Scotsmen are at a bar and debating national policy. Two are eating Haggis, a natural Scots food, the third is eating pork and beans. The last one's opinions (e.g. Communists have a right to be represented in Parliament) are thereby discounted as those "not of a real Scotsman". But, the basis for doing so is wholly subjective: The advocacy for communist representation is based on consuming pork & beans, not haggis!

Rather than reject the 3rd Scotsman's actual arguments on their merits (or lack thereof) the other two (proud of their eating REAL Scots food) dismiss him as "not a REAL" Scotsman because he's not eating "real" Scots food. But as Flew shows, this is merely employing a false-"switching" premise that tries to cleverly concoct two distinct classes of logical elements from what is really one. By mixing classes in the above categories of proposition (p = p’ = p”) where p = Scotsman by birth, p' = Scotsman by food eaten, and p" = Scotsman by political leanings, the sophist mixes negation (the incompatibility of a proposition with itself e,g p <-> not p); disjunction (the incompatibility of not-p & not-p’ or not-p”) and implication (the incompatibility of p and not-p OR p’ and not-p’ or p” and not-p”).

Third, let's consider some other aspects. That of the human capacity to irrevocably and inerrantly establish or ascertain THE REAL religion from all pretenders. We take this as a testable premise: i.e. that a test is possible which is able to unequivocally isolate the single REAL Christian religion (and hence, by extension the REAL Christian who belongs to it) and all those who do not.

Here's what we do know, or can say:

1) From Gödel's (Incompletness) Theorem, all rational systems are incomplete - so their propositions are undecidable. What this means is that while one can have faith that God exists or that one's religion is REAL, neither cannot be demonstrated logically or proven.

2) All religions are RELATIVE and subjective, because all their truth claims are relative and subjective. This proceeds from their respective 'holy books"

In the case of individual religions, or religious traditions, the embodiment of the respective truth claim is alleged to be found in a "sacred revelation". For example, the Holy Bible for Christianity (though many can't agree on WHICH Bible holds truth and which is an imitator), the Talmud for Jews, the Koran for Muslims and the Upanishads for Hindus.

The problem is that the early writers, for each scripture, suffered from the same limitation of comprehension that their modern counterparts do. Their neural capacity was just as finite as that of present-day humans, and just as conditioned toward a particular conceptual allegiance. Worse, their truth claims were equally subject to Gödel's (Incompletness) Theorem.

3) The subjectivism and Gödelian undecidability transfer into the nature of "salvation" and whether even it is needed or not. Again, this leaves all "salvation" formulae relative and subjective (and the respective Books can't be trusted, as I showed).

In the end, then, on account of all the above, and primarily the inherent subjectivist - relativist nature of faith and religion, the only acceptable arbiter of what a "real Christian" is must be based on self-profession. IF then a person firmly believes he is that, a REAL Christian, then he's a real Christian - unless someone can show from a purely objective position that he's wrong (and again, specific coda can't be used for this. One needs to first assign or state the necessary and sufficient conditions for what constitutes a real Christian then use those to prove or disprove it).

Finally, note that because faith and religion are Gödelian- relative (e.g. undecidable) and subjective, we yield to self-profession. If a person says he is that, he is. But this same standard doesn't apply for all identifications or uses in which objective criteria can be applied! Thus, self-profession would not apply in the cases of being either a Socialist or an Astrophysicist. The reason is we can apply objective political standards to the first, and objective scientific standards to the second.

Even the simplest political test, or actual external behavior, development of policy positions will inform us if a politico is a real Socialist. Does he favor the basic Socialist acceptance of redistribution of wealth? Of fierce protection of ALL social safety nets to fullest extent? Does he disavow tax cuts for the wealthy? If any one of these is falsified, he can't be a Socialist, so the point of a "real Socialist" is mute.

Same thing with being an Astrophysicist! Does he know the essential principles of astrophysics? Does he accept them, or does he reject them, say by adhering to a "Young Sun" thesis that controverts everything we know about our Sun? If the latter is the case, the person is no Astrophysicist, no matter if he has a gazillion letters behind his name!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Solutions to Simple Astronomy Problems (5)

We proceed now to the solutions for the problems given in instalment (5). Recapping them, with the respective solutions to follow:

(1) The Right Ascension of Dubhe in Ursa Major is 11h 02m. Its declination is 61 deg 56 minutes. From a ship at sea it's observed to transit 42 degrees 30 minutes north of the zenith on April 8, at 1 a.m. according to the ship's chronometer (which reads Greenwich Mean time or G.M.T.)

Find the position of the ship.


If Dubhe transits 42 deg 30 min north of the zenith then its meridian zenith distance (MZD) is 42 deg 30 min.

The ship's latitude may be found from:

Lat. = Declin. - MZD = 61 deg 56 min - 42 deg 30 min = 19 deg 26 min North

To obtain the longitude we require:

Greenwich time of transit - local time of transit, or GTT - LTT for short.

Where: LTT = Star's RA - Sun's RA

Now, on April 8, the Sun's RA = 18 days x (4 min/day) = 72 mins. = 1 h 12 min

(Note: this is 18 days elapsed after March 21 when the Sun's RA = 0h)


LTT = 11 h 02 min - 1 h 12 min = 9h 50 min

According to the ship's chronometer, the star transits at 1 a.m. (13 h) therefore GTT = 13h 00m

Then the ship's longitude is:

L = GTT - LTT = 13 h 00 min - 9h 50 min = 3 h 10 min

Converting this to degrees (1 h = 15 deg), we get 47½ degrees. This must be WEST longitude since the GTT is later than LTT.

Then the coordinates are:

Lat. = 19 deg 26 min N, Long. = 47½ deg W

(2)(a) Using a clear diagram, show that the hour angle of a star is related to the Star's RA, the Sun's RA and L.M.T. (local mean time) by:

RA (star) = Sun's RA - (HA) + L.M.T.


This is shown in Fig. 1

(b)Shaula (RA = 17h 31m) transits at 10 p.m. on June 29th. Find the hour angle it exhibits from your location (local hour angle).


This can be done from either the diagram or the expression (RA (star) = Sun's RA - (HA) + L.M.T.) which really amount to the same thing.

A simpler tack is to use: LST= HA + RA of object

and it can be ascertained the LST for the date is 15h 31 m

SO: HA = LST - RA = 15h 31m - 17h 31m = -2h 00m, or - 30 deg

(3) The star Canopus (RA = 6h 20m) is observed to have a local hour angle = 45 deg on Feb. 10th for a given location.

(a) What is the local sidereal time.

(b) At what local mean time and standard time would Canopus transit?

(c) What is the approximate LST at noon on the same date?


(a)Again: HA = LST - RA

So: LST = HA + RA = 3h 00m + 6h 20m = 9h 20m

(b) We have:

LTT = Star's RA - Sun's RA

Feb. 10th is 39 days before March 21 (assume non-leap year) so:

Sun's RA = 0h - 39 days x (4 min/day) = 0h - 156 mins = 0 h - 2h 36 m

Sun's RA = 21h 24m

LTT = 6h 20m - 21h 24m = -17h 36m

Or: 24 h 00m - 17h 36m = 6h 24m

(c) From (a) the LST on the date is 9h 20m, and this is 9h 20m past noon. Since noon is 9h 20m earlier, then LST(noon) = 6h 20m - 9h 20m = -3h 00m, or:

24h 00m - 3h 00m = 21h 00m.

(4) Study the diagram for Fig. 1. Using the diagram and inferences regarding time - including Sun's changes in Right Ascension, give the date for which the diagram is referred. If the star in Fig. 1 has an RA = 7h 10m then find its hour angle for the observer (Obs). Hence, or otherwise, obtain the longitude of the observer.


The diagram is shown again in Fig. 2.

Since the local sidereal time (LST) at the observer location is 6h then this is the RA on the meridian. But the Sun is on the meridian at the antipode or at 18h 00m. Hence, the date must be Dec. 23rd or the winter solstice, since the same RA coincides with the Sun.

If the star's RA = 7h 10m we can find the HA from the angular relationship as:

HA = RA - LST = 7h 10m - 6h 00m = 1h 10m = 17 .5 deg

The longitude of the observer is: L = GST - LST = 9h 00m - 6h 00m = 3h 00m

Converting to degrees: L = 45 deg (W) (since GST > LST)

(5)(a) Regulus (10h 07m) is observed to transit on a given date. Given the same date, what would be the local hour angle for: (i) Denebola (RA = 11h 47m), and (ii) Arcturus (RA = 14h 14m)?

(b) Find the LST one half way between the transits of Denebola and Arcturus. How much later would these two stars set than Regulus?

(c) What RA circle must be rising when Arcturus is setting?


(a) We use: LHA (local hour angle) = RA on meridian (LST) - RA(star)

Here, RA meridian = RA (Regulus) = 10h 07m


LHA (Denebola) = 10h 07m - 11h 47m = -1h 40m (or 22h 20m)

LHA (Arcturus) = 10h 07m - 14h 14m = -4h 07 m or 19h 53m

(b) Find (RA(Arcturus) - RA(Denebola) = 14h 14m - 11h 47 m = 2h 27m

Then the LST midway between their transits is found by interpolating:

11h 47m + ½(2h 27m)= 13h 00.5m

Thus, Denebola would set about 1h 40m after Regulus. (E.g. 10h 07m + 1h 40m = 11h47m)

(c) When Arcturus is setting, the RA circle rising is:

14h 14m + 12h 00m = 26h 14m


26h 14m - 24h 00m = 2h 14m

The Time for Talk is Over, Mr. President!

In a prime time speech of about 22 minutes last night, President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for political compromise as the hours tick down toward a debt ceiling raise deadline - and possible default. The consequences of the latter, as I noted before, would be unimaginable and could well hurl the country into a much more severe recession or even Great Depression. This is not mere idle speculation or "scare mongering".

And given all that Obama has offered, what was the GOP answer? To essentially spit on him with total contempt, as House Speaker John Boehner followed in a deceitful 9 minute screed redolent with distortion (including saying that his 'cap, cut and balance' law was "bipartisan" when only 5 house Dems voted for it)! Boehner's speech, basically appeasing the Tea Party crazies, disclosed that the Reeps are not prepared to deal nor were they ever. Their objective is not to cut any deficits, but to make Obama a one term President by either: a) hobbling him politically with incessant debt ceiling votes (and Repuke nay votes on debt ceiling raises), or b) enticing him to cut spending massively thereby paving the way for a total collapse in aggregate demand and massive increases in unemployment.

In respect of the last, and playing into the Dem yen to appease the Repukes at all costs, has been the latest plan put on the table by Sen. Harry Reid (who I've always seen as a classic wobbly knee wimp, especially with that weak cracking voice of his). Actually, any acceptance of the "Reid Plan" will also fully ensure a horrific collapse of aggregate demand and spiking unemployment. That plan, with $2.7 trillion in spending cuts and NO revenue, will deliver a massive and debilitating punch to the nation's economic solar plexus by driving aggregate demand down further.

What we need now is more spending not less, since aggregate demand is low. This is not really that difficult to comprehend and is based on "the Paradox of thrift".

The paradox of thrift is that while a once spendthrift family can save itself further financial grief by pulling in the purse strings, it doesn't apply to a nation. When massive saving is done nationally disaster results, namely entrenched deflation such as stalked Japan over the 90s. As deflation sets in, prices collapse (which sounds good on the surface) but employers - lacking any revenues from consumer spending - are forced to cut jobs en masse.

The Wall Street Journal (July 21 edition,'Layoffs Deepen Gloom') already sounded the warning noting that job losses are even greater now with companies at their lowest hiring levels in months. As the article noted:

"Consumer spending is a central worry.. Businesses are worried about the effects of a challenging economy on consumer spending habits"

In other words, unemployment is increasing again because of ailing aggregate demand, mainly since the consumer demand is not keeping pace. People are purchasing less, including eating out and in response, nervous companies (like 'Cracker Barrel') are paring down their work forces not increasing them. So, if this is the case, why on Earth would any sane politico - Reep or Demo- institute a deficit reduction program that ensures an even more challenging economy, and consumer spending tightening even more - with further employer retrenchment? Why do that? In other words, WHY accept the Reid plan (no revenues at all) when it will have as catastrophic an effect as a default ...though likely take somewhat longer?

Spending cuts across the federal board, to the extent they affect or impinge on citizens (transferring risk to them and making them spend more, e.g. on health care, or other necessities) means they will collectively tighten their purses, so the consumer demand will plummet. When it does, investor demand will also plummet because prospective business starters will see no upside in a mass saving environment where consumers aren't prepared to spend a dime of disposable income.

Thus, effectively, the total aggregate demand drops and this means unemployment will increase dramatically as the nation loses whatever remaining vestiges of fiscal stability.

Politicians like Reid and others who spin these stupid debt solutions don't have these issues on their radar for a number of reasons, but one is because they aren't faced with the financial risks and costs many Americans are. As an example, an article in Smart Money ('The New Parent trap', August, p. 38) noted that 49 million Americans or about 20 percent of the population, care for someone over 50 who is ill or aging. This is a number that has steadily increased over the past decade according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. It must be noted ALL of this is done with NO remuneration, and often with employer penalties and salary cuts or benefit cuts because of the need to take time off. These 49 million people are not in any fiscal position to withstand federal cuts that may impact negatively on their current financial positions - which are already shaky. For example, a massive cut in Medicaid or Medicare assistance (affecting those they care for) may well be the last straw. As it is, the contraction in consumer demand follows from the parlous 'tightrope'-walking, expenditure straits many people find themselves in.

Spending cuts of the order of > $2 trillion that affect their welfare are therefore the worst solution imaginable. They not only ensure more employer cuts in jobs, but also less business (capital) investment while making for a hostile economic landscape and one in which it is doubtful Obama could benefit from next year.

No, it is time now Obama stop talking and special pleading and realize the Repubs are Barbarians at the Gate of National Fiscal Sanity who must be stopped. Saved as it were from their own extremism. By further engaging the Repukes as "rational" Obama only makes himself look weak, wimpy and pushed around. He has thus exhausted his cards for playing the "adult" in the room and now verges on looking like the Wimp in the room. No one wants a wimp as president, sad to say.

What Mr. Obama so far refuses to consider is that it's all about politics and WINNING for the GOP. As the authors of Banana Republicans pointed out, for Republicans politics is conducted as warfare, while most Democrats (like Obama and Harry Reid) treat it as a Debating Society meet. This is why Dems always get their asses thrashed. Hell, most times they even get their collective brains thrashed because the Repugs out-gun them in co-opting the language and making it work in their interests (think death taxes and death panels.) Meanwhile, with each language coup the Dems are sitting there like clueless dweebs scratching their butts and wondering what happened. (As I've repeatedly said, this is why Dems need dedicated think tanks along the lines of the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute for the Repukes).

Both Reid and Obama need to grasp that the Repubs are not, and never have been, the least bit interested or invested in a "kinder, gentler, conciliatory government." No, they want to destroy it to make it unworkable for any Dem, or for any Dem President to ever again get elected.

What is the way out? I already explained it in my July 4th blog but it necessitates Obama finding enormous reserves of cojones and testosterone on the level acquired by JFK when he faced down the Joint Chiefs over the Cuban Missile crisis in October, 1962. (At that time the JCS demanded JFK invade and bomb Cuba, but had he done so an immediate nuclear strike would have resulted since we now know 93 IRBMs were aimed at the U.S. East coast) JFK's solution was to tell the JCS to stuff it, and he employed the naval blockade measure. It required thinking outside the box.

In like manner, the solution for Obama to take, given the Reeps have demonstrated they aren't serious about negotiating, must be from outside the box. But it requires a major character change, i.e. that Obama cease his practice of being the National Conciliator-in -Chief (as well as Professor in chief) with vile, irrational vermin who have no intention of conciliation or compromise.

To that end, Obama's last best choice is to enact the debt ceiling increase on his own, and tell the Reeps to screw themselves. He can do this under the provision of the Constitution (Amendment XIV, Section 4), which stipulates:

"The validity of the Public Debt of the United States, authorized by law, includes debts incurred for payment of pensions ....and shall not be questioned."

It is clear to me that if the Republican Congress refuses to act to raise the debt ceiling (and thereby honor the validity of paying the Public Debt) then President Obama can and MUST issue an Executive Order to override a putatively derelict Congress and invoke Article 4 of Amendment XIV to raise the debt ceiling himself. The alternative, of not doing so, would also violate Article XIV and be lawless while also violating Sec. 4 of Article I. For example, payment of "pensions" (interpreted as Social Security monies) would likely not be made in case of a default. Therefore, debts for such payments cannot be avoided by law and the president must seize the initiative if a derelict congress abdicated its responsibility!

Yes, the game-playing reptile-controlled House (trying to use the debt ceiling as extortion to hold the whole nation hostage) may squeal like stuck pigs and perhaps even initiate a Constitutional crisis, but they have no ballast, no precedent to base it on. Obama can simply argue (or more likely his Solicitor General) that the Republican House has demonstrated fiscal irresponsibility and recklessness in jeapordizing the full faith and credit of the U.S. by gamesmanship, which is what it is. He can refer to the fact that Congress has already enacted 75 measures to raise the debt, including 17 under Ronald Reagan.

Time to step up to the plate, Mr. Obama and rise to the occasion. These are the times that measure the stature of a man, and indicate whether truly great - as JFK was in his hour- or a mouse.

Don't let the Aug. 2nd date pass finding you in the latter class!