Friday, September 30, 2011

Catholics Merit NO Special Exemptions!

The recent news (Denver Post, WSJ, Economist) that the Roman Catholic Church in the States is demanding much broader exemptions from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ought to make every citizen sit up and take notice. These Catholics are so incensed at having to provide coverage for contraception and other preventive services for women (such as screening for gestational diabetes) that they're actually saying they may have no choice but to drop all insurance coverage or shut down. Are you effing kidding me? So, all Catholic hospitals, institutions will bar their doors or drop insurance because the whiny, sanctimonious little bastards don't wish to comply with the law?

Here's what these whiners don't grasp: the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services has already exempted religious organizations that employ and serve people of the same faith, from having to provide contraceptive services for example. This is natural and reasonable, because it is assumed that within that closed enclave of faith - most or all of the participants will agree to any claimed principles. However, most Catholic social service agencies, hospitals, universities, and nursing homes employ and serve NON-Catholics as well. Should all those individuals, including a few atheists, be held hostage to archaic and absurd Catholic dogmas?

Of course not!

But this is what these Catholic whiners are bitching about!

They insist that the exemption be broadened to extend to ALL institutions, even those that employ mostly non-Catholics! This is insane! They even have the nerve to offer up codswallop that would be laughable if it weren't already so transparently egregious and self-serving. According to one flummoxed padre (WSJ, Sept. 29, p.A5, 'Catholics Fight Health Rules'):

"Jesus himself, or the Good Samaritan of his famous parable, would not qualify as religious enough for the exemption, since they insisted on helping people who did not share their view of God"

But what this babbling idiot doesn't grasp is that the core issue isn't judging who is "religious enough" but rather whether provision of services that HELP (which contraception clearly does when a family is already maximized and can't make ends meet) can be withheld by Catholic institutions which serve or employ mostly or many non-Catholics!

Another moron, a Bishop David A. Zubik from Pittsburgh, quoted in the piece, asserts:

"This looks like the government telling us what we can and can't believe and what we can and cen't do!"

In a way, yes - if you accept the benefits of the Patient Protective and Affordable Care Act, you must extend those other benefits to the non-Catholics you serve or employ - who don't share your archaic or absurd beliefs. This is little different from the "faith -based charities" which can receive federal monies for support, but are then obliged to hire others who may not share their faith or beliefs, as well as being mandated not to proselytize to them!

So what is the response of these ignorant, entitled babies? They are threatening to close all their social services, schools, hospitals, etc. or else restrict employment etc. only to Catholics. How stupid and self-serving is that? Just because they won't be allowed total control of fobbing off their lame doctrines, which is what they are.

Now, let's look at the historical basis of their stupid beliefs regarding artificial contraception, which difference I may add, is what eventually drove me from this backward Church. I wasn't going to have kids - no how, no way, and my wife and I weren't prepared to have a padre, pope or church dictate our sex lives. So we said 'hasta la vista'. I became a hard core atheist, my wife remained an agnostic. (Though she does seem to be leaning more toward atheism every day!)

But my departure had been building since I attended Loyola University and took an Ethics class in the Fall of 1966. This was under Rev. Alvin Holloway, S.J. - shown in the above graphic - suspended on 'Einstein's' blackboard.

Catholic impediments to a sane birth control policy began with the misguided encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. The Pope at the time, Paul VI, issued this document in direct opposition to his own specially appointed Papal Commission on the matter. Author David Yallop, in his book In God's Name, 1984, has portrayed Humanae Vitae in stark terms indeed, as well as its paradoxical consequences (p. 58):

"On a disaster scale for the Roman Catholic Church, it measures higher than the treatment of Galileo in the seventeenth century "

The implicit assumption in Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II's encyclical Veritatis Splendor, is that procreation takes precedence over any other function of sexual intercourse. This is observably true in most other animals (with estrus cycles) but it certainly doesn’t apply to humans who exhibit a diverse array of sexual play. To devalue sexplay for its own end, while extolling procreation-based sex as the be-all and end-all, is to rob humans of their uniqueness as sexual primates. Or, to refer to the words of one Catholic biologist, Elizabeth Dougherty (in Contraception and Holiness, The Lessons of Zoology, p. 110):

"Why do we call secondary the ends of the sexual act which have been accorded in fullness to us, and why do we call primary the end that we share with the lower animals?"

It is also to invite ecological catastrophe for this planet. Since 1968, for example, the world population has added another two and a half billion which the Vatican merely welcomes as 'more souls for the Church' - potential or otherwise - while ignoring their collective impact on strained planetary ecosystems. Also, ignoring their individual impact on families which are so stretched economically they can't even care properly for the children they have, far less must add!

But what really really pissed me off bigtime, was the Rev. Holloway's take in his Ethics class. He compared the use of artificial birth control in marriage to ‘mutual masturbation’ and justified this definition and term based on "natural law". For example, according to Catholics' natural law doctrine, the use of artificial contraception is gravely sinful because a device (condom or diaphragm or pill ) is used to frustrate the ‘natural outcome’ of the sexual act, i.e. conception. Since the natural outcome was frustrated, and only pure pleasure resulted with no potential for fertilization, then the act reduced to onanism times two. In this padre's forlorn brain that was the be all and end all. Case closed!

When I informed him that not so long ago, Catholic theologians justified slavery as wholly consistent with natural law, and asked him to square this with justifying rejection of contraception now, he lost it. Maybe that was one reason he ended up giving me a 'D' in his course (which fortunately, had no bearing or use when I transferred to another university to pursue a degree in astronomy!)

Considering both slavery, and the Catholic birth control proscription, we clearly see where the Church is coming from. Natural law was invented purely as a theological sophistry; a device to control and manipulate people's lives. As one priest intimated to me in a moment when I caught him off-guard: ‘Hey don't knock natural law. It keeps sinners coming back to confession!’ Just like dutiful mental slaves, who’ve allayed a few existential qualms at the cost of intellectual gangrene, and stunting of personal growth.

The bottom line is there is no more good reason to protect this pseudo-belief by these irritating Catholics then to protect slavery. The central problem with all "natural law" lines of moral defense is that they betray an over-allegiance to Aristotelian thought. A primary feature of such thought is a tendency to fix behaviors within very limited and narrow definitions and categories. Thus slavery was "naturally lawful" since the slave was believed to possess no innate ability for authentic self -direction, or independent thought. Hence, he required a "master" to guide him and handle his affairs. Also, to make him work, since otherwise he'd just loaf all day!

Thus today, artifiical contraception is outlawed and naturally unlawful because it supposedly frustrates the natural outcome of birth. (And presumably, if the moral law wasn't there, every married couple would just go on their merry way, fucking the daylights out of each other and never ever having kids!)

But a question I've always wanted to ask these pompous dopes is this: How is it you are morally against artificial contraception, but the last Pope (John Paul II) had no problem asserting (in one encyclical) that artificial heart transplants are fine?

Wouldn't that frustrate the natural outcome of death? Or are you okay making exceptions with artificiality, just as up until 1869 the Church’s Canon Law had historically held abortion to be allowable up to the end of the first trimester (Sagan, C. and Druyan, Anne, Is It Possible to Be Pro-Life and Pro-Choice?' in PARADE, April 22, 1990, p. 6)

Inquiring minds really want to know, especially before you toss tens of thousands of people out of work (which I'm sure Jesus would not be happy with) in order to satiate your own dumb, irrational beliefs!

More on Marketing Mind Control: Are we all Zombots Yet?

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. AND TO RENDER THEM SAFE, THEIR MINDS MUST BE IMPROVED." - Thomas Jefferson, 'Notes on Virginia'.

In an earlier blog I discussed the insidious nature of PR and sowing false consciousness,

And the ways the Overclass of government, business and its offshoot PR-men and hack marketeers use this subtle mind manipulation to sow a classless mentality that inveighs against one's own economic and socio-political self interest. In addition, I referred to Edward Bernays famous quotation that this "unseen mechanism of society constitutes an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of our country.”

I also briefly cited Douglas Rushkoff's book, COERCION, that details the psycho-dynamic basis for how most of us become puppets at the end of the strings manipulated by the Overclass and their associated marionettes. Central to Rushkoff's thesis is a process called "the Gruen Transfer". Without its initiation and consolidation within a fertile brain, arguably no American would become a marketer's zombie puppet. Alas, most of our citizenry, unread as they are (and with too short attention spans induced by over obsession with social ties on Facebook, etc.) aren't aware of how the Gruen Transfer takes over their mind in any situation. To read Rushkoff's book, therefore, is at once like reading the most horrific of Dennis Wheatley's "Devil" novels, while being brutally exposed to how our society really runs.

I never believed the power of the Gruen Transfer until I once asked a marketing acquaintance if it could actually be conceivable an American could be so market-tethered that he or she would need to consult an advert before even taking a dump. Her response? "Of course! Hell, they would definitely wish to know whether the cool thing is to use Charmin or remain a poor douche and putz using some generic brand of toilet paper! If you have to do your business at least you need to end it special!"


I had a hard time swallowing this until coming across a recent article in The Economist ('Hidden Persauders II', Sept. 24, p.80), which of course cops its title based on the much earlier work 'The Hidden Persuaders', by Vance Packard. A book I believe every member of Generation X, Y and Z ought to read very carefully, if you can get it on your Kindles! That book, from over fifty years ago, showed the power of the marketing empire even then. But if Packard was alive now, he'd have his fifities' era mind blown to smithereens at what he'd behold.

Of course, I can still recall some of the ads Packard noted from that era, and I agree with The Economist's take that most of the templates (for a guy looking at say, a Brylcreem advert) could be reduced to "Buy it and get laid". The basic operation was to quickly detach the conscious mind and interject the lizard brain long enough to make the purchase based on the lizard's needs. Never mind one's rational centers knew the mere application of Brylcreem wouldn't get one "laid"!

But before our current populace howls with derision at such naivete maybe it needs to back up and take stock, and note it's nowhere near as detached from puppet-strings as it believes. For example, how many are aware that the use of the new links capability for Facebook actually delivers your name, info to many more greedy marketeers? You think Facebook is just 'free' and you can roam, and put up stuff on your 'wall' and friend to your heart's content without a marketing hawk looking over your shoulder? If so, you're more naive than we were with the old Brylcreem ads.

The Economist also references how assorted "market guerillas" prowl the social networks, in order to generate "buzz" that ropes in the needy eyes, and claims gullible brains. One company referenced (ibid.) is "the Girls Intelligence Agency" which employs some 40,000 girls to act as 'guerilla marketers', sowing buzz for assorted products - in return for which services they get free products and "everything they need to organize a slumber party". Of course, the slumber party then delivers the perfect captive audience which features an assortment of all the buzzed products which each guest is invited to try out. Refuse to buy after getting such an invite? That would be uncool!

The most bizarre marketers' conquest - according to The Economist - is evidently the American male. Once proud of his rugged self, and no dandy - he's evidently now been convinced to purchase "female products" for his own use! This is a result of "marketers devoting much more effort to marketing to men to ...get them to shop like women".. Are you f-ing kidding me? Yet The Economist goes on:

"In 1995, only 53% of American men admitted to shopping for themselves. That figure has now risen to 75% with many now buying traditional female products. The marketers created a $27 billion male grooming industry from nothing by bombarding men with images once meant for women .." The new items on the new male's shelves evidently include depilatories, eye liner, special moisturizers for body, face and hands, and "novel fragrances". Cheez whiz! Back in the 60s the most adventurous you ever got as a young male was maybe using Jade East!

At this point one is justified in asking how these marketing types can get guys - presumably red blooded Americans- to emulate females by buying female products? Again, it's the Gruen Transfer. I will only touch on it here since the extensive process in different mental milieus is better left for Rushkoff's great book. Basically, however, it means a passive and docile mental state wherein the person is most susceptible to the force of advertising persuasion. In this state, higher cognitive centers remain inactive, and the person acts totally on the suggestion that buying product X, Y or Z will somehow make one's life better.

As Rushkoff notes (p. 212):

"(The key) is the moment of confusion. In that moment of confusion- the buyer is subjected to a dissociative hypnotic trance (by the focus of the advert)- the consumer absorbs the image within the image."

In this case, what the marketers of the female products to men had to accomplish is to get males, as the putative consumers, to absorb the image of themselves using female products within the glitzy images the marketers presented.

Rushkoff goes on:

"That's all coercion really is, after all: convincing a person to lie to himself by any means necessary. The stance of ironic detachment, while great for protecting ourselves for straightforward linear stories and associations, nonetheless makes us vulnerable to more sophisticated forms of influence.."

The Economist also notes the real bottom of the barrel scraping is the marketers' decision to recruit children. They do this because they understand that "the little monsters have the remarkable ability to nag their parents (whom they call 'wallet carriers') into buying what they want" Another good reason to choose not to have any kids? Maybe! Why introduce a fifth columnist marketeer into your home to try to drumbeat you into incessant purchases?

We know also that people online are tracked incessantly using cookies, but citizens are also tracked when they do ordinary mortar and walls shopping, say in Malls. Thus, marketers "routinely track shoppers as they make their way around supermarkets and listen in on their conversations at the counter". (Ibid.)

According to author Erik Larson (The Naked Consumer, p. 167):

"It isn't enough for companies to know precisely what we buy, what we watch, and how many advertisements we encounter. They want to know how we consume. How do we comport ourselves in the aisles of our grocery stores?"

Larson himself also notes how consumer monitors in stores regularly refer to consumers as "grazing like cattle"(ibid.). A recent article about brand names in The Wall Street Journal casually ruminated about "branding" consumers from the earliest ages. That is, insinuating deep product preferences into their brains, preferably from age two or earlier.

Are most people aware they are being relentlessly tracked and studied like prey- or better- "grazing cattle"? Hardly. Should we be aware? Probably. Why? Because by having awareness - and displaying it - we become more than the passive, stupid 'consuming cattle' they want us to be. Don't think so? Then consider this remark made to author Larson, by one of these 'tracker handlers' (op. cit., p. 181):

'No one ever notices. Ever. Consumers shop like in a trancelike state like 'idly grazing animals"

Perhaps the grossest atrocity is when marketers and their corporate purveyors disgustingly contaminate street protests designed to be motivationally pure (e.g. beyond the grasp of advertising) and in the interests of advancing the welfare of the society. Such has been the case with the recent Wall St. protests by hundreds of young people. But did the protestors' own branding and predispositions put them at risk of being mocked in the corporo-media and their objectives diminished? The Wall Street Journal headline on p. A6 (Sept. 28) tells it all:

'Down With Wall Street, But Keep the Pizza Coming!"

Thus, the protest purity is itself hostage to the need for food, and what food is more convenient than Pizza? Trouble is, if it comes from a large franchise (say Herman Cain's Godfather Pizza, or Domino's) then the protestors become more known for their dependence on corporate fast food than the nobility of their protests.

Maybe it's past time I teach these guys to harvest their own granola and nibbles before launching out on street protests near the heart of capitalist piracy.

In the end, the job of all of us - street protestors or not- is to police our own minds and do it continuosly and rigorously to ensure we aren't taken hostage by the Gruen Transfer, especially in the field of American politics.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Investors 'Losing Faith in Stocks'? What Do You Expect?

The Headlines in The Wall Street Journal screeching: 'Pivot Point: Investors Losing Faith in Stocks' (Sept. 26, p. A1, A14) should not have incited wonder or puzzlement. The fact is, anyone with even a grain of common sense and financial knowledge ought to have lost faith in stocks long ago. Yet, incredibly, one still finds millions - mainly little guy investors (or those referred to as "dumb order flow" by traders) who repeat the mantra "Buy and hold" and also are as devoutly attached to the belief that "over the long term stocks return at least 9% per annum" as any any religious dogma.

To show how pie-eyed the information is, even the WSJ article actually stated:

"The new environment is one where stock returns are expected to remain below the long term averages of 9% or 10%, and prices linger at below-average valuations."

But I have news for these Wunderkinds, in fact you can expect the long term stock averages - based on the DOW - to remain about at what they were the past ten years, barely 1.3% per annum. Or not much better than a good CD, and at least with the CD one can sleep at night.

The WSJ piece also claimed that:

"Many investors began the year optimistic that recovery was taking hold"

But even then I warned repeatedly in these blogs it was all based on "smoke and mirrors":

And I cited Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short, who noted this it was all "built on quicksand". I then cited the high unemployment rate (then over 10%) and though that rate is now down to 9.1%, incredible structural defects remain - especially in the wake of the debt ceiling meltdown.

We now understand, for example, we're in an even more parlous predicament than in February, because despite the lower unemployment rate, our politicians and reps have now signed onto the austerity band wagon - which portents total financial obliteration. Indeed, there is even talk now circulating in serious circles ('The Perils of Ignoring History', by Daniel Wessel, WSJ, Sept. 29, p. A7) of a "Great Depression in 2012". One guy, a "senior U.S. policy maker" even wrote to Wessel and said:

"Promise me if you write a sequel about the Great Depression of 2012 that you'll note I was one of the guys really trying to head it off".

Wessel earlier pointed to all the failed props of the current economic environment, including: lackluster consumer spending (still laden with debt as they are), lack of housing starts, and the inability of government to break out beyond the austerity mindset that now permeates every facet of the Beltway. It is as if a pill was taken by everyone involved and they've turned into zombies, all parroting the same spending cut line. But therein lies disaster, possibly not only a lost decade such as Japan experienced in the 90s, but also another Depression. (The topic of a future blog: Why the Republicans May Desire a Depression)

Wessel then enumerates the lessons of history, including the many parallels of the 1929 crash to what may befall us next year if the government's purse strings aren't loosened. He observes, for example, that two simultaneous crises fed on each other: a banking crisis in the U.S. (as I already noted in a previous blog, bank lending has declined 1.3% ) and a "sovereign debt" crisis in Europe. (We're now seeing the same with Greece about to default, and likely bring down Italy, Portugal and Spain in a domino effect).

How were the lessons not learned then? Well, in fact they couldn't have been because it was a novel experience, but WE can learn from the ill-choices made then IF we have the mind to. The main error that Wessel documents is that the few moves that were made in the right direction were too small for the scale of the problem. In other words, the correcting forces underestimated the scale of the economic morass. Hence, the then Federal Reserve did "loosen the spigot' but too little given the financial freeze. Herbert Hoover also did push through an increase in public works, but way too small to have much effect.

I also had observed, e.g.

that both crises(1929 and 2007-08->2011) were of the "balance sheet" sort, which require much vaster inflows of cash, stimulus. I cited Japanese economist Robert Koo (who studied the Japanese Lost Decade) and who pointedly said:

"Obama kept the economy from falling into a Great Depression. But you never become a hero avoiding a crisis. The economy is still struggling so people will say the money was wasted. Not true! The expiration of that package is behind the economy's weakness right now .

Yes, the Bush tax cuts were extended last year, but tax cuts are the least efficient way to support the economy during a balance sheet recession because a large portion of the cuts will be saved or used to pay down consumer debt. Government spending is much more effective."

Thus, the Obama stimulus package, though seemingly huge (at $797b) still wasn't large enough to have the effect desired, which was to reduce unemployment to below 8%. In fact, the stats on the actual effects of the recession released two months ago showed it was far worse than anyone hitherto believed, with GDP losses in negative territory for over two months in 2008-09. This meant that the "cure" had to have been MUCH larger, maybe double the Obama stimulus. The problem is that in macro-economics the true effects are only known ex post facto, or long after the event that inspired the stimulus.

But this is exactly why NOW is the time to apply an additional stimulus, and I'd say in the vicinity of $1 trillion, preferably $1.5 trillion, and nearly all for capital works to repair our crumbling infrastructure. In the end, it doesn't matter what the DOW does if the roads to convey products across the country are falling apart, and bridges are collapsing (not to mention the sewer lines and water mains).

But don't worry, all the DOW will do for the next few months is whipsaw back and forth in increased volatility because there is nothing to prop up any real gains. Consumers are still hostage to their debts, as well as a flat income (and sliced benefits) and the government has had it hands tied by insane Tea Party -driven know nothings in the House. In this environment, things will get worse, more jobs will be lost and we may well see that Great Depression 2012.

Feeding into this the main agency will continue to be consumer lack of confidence. Having been terrified in August because of a debt downgrade, they then were forced to bear wild stock swings, major losses in their 401ks and benefits cuts - plus the threat they too may fall under the hammer- so have been spooked into pulling back. As Lynn Franco, Director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center noted, "This does not bode well for spending".

And, if people -consumers don't spend, and businesses can't sell, so inventories grow, and profits fall - there is no basis for genuine share price increase.There is only the occasional spurious (bubble driven) basis, when the Fed plows in more cheap money, or the companies themselves buy back their own stock. But both of those are what I call smoke and mirrors. Worse, if companies can't sell their services or wares they have no choice but to let existing workers go, hence driving up the unemployment rate further. A furious feedback loop.

The final discomfiting piece in all this is the spurious trading in credit default swaps (CDS), as reported in the WSJ Sept. 28 ('A Fear Gauge Comes Up Short'). Basically, these CDS are contracts that give the buyer the right to collect a payment from the seller if a borrower defaults on an obligation. They were at the heart of the 2008 financial meltdown when more than $55 trillion were traded and most ended up on banks' balance sheets.

Meanwhile, the WSJ analysis shows these CDS are again being gamed but in a different way. While one might expect large volumes in CDS trading given recent volatility, the WSJ found the actual trades in CDS were "few and far between". The WSJ also pointed out that the "quotes market observers bandy about aren't based on actual trades at all". In other words, CDS are being exploited as financial bogeymen or fear inducers. If this is so, they may also be contributing to the ongoing volatility. As one professor of finance put it, quoted in the WSJ piece:

"This could be potentially dangerous in a very volatile and uncertain market since CDS spreads are used much more frequently and prevalently".

He went on to say, correctly:

"The market does not fully understand the limitations in trading or the lack of liquidity as CDS spreads are often quoted as readily as the Dow Jones Industrial Average".

The moral of this, and one hopes before it's too late: Just as short trades shouldn't be leveraged by totally borrowing from someone else, so fear shouldn't be leveraged using spurious CDS quotes. Small investors, already beset with market timing gimmicks, and information conveyed to big investors before they get it -not to mention flash trading- have no business in the stock market if they can't afford to lose that money.

Solutions to Intermediate Astronomy (9)

The Problems recapped again, with solutions:

1) Find the radius of the star Alhena from Problem (1) in the previous problem set. (Use the same data available)


To obtain the radius we use:

2 log (R*/R) = log (L*/L) - 4 log (T_eff*/T)

Where (from the data in previous problem (1):

log (L*/L) = 0.4 (4.63 - (-1.18)) = 0.4 (5.81) = 2.324


2 log (R*/R) = 2.324 - 4(4.03 - 3.76) = 1.244


log (R*/R) = 1.244/2 = 0.622 and antilog (0.622) = 4.2

Thus: (R*/R) = 4.2 and R* = 4.2 R or 4.2x the radius of the Sun.

2) Use two different techniques to arrive at the radius of the star Beta Pegasi, which lies at a distance of 50 pc and has: (B - V) = +1.7 and m_v = 2.5. Interferometry obtains the apparent angular diameter as 0."021.

a) What is the apparent discrepancy (as a percentage) in the two values obtained?

b) Account for these discrepancies.

c) Which value, if any, would you be inclined to assign as having greater accuracy?


Begin by converting to AU:

50 pc = 50 pc x (2 x 10^5 AU/pc) = 10^7 AU

We use the relation:

R*/R = (d* a*")/ (d a")

where: d* = 10^7 AU, a*" = 0."021

d = 1 AU, and a" = 1920"


R*/R = (0."021/ 1920") x (10^7 ) = 109.3

Thus, by interferometry, R* = 109.3 R

Or, Beta Pegasi is 109.3 times the radius of the Sun.

By photometry:

(B - V) = +1.7 so B.C. = -1.7, while m_v = +2.5

M_V = m_v - 5 log d + 5 = 2.5 - 5 log (40) + 5 = 2.5 - 8.5 + 5 = -1

M_bol = M_V + B.C. = -1 + (-1.7) = -2.7

Log (L*/L) = 0.4 (M_bol - M_bol*) = 0.4(4.63 - (-2.7)) = 0.4(7.33) = 2.93

2 log (R*/R) = log (L*/L) - 4 log (T_eff*/T)

Using the table of Bolometric corrections vs. T_eff we find for B.C. = -1.7:

log (T_eff) = 3.52

And we know log (T) = log (5760) = 3.76

So: 2 log (R*/R) = 2.93 - 4(3.52 - 3.76) = 2.93 + 0.96 = 3.89

log (R*/R) = 3.89/ 2 = 1.946

and: R*/R = 88.3 (Since antilog (1.946) = 88.3)


(a) The apparent discrepancy is the difference in the results:

% diff. = [(109.4 R = 88.3R)/ 109.4 R] x 100% = 19% approx.

(b) Both values suffer from about the same degree of uncertainty, so that a mean value, e.g.:

R_av = ½(109. 4 + 88.3)R

would be the best.

c) The interferometry method has a significant probable error owing to the fact that Beta Pegasi is at the very limit of practical application for the trigonometric parallax distance technique (~ 50 pc). A similar uncertainty also appears in the photometric method, e.g. in the determination of M_V and henc also M_bol, log (L*/L) and R*/R. Thus, there is no appreciable benefit in selecting one method over the other.

3) Consider the stars below and their (B- V) and M_V values:

Rigil Kent : (B - V) = 0.71, M_V = 4.2

Spica: (B - V) = -0.23, and M_V = (-3.1)

Fomalhaut: (B - V) = 0.09 and M_V = 1.9

Suhail: (B - V) = 1.7 and M_V = (-4.3)

a) Find the mass, luminosity and radius of each of these stars.

b) Try to estimate the surface temperature of each of these stars. (Hint: you can use the data from the Table of Bolometric corrections in the previous instalment).


The most expeditious way to solve for this set is to first prepare a calculation table based on the key logs for the assorted relationships. These are: log (M*/M), log (L*/L), 4 log (T*_eff/T_eff) and 2 log (R*/R). The method of obtaining each of the preceding is simply based on computations we've already shown, given the data indicated, e.g. (B - V), M_V. The upper part of the Table presented shows the assorted log computation results. Note that Suhail doesn't have a proper mass value, since the mass-luminosity index isn't valid being off the main sequence.

The lower region of the table shows the assorted mass, luminosity, radius values based on the preceding log table. (E.g. we work out the radius, using the given log results for temperature and luminosity, such as demonstrated in Problems 1,2. Again, Suhail's mass is in question. Note, we can stil obtain a radius and luminosity for it by relying exclusively on the (B - V) and M_V values and making reference to an H-R (Hertzprung -Russell ) diagram to get estimates.

(b) Surface temperatures can be obtained using the Bolometric corrections table (Instalment #8), and referencing the (B - V) to the appropriate log (T_eff). Thus, for Rigil Kent, (B - V) = 0.71 which corresponds to log (T_eff) = 3.73 from the Table. Then taking the antilog, we obtain T_eff = 5370 K. In the case of Spica, (B - V) = -0.23 and we see tabulated values given in the table for -0.20 (4.32) and -0.25 (log T_eff = 4.46), so we interpolate the value for -0.23 (e.g. 3/5 of the scale between -0.20 and -0.25) to get log T_eff = 4.40 or T_eff = 25 120 approx.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Can't We Stop These Foolish Games?

Okay, right now over twelve million of our fellow citizens are still suffering in the wake of the lashing taken from Hurricane Irene. They need money for even obtaining basic necessities, and getting some kind of shelter, not to mention rebuilding of their devastated homes. One thing they don't need is to be made the hostages of political brinkmanship such as we saw in the debt ceiling fracas.

Fortunately for now, the victims of the hurricane disaster, as well as those from the earlier tornadoes, will be able to exhale. This is after a last minute deal was struck and as Dem Sen. Mary Landrieu put it, thanking party leaders for "helping the Democratic Party find the backbone it needed to fight and win this debate". That was, to deliver $3.6 billion in disaster aid without painful, offsetting spending cuts.

But why must the Dems always search for backbones in such altercations with Repukes? Why can't they be ready for fight ALL the time? Know thy enemy, after all.

In truth it never should have to come to this. In times past, when an area of the country was devastated by flood, hurricanes or tornadoes, delivery of financial assistance was assumed and unquestioned. Every American then, such as in the wake of the Category 4 Hurricane Charley that demolished part of parents' home in 2004, understood his or her community could be next.

If then communities went down the selfish, self-protective path of "Each community on its own" - then we'd surely be left with a miasma of wrecked townships, towns and cities. Because no one community would have the resources available to get back on its own. Hence the need for a federal assist.

Now, in these hyper-austerity times, that assistance has come grudgingly. Every small request for help is now met with the embedded mentality of 'Show me what you'll cut first!' Yet NO one, not one of these spending cut mavens seeks or demands the military or Pentagon offset its bloated budgets. This is an abnormality that can no longer be tolerated, and massive populist protests and demands must insist the militarists pay their fair share too. They can't continue to use the national credit card for their useless wars, occupations and expensive toys.

The good news then? House Reeps have postponed their demand over whether billions in disaaster relief must be made up for elsewhere in the budget (Hint, Reepies: Take it from the Pentagon!) The bad news is that in a matter of weeks the battles will renew, especially as the Tea Party-driven 'pukes are still insisting on mammoth spending cuts this fall. Never mind we're in an extreme, low aggregate demand fiscal environment, which essentially begs for government stimulus. The Teepees would rather drive us permanently into a depression, and blame it on Obama.

Again, it's sad to see what this country has come to. From a time when we were all in this together, to a harsh present where the byword is "Every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost".

A Free Country? Only Rhetorically!

"Jeebus! All I did is copy a picture of Smokey the Bear and they give me Ten YEARS!"

Too Many 'Muricans have this pie-eyed delusion they inhabit a "free country". Perhaps it's a result of getting bombarded daily by the corporate-paid pols with words like "freedom" and "liberty" or maybe it's the codswallop being fed them for the reason we're in Afghanistan, i.e. that all those troops are "fighting for our freedoms". Who can say?

But, if that's truly the case, then riddle me this: How come congress is slowly but surely retrenching all the most basic freedoms and no one, or barely anyone, is paying any attention?

Let's even forget for the moment that habeas corpus, one of the most cherished principles of jurisprudence, was basically repealed under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. But an even more (if that can be conceived) insidious threat to Americans' freedoms is the congressional attack on the other great principle known as 'Mens rea' - embodying the notion that a citizen can't be held accountable for an alleged crime unless he knows exactly what he's done and moreover that his accusers have established his malicious intent.

But according to an article appearing on the front page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal ('As Federal Crimes List Grows, Threshold for Guilt Declines') tens of millions may have real reason for worry and our troops may well be placing their lives on the line for nothing. Why, because today "there are more than 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, plus thousands more embedded in federal regulations", most of which have been added to the penal code since 1970.

Are we freeer because of these additions? Hardly! And certainly not when 1 in every 100 Americans is locked up and 2 of every 100 is under some control by the penal process- whether on parole, probation, jailed or under bond. Indeed, more Americans are locked up per capita than in Russia and China combined.

By comparison, and for historical perspective, back in 1790 only 20 federal crimes were listed in the then federal statutes. So what happened? Is it really true that the evolved complexity of our civilization has made necessary nearly 225 times more laws? Or is it more realistically a case that because our congress critters literally believe they are "law makers" they actually have to make them each and every year, irrespective of quality or the effect on Americans' liberty?

Let's cite another historical perspective, that of mens rea under English common law, which has also been a staple of American jurisprudence since the founding of the Republic. By this venerable standard, prosecutors not only had to demonstrate a crime was committed but also had to show intent. Thus, it wasn't enough to call "Thief!" on a person with some item or property, the prosecution had to show the item belonged to another person.

But that standard now seems to have been eroded by an over-active set of legislators. But don't take my word.

As the WSJ piece notes, "one controversial new law can hold animal rights activists responsible for any protests that cause the target of their attention to be fearful, regardless of the protestors' intentions".

This 'Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act' is some serious shit! Thus, if those who oppose the fur trade happen to show up at some Gala in Hollywood or New York City, and toss pig's blood onto a mink stole to demonstrate, then they can be hauled off to spend five years in federal prison if they caused any "fear" in their targets. Hell, they can be found liable if they even hold a sign up (never mind any direct overt actions) that shows a baby seal being clubbed, or whatever. If said sign arouses fear, they have had it under the new guidelines. Of course, if their target knows the law, then they can easily game it and discover their "fear" in assorted altercations with protestors.

Advantage poor widdo corporate "Target" and game over for protestors...and "free speech".

Andy Weissman, a New York attorney, is quoted in the piece as saying that "requiring the government to prove a willful violation is a big protection for all of us". Well, no shit, Sherlock! I mean if intent or malice of forethought is dispensed with, anyone can be locked up on any pretense or fiction that may emerge in a prosecutor's mind.

And how bad is the erosion? According to the Journal's analysis (ibid.), "more than 40% of non-violent offenses created or amended during two recent Congresses, the 109th and the 111th (the latter of which ran through last year) had weak mens rea requirements at best.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, usually no friend of liberals or libertarians, recently lobbed a volley at Congress, tasking them for "passing too many fuzzy or imprecise laws" and leaving the details to be sorted out by higher courts. In most cases, the congress critters deliberately punted on the mens rea protections to make their work loads lighter, just as they have done regularly when allowing lobbyists to write their legislation for them (as was the case with the 2003 Medicare law that introduced a prescription drug "benefit"- that was laden with corporate welfare.)

Jay Apperson, a former Chief Counsel for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, said the erosion of mens rea is partly due to the "hit or miss way American legislation is written". Apperson adds (ibid.) that most members "don't think about it. Not out of a malevolent motive, they just don't think about it".

Well, maybe they damned well should! They are toying with people's -citizens' lives here and those same citizens are the ones who pay their salaries. If they won't or can't do their jobs properly, which entails vetting legislation - especially to do with criminal law- properly, then they should vacate those offices!

It's better they do that than to undermine citizens' actual freedoms while troops are overseas allegedly "fighting for them". Maybe those troops need to keep a closer eye on our own congress critters, rather than the Taliban!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Class Consciousness or False Consciousness?

It is interesting that while Republicans rage on about Obama's "class warfare", Americans (to their detriment) remain one of the least class conscious people on the planet. While perpetual mollifiers and PR soothe sayers may regard this as a good thing, preserving "domestic tranquility" and all, in reality it allows lower class Americans to be perpetually exploited in a veritable real class war. (Indeed, by mistake or otherwise, a memorable term appeared in The Washington Post and other Neo-liberal, pro free-market news papers some 12 years ago, which few may have caught at the time: "Overclass". )

These were reputed to be the information domain's movers and shakers, whose first task was to ensure the herd keeps quiet, keeps its nose to the work grindstone (preferably working 2 jobs to make ends meet), and doesn't make any trouble based on pretensions that they deserve better lives, or ...god forbid....a LIVING wage and less income inequality! Most of their domain is well know: information software, social networks, net searches, and in the larger informational sphere: government, corporate public relations, marketing and advertising as well as refining PR to direct the herd...errr...masses. Thus, did we later discover the massive ways in which PR was used from January -March, 2003, to drumbeat the herd into accepting Bush's Iraq invasion. By the date, March 15th, the most mind gutted people on the planet were prepared to swear on a stack of bibles that Saddam was the next thing to Adolf Hitler.

And so it goes, and so it went.

In terms of class issues, Americans have typically been bamboozled mentally by the same suspects, the PR mavens of the marketing-information empires to try to stamp out any meager consciousness of class or class difference. Instead, we're perpetually fed the "Horatio Alger" bollocks (as even former Dem CA Rep Jane Harmon did on Bill Maher's Real Time last Friday night) to try to sow specious optimism that anyone can make it into the elite class of billionaries if they really tried. Right, and anyone can be the first American on Mars, if they really tried. They could construct a superior ion-engine device to anything NASA might have on the drawing boards...and take off!

Fortunately Bill, proper cynic and realist that he is, put her codswallop in its place. But the truth is that these classless society- promoting brainwashers have done their jobs well.

As a first test, ask ten Americans off the street what class they belong to. Nine of ten, or more likely all ten, will say "middle class" - even if unemployed for a year, on food stamps, and about to have home foreclosed.

A more concrete study of class in relation to income level was a (2003) survey conducted by The Economic Policy Institute. It asked generally where people thought they were in the economic spectrum: upper 1% (earning $320,000 year or more); upper 5% (> $80,000) or where?

A full 19% in this random survey claimed they were in the privileged class of the top 1%. A virtual statistical impossibility in any random study.

In fact, internal survey cross-check questions on income category showed many of these working at a little above minimum wage, and even the highest were at barely $44,000/yr. Nowhere near the 1% threshold! Other commentators on this study (e.g. Froma Harrop, Ellen Goodman) pointed to this ignorance as a basis for supporting such crap as the Bush tax cuts, which overwhelmingly favored the rich elites. Thus:

A) They didn't know where they themselves fit, and indeed inflated their wealth and positions and

B) they actually believed they'd be millionaires one fine day and be able to partake of the tax cuts. (Or 'death tax' benefits).

In fact, they were deliriously out of touch with reality. As author Michael Parenti has noted ('The Dirty Truth') 94% of all wealth comes by way of inheritance, not paid work. So, they are fooling themselves. Unless they have a rich elder relative hidden away with a vast fortune, they'd be better off thinking they may have to work until they're 70 or 80 and even that may not be enough to stay in place.

But sadly, the Overclass and its minions (including the GOP Party, a basic "sub-division") consistently get working class folk to act against their own vested interests by distracting them with moralism ploys - raising "moral" issues like abortion, porn, gays and what not - just long enough so that many working class voters keep they're eyes off the ball when election day arrives. Then these workers wonder why they never get ahead.

How do the Overclass propagandizers succeed in sowing false consciousness, which is to say a persistently class-less or false equality world view at variance with reality? First we need to know what false consciousness is.

'False consciousness' is the term given to a false information system that's been absorbed in part or whole, osmotically or via direct mental ingestion, by the majority of a population. It has specific uses in our Corporatocracy to mislead a population about how things actually work, and also on the basic economic and other data which are used to formulate policies. I touched on a number of the inherent economic lies and disinformation ploys in my earlier blog:

But realize these are just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, the effects of language and PR debasement of reality extend to the whole political system which can best be described as one of legalized, corporate-fuelled bribery. While citizens do get to vote every two or four years, in reality it's only to choose their next set of Overseers, errr....Overclass masters. Once the votes are in, the true powers - the corporate ones- take over and direct (via their money and lobbyists) the real choices and possiblities. Any pol can thus say "Yes, we can!" all he or she wants, but the truth is that it's more: "Yes we can, IF the corporations and the wealthy Overclass approve!"

The effect of this verbal spooge-fest is that 'democracy' is the refrain and rhetoric, but corporate dictatorship the reality. Similarly, for the economy, the 'free market' is the rhetoric, but controlled markets the reality and so on. If their understanding can be obfuscated, and attention deflected to specious distractions and titillation, then the people can be disempowered, and even cooperate in their own economic (or social, political) subjugation. For example, they can do this by demanding spending cuts when the economic environment itself calls for a massive infusion of new the government.

The tactic, therefore, is to blind the bulk of the populace, and exert propaganda (PR) pressure so they willingly (if possible) cooperate in their own destruction. That is to say, vote against their own economic self-interest even as they are prompted to attack those who would fight for it. Thus, the Overclass wins in two way: fomenting discord and polarity in the populace so they're unable to present a united front against their oppressors, and cause one faction of the populace to consistently vote for those who will degrade and debase the economic positions of the other half.

As Carl Jensen once put it in a piece for Project Censored (1998. pp. 12-13):

"More than a half century ago Hitler said the masses take a long time to understand and remember, thus it is necessary to repeat the message time and time and time again - the public must be conditioned to accept the claims that are made no matter how outrageous or false those claims may be. We as a society, appear to have been well-conditioned to accept any number of claims regardless of how detrimental they are to our environment or to our own well being."

But most Americans may be surprised to find out that the methods Hitler and Co. used were actually designed and tested by an American many years ealier. Edward Bernays, in fact, developed the first, full scale war-marketing program for Woodrow Wilson’s “Committee on Public Information”, for the sole purpose of driving American public opinion into World War I participation to ‘make the world safe for democracy’.

Primed by this first success, Bernays moved on. In 1923 he published what became the official manifesto of all future public relations ‘Crystallizing Public Opinion’. The basic goal was to drumbeat ‘the masses’ into a homogeneous and consistent consent, but do it without their awareness. The key was to frame the content in such a way the person would believe it to be ‘common sense’, or ‘patriotism’ and then accept it as the logical outcome of his own thoughts and reason.

The sheep was still a sheep, but believed s/he was an independent-thinking sheep, one of millions in the vast constellation of sheeple. Five years later appeared Bernays’ ‘Propaganda’ whose principles were adopted wholesale by Josef Goebbels and Leni Reifenstahl during Hitler's Reich. It was in this book that the master betrayed his intents if ever there was any doubt before:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Ah yes, the Overclass!

And, of course, it continues today on multiple fronts as they wage endless class war to make sure the lower classes don't have a clue, and if they somehow get one - they'll be shouted down by their false conscious peers. What are some of the ways false consciousness is making headways right now?

1) Depicting the poor as dead weights on the "industrious" and hence the true source for the economy's plight. (Some Reeps even suggesting income taxes on the poor be raised, since the rich "pay most of them" -more horse shit)

2) Depicting the unemployed as "slackers" who are simply too picky about the jobs that are available and hence undeserving of any further extensions of benefits, even for their kids.

3) Portraying those without any health care as choosing that condition.

"After all, when you visit their homes you do see cable tvs and air conditioning! So they could buy insurance if they wanted!"

Yeah, right, assholes! Never mind the tv they're watching costs maybe $500 at Walmart and they can entertain themselves for YEARS, while they would have to pay about $2,200 a month for insurance for themselves and family...IF they can get it and have no pre-existing conditions.

4) The poor and faltering middle class lack the moral character to succeed. If they had that character they'd prosper.

Of course, when you look at the characters of the majority of the wealthy overclass, most are scum and indeed, their proportion of charitable giving is even lower than average Americans who can barely find enough food in their fridges.

5) Higher taxes will thwart the job creators!

The last one I've skewered multiple times. The fact is: a) they don't "create jobs" - they dispatch them to India or China to make more profits because labor is cheaper and benefits are nil. And b) if they've already shipped off all the work they can, they use the rest of their ill-gotten gains to buy blood diamonds, furs, yachts, new Bentleys or invest in Hedge funds.

Fortunately, there is a voice of truth and an antidote to this poisoned PR speaking out, and that is Elizabeth Warren - now running for Scott Brown's Repuke seat in MA. What she has been saying about the richest Americans is something every Democratic pol worth his salt needs to emulate as a narrative. That is, the rich only got to where they are at the behest and support of the rest of us! It was our fuckin' taxes that paid for the excellent highways so they could move their wares to any point in the nation. It's our local taxes that pay for the police and firemen to offer protection to them, so the most oppressed (as in other nations, like Congo or Zaire) don't burn down their inventories and buildings. It's our taxes that also pay for the hospitals that keep them healthy so they can make their next billion.

They might want to think of all that the next time they're inclined to go off half-cocked with the claim they're taxed too much!

Tackling Intermediate Astronomy Problems (9)

In the previous instalment we saw how the simple stellar properties of mass and luminosity (intrinsic brightness) can be obtained. Now, we will extend that to see how a star's radius and effective temperature can be found. Once again, all of these properties have been enabled by work on binary stars - which allows mass and luminosity (for main sequence or stable stars) and then further basic extrapolations from these.

Stellar mass and radius essentially come about by relating the star's luminosity (L') to its surface area (A = 4π R^2) and simultaneously to its total energy output (E = sT'_eff^4), where T'_eff is the surface or effective stellar temperature, and s is the Stefan -Bolztmann constant. When the two are combined, the stellar luminosity can be expressed as:

L' = 4π R'^2 (sT_eff^4)

Or in simple logarithmic form (in terms of the solar values L, T, and R):

Log (L'/L) = 4 Log (T'_eff/T_eff) + 2 Log (R'/R)

Where T_eff = 5760 K or the Sun's effective (surface) temperature.

Example Problem:

If the star Sirius A has a mass of approximately twice the Sun's and an effective temperature of 10 000 K, find its radius in terms of the Sun's and also the actual value if the Sun's is R = 6.9 x 10^5 km.


Using the mass luminosity law from before, then if (M'/M) = 2:

Log (L'/L) = 3.5 Log (2) = 3.5 (0.301) = 1.053


Log (L'/L) = 1.053 = 4 Log (T'_eff/T_eff) + 2 Log (R'/R)

Or, for radius:

2 Log (R'/R) = 1.053 - 4 [Log(T'_eff/ LogT_eff)]


2 Log (R'/R) = 1.053 - 4 (Log 10000 - Log 5760)= 1.053 - 4(4.00 - 3.76)

2 Log (R'/R) = 1.053 - 0.960 = 0.930

Log (R'/R) = (0.930)/2 = 0.0465

and taking antilogs:

R'/R = 1.11 or R' = 1.11 R

So Sirius A's radius is about 1.1 times the Sun's


R' = 1.1 (6.9 x 10^5 km) = 7.6 x 10^5 km

It's well to add a cautionary note here that the radius worked out using the preceding nethod is not the same as that derived from the absolute bolometric magnitude of Sirius.

To show this, note the absolute visual magnitude of Sirius is +1.4 and the bolometric correction corresponding to it is (-0.56). Then the absolute bolometric magnitude is:

M_bol* = M_V + B.C. = +1.4 + (-0.56) = +0.84

The luminosity in terms of the Sun's is then:

Log (L'/L) = 0.4 (M_bol - M_bol*)

Log (L'/L) = 0.4 (4.63 - 0.84) = 1.516


2 Log (R'/R) = 1.516 - 0.960 = 0.556


Log (R'/R) = 0.556/2 = 0.278

Antilog (0.278) = 1.9 (approx.)

Or: R' = 1.9 R

Or, 1.9 times the solar radius.

Which is correct? In fact, both values have uncertainties but the latter value is at least closer to the actual radius, based as it is on more accurate photometric measurements. Besides, the mass-luminosity law (as we saw) is an empirical relationship and also varies over the main sequence (e.g. depending on temperature and luminosity) so we can expect it to differ when used for stars on the upper main sequence, compared to the lower. These refinements, of course, are taken into account in advanced astrophysics- astronomy, but since we are working at an intermediate level, we don't do so here.

Observationally, one method of measuring a star's radius is by using an interferometer such as shown in the sketch. This employs the principle of interference to obtain an angular measurment for the star's apparent diameter (e.g. in arcsec or "). If the distance to the star is known then one can get the radius of the star R* in terms of the Sun's R, by using:

R*/R = (d* a*")/ (d a")

In the foregoing, a" denotes the apparent angular diamter of the sun (1920"), d is the Sun's distance (1 AU = 1.495 x 10^8 km), d* is the star's distance and a*" is the star's apparent angular diameter.

Example Problem:

Find the radius of the star Regulus if its distance is 24 pc and its apparent angular diameter from interferometer measurements is 0."0018.


First convert the star's distance to AU to be able to conform with d (= 1 AU)

We know that 200,000 AU = 1 pc, then:

24 pc x (2 x 10^5 AU/pc) = 48 x 10^5 AU


R*/R = (4.8 x 10^6) x (0."0018/ 1920") = (8640/1920) = 4.5

So: R* = 4.5 R

So Regular has a radius 4½ times that of the Sun.

Other problems:

1) Find the radius of the star Alhena from Problem (1) in the previous problem set. (Use the same data available)

2) Use two different techniques to arrive at the radius of the star Beta Pegasi, which lies at a distance of 50 pc and has: (B - V) = +1.7 and m_v = 2.5. Interferometry obtains the apparent angular diameter as 0."021.

a) What is the apparent discrepancy (as a percentage) in the two values obtained?

b) Account for these discrepancies.

c) Which value, if any, would you be inclined to assign as having greater accuracy?

3) Consider the stars below and their (B- V) and M_V values:

Rigil Kent : (B - V) = 0.71, M_V = 4.2

Spica: (B - V) = -0.23, and M_V = (-3.1)

Fomalhaut: (B - V) = 0.09 and M_V = 1.9

Suhail: (B - V) = 1.7 and M_V = (-4.3)

a) Find the mass, luminosity and radius of each of these stars.

b) Try to estimate the surface temperature of each of these stars. (Hint: you can use the data from the Table of Bolometric corrections in the previous instalment).

Monday, September 26, 2011

More Reasons to Resist the Medical Pill Pushers

In a previous blog:

I noted the dangers of statin drugs in being over-prescribed (often in too high an initial dosage) as well as over-hyped. I also cited a book by Jay S. Cohen, M.D. ('Statin Drugs and Their Natural Alternatives', Square One Publishers, 2005) enumerating and describing all the downsides, including:

- Statin -triggered muscle pain , which can lead to more (anti-inflammatory) meds to correct it

- muscle breakdown (leading to kidney damage since broken down muscle proteins end up being absorbed)

- liver damage, sometimes leading to the need for a liver transplant

- Statin-related memory deficits which can sometimes be so severe they can mimic Alzheimer's symptoms ( In one case, a woman's language was so totally inchoate that when she meant to ask: 'Please pass the bread', it came out: 'Please pass that elephant'!)

- Disposition to develop polyneuropathy or peripheral nerve damage that produces numbness, tingling, pain and weakness in the limbs

All of these were documented in the referenced book, and dose-age related as observed by the author:

"Most side effects are dose-related , so preventing side effects means starting low and going slow, which is particularly important in seniors. Indeed, despite some of its questionable decisions, the FDA agrees in principle"

Further backed up by my other citations from R.D. Williams, writing in FDA Consumer Magazine (Sept.-Oct. 1997, 'Medications in Older Adults'):

"There is evidence that older adults tend to be more sensitive to drugs than younger adults, due to their generally slower metabolisms and organ functions. The old adage....'start low and go slow' applies especially to the elderly".

Sadly, too many physicians - especially primary care- are still too extensively hostages to the Big Phrma drug pushers, and accept samples as well as other perks to push these meds on patients that may not need them. The physicians themselves, often don't realize many patients (especially older) may be medication-sensitive and have severe reactions when ordered to take the prescribed dose printed on the bottle. This is often because the docs are too often abysmally ignorant, or as Cohen notes:

"Doctors are taught to trust the information they receive and to distrust information from non-mainstream sources, especially if it is anecdotal or subjective. They are concerned that under-dosing can cause ineffective treatment. Most doctors have not seen much, if any, of the low dose data. Drug companies are their main source of information."

In other words, even intelligent and knowledgeable patients may often be put on the defensive and be forced to formulate coherent and consistent arguments to ward off a given doc's med pushing. This also was reinforced in a WSJ piece ('Designing a Smarter Patient', Sept. 24-15, p. C3) wherin one fifty-plus year old nursing assistant had to fend off her doc trying to push a statin pill on her by parroting the known bogus factoid that

"by taking a statin pill you will reduce your risk of a heart attack over the next ten years by as much as 30%".

But when the suspicious patient ran the numbers and actually read the associated literature, she wasn't too impressed. In fact, what the actual stats showed was that if there was a potential risk sample pool of 300 patients (say to get a heart attack in 10 yrs.), 2 out of 3 in that sample (the two being non-statin takers) would, but the statin -taking third would probably escape. Think about that!

So, for that minute benefit, one is being asked to take a drug - often in the wrong dose for him or her- that can lead to kidney or liver damage, as well as polyneuropathy, memory loss and joint inflammation requiring more meds to correct! In addition, as Cohen observes in his book, the actual side effects are usually under-documented and underestimated by the drug manufacturers. He refers (p. 86) to the The (Physician's) Prescription Drug Reference (PDR) and points out:

"There is no routine, expeditious method for incorporating (side effects) information into package inserts or the PDR unless it is very serious or lethal. Thus, the lists in package inserts and the PDR are usually incomplete and outdated"

Thus, the potential for liver damage may often be noted in possible side effects for statins, but not that for kidney damage and patients have to go on thrice-weekly dialysis if they take too high a dose for too long. In the meantime, mostly unread doctors push these meds by parroting drug statistics disinfo, while not grasping what the numbers mean.

Of course, one of the worst culprits also in this miasma of misinformation and medical drug pushing is the PhrMa adverts that regularly pepper TV screens, brainwashing stupefied onlookers into demanding assorted drugs from their docs. (The AARP Bulletin, in piece several years ago, estimated that up to one-third of the drug companies' profits go exclusively toward advertising and if it was disallowed drug costs might go down by the same proportion)

Thus, these advertisements - which "are designed to tell a compelling tale" as opposed to documenting medical facts- have become the biggest unchecked source for flawed or spurious stats, especially on the statins. The WSJ piece just cited, for example, referred to how the nursing assistant (after her doc's efforts to get her on statins) made it a point just to scan the TV adverts for statin ads. She was flummoxed to discover that they seemed to be everywhere. Also, in none of those ads, or in the doctors' office itself, was it remotely mentioned that the more immediate risk for heart attack is not high cholesterol per se, but a high C-reactive protein value - which must be ascertained by the test for CRP (which is, of course, much more expensive than the standard blood panels for cholesterol).

Confirming the bombardment of American audiences with medical drug ads, in 2007 the UCLA Medical Center did a study of drug ads broadcast on national networks. They found that the average viewer sees over 1,000 prescription drug ads in the space of a year. As the WSJ article notes: "That's 16 hours all told, more time than the average patient spends with her primary care physician."

Is it any wonder then, as the WSJ article reports, "every $1,000 spent on advertising translates into 24 new prescriptions"

BUT, what fraction of those 24 are really needed, as opposed to being merely wanted because of being seen on the TV ad? Most estimates come to about 3-4 (based on Cohen's data, as in his appendices). In other words, nearly 83% of the prescription drugs being taken based on drug advert exposure are unnecessary. Most patients who request the drugs are merely victims of what we call the "Gruen Transfer", a well-documented phenomenon with the potential to subvert higher brain centers during an advertising exposure. (See Douglass Rushkoff's book, Coercion, which describes this form of brainwashing in detail)

This is also the basis for a critical adjoint health issue: because if a person takes one med, he or she is likely to take others in a "domino drug" effect to ward off side effects, e.g. such as inflammation. One then risks any given drug interacting with the others, or with certain foods. (For example, those taking ED drugs are warned not to take any drugs with nitrite chemicals in them.) The risk for complications from these drug interactions thus exponentiates, the more drugs are taken in concert. Since the average post 60-year old American takes no less than 9 prescriptions (according to an AARP finding in their last AARP Magazine), there is an enormous risk for adverse effects.

And up to now we haven't even mentioned the costs! Truth be told, more than three-fourths of our current medical inflation is due to rising prescription drug costs when most med-taking translates into delivering very little documented benefit for the side effects (see, e.g. Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, by Shannon Brownlee, 2007)

In the 1980s there was an anti-drug campaign run by Nancy Reagan entitled 'Just Say No'. It is time now - long past- that Americans reinvigorate that campaign and just say NO! to the Phrma medical drug pushers and the physicians that often unknowingly abet them!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More Questions Concerning Those Superluminal Neutrinos

Readers will recall in my previous blog to do with the claimed CERN detection of superluminal or faster-than the speed of light neutrinos, I showed that if this were so then it would require the enhanced mass (i.e. over the rest mass) to be imaginary, as well as the associated kinetic energy. See, e.g. the very end of:

But much more plausible than that the CERN team actually created imaginary mass neutrinos, is that they made assorted systematic or other errors they didn't detect. One can almost call this a variant of David Hume's "miracle" principle:

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish."

In this case we need only substitute the words "fantastic claim" for "miracle". Then by the Hume test one would ask whether the prosaic claim of an experimental error is more or less fantastic than the discovery of superluminal neutrinos violating a centuries old postulate that holds up most of modern physics? The answer, of course, is that the experimental error would be less fantastic and hence the more probable explanation.

Now, to be sure, the researchers insist they left no stone uncovered in their desire to eliminate any errors: using the GPS or global positioning system they measured the distance accurately to within 8 inches, they factored in the rotation of the Earth, and even stopped traffic in a tunnel through the Gran Sasso mountain in order to calibrate their instruments.

They made it certainly sound like they dealt with all conceivable errors, but have they? Consider first that small perturbative glitches could have transpired due to anomalous differences in the Earth's crust over the time the experiment was conducted. Thus, a tiny deviation in the actual shape of the Earth itself (based on a science called Geodesy) could have incepted the 60 ns difference in speeds.

In geodetic refinements of shape (which also have a bearing on the value of g, the acceleration of gravity) a first correction is made relative to the initiating station. (E.g. see Spherical And Practical Astronomy Applied to Geodesy, 1968, p.
471). In other words, a first correction will be made such that (ibid.):

delta φ = φ - φ(T) = -H/g' (@g'/@x) cosec (1")

where H is the orthometric height of the observation station, and g' and @g'/@x (a partial derivative) are the gravity and the north component of its horizontal gradient, respectively at the initializing station.

A secondary correction is then made to the eccentricity of the station. The correction is to be applied when the latitude is observed off the reference station, and thus reduced the observed latitude to that of the reference station. For example, in the lower diagram, let P be the reference station and P' the eccentric station where the latitude φ(T) is observed. If the distance PP' is d, and the azimuth of the line is A, the identity for the length of the applicable meridian arc is:

R (delta φ) sin (1") = d cos (A)

and hence the correction:

delta φ = φ - φ(T) = d/ (R sin (1") x [cos (A)]

where R is the mean radius of the Earth.

If these corrections aren't factored in, then the timing error could amount to as much as d{e(t)} ~ 6 x 10^-8 s or a factor of ten in excess of the 60 nanoseconds of difference in the speed of the neutrinos. In that case, the CERN team's results would be found insignificant.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Solutions to Intermediate Astronomy (8)

The Problems again:

1)The apparent V-band (filter) magnitude of a star is 8.72, and it requires a bolometric correction of -0.48. Find the apparent bolometric magnitude of the star. (Hint: Apparent bolometric magnitudes are obtained in an analogous way to the absolute forms)


m_V= 8.72

m_bol* = m_V + B.C. = 8.72 + (-0.48) = 8.24

Hence, m_bol* = +8.24

(2) A star has a color index (B - V) of +1.0 and its apparent B-band magnitude is 6.4. The corresponding bolometric correction is - 0.5. Find the apparent bolometric magnitude of the star.


m_B = 6.4 and (B - V) = (m_B - m_V) = 1.0

Then: m_V = m_B - 1.0 = 6.4 - 1.0 = 5.4

m_bol* = m_V + B.C.

m_bol*= 5.4 + (-0.5) = +4.9

(3) The star Alhena in the constellation Gemini is at a distance of 30 pc. If it has (B - V) = 0.00, and m_V = +1.93, find the apparent B-band magnitude. Also find the absolute visual magnitude and the absolute bolometric magnitude of the star. Find the luminosity of Alhena in terms of the solar value.


(B - V) = m_B - m_V = 0.00

Then if m_V = +1.93, then m_B = +1.93.

The absolute visual magnitude M_V = m_V - 5 log D + 5

D = 30 pc, so:

M_V = 1.93 + 5 log (30) + 5 = 1.93 - 5(1.477) + 5

M_V = 1.93 - 7.39 + 5 = -0.46

The absolute bolometric magnitude is:

M_bol* = M_V + B.C.

where B.C. = 0.72 (from the table) so:

M_bol = -0.46 + (-0.72) = -1.18

The Luminosity L' is obtained using:

Log (L'/L) = 0.4 (M_bol - M_bol*)

where M_bol (Sun's) = 4.63


Log (L'/L) = 0.4 (4.63 - (-1.18)) = 0.4 (5.81) = 2.32

Antilog (2.32) = 209 approx.


L'/L = 209 and L' = 209 L

or 209 times the solar luminosity.

"Religious Apathy"? How About Human Apathy?

As readers will have detected in going through many previous blogs - mainly from last year and the year before - I am no big fan of religion, especially in any organized form. I believe that even if one is firmly inclined to seek a deity or some all-powerful universal force, he doesn't require a religion to do so. Or, to put it in the words of the great Psychologist, Carl Jung:

"'Religion is a defense against the experience of God."

This is also why I take a dim view of assorted religious figures marching into various countries and making general pronouncements on the benefits of either their own pathetic belief systems or of the supposed benefits of religions in general. My operative mental dynamic is simple: Until you have demonstrated that you've cleaned up your own damned house, don't come into my house and try to tell me about all of its defects, or flaws. I will kick your ass out.

Such is the case with Pope Benedict (aka Joseph Ratzinger, the former head of The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or Inquisition as known in history) embarking on his recent tour of secular Germany and trying to dictate to Germans what's best for them. I have news for the pontiff: he can save his breath and invest more energy, time and attention in how to prevent more of his pederast priests from defiling young, innocent children! (Indeed, in the eyes of many, he didn't do enough when he was the head of the old Inquisition, as the Catholic sex abuse crisis spread during John Paul II's reign).

Now, in Germany, this Pope had the unmitigated gall and nerve to spout:

"We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society. Religion is one of these foundations for a successful social life"

All of which is total, unadulterated bollocks! In fact, the indifference of wide swatches of educated people to religion is predicated simply on the fact that educational attainment and level is inversely proportional to the willingness to believe in fairy stories such as promoted by religion. When one has developed critical thinking skills, especially in science, he will easily be able to see that most of religion is a fabrication and no cost is incurred by dismissing it - any more than dismissing or ignoring astrology, or any other pseudo-system.

As for being a 'foundation for a successful social life', hardly! As SKEPTIC magazine (Vol. 15, No. 2, 2009), authors Robert Kurtzban and Peter Descioloi, point out ('Why Religions Turn Oppressive'):

"Religions are very concerned with people’s thoughts and behavior, seeking to impose control not only on their own member, but on non-members. The long gruesome history of persecutions for heresy and blasphemy attests to this concern”.

In other words, if anything, religions are ANTI-social and inhuman! The fact their dynamic is predicated on mental control discloses that the only "social life" of merit to them is the one they can control. If they were truly invested in humanity and social life, for example, they wouldn't meddle so officiously in people's affairs or bedroom matters.

The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has seen fit to try and tell Catholic couples (since the 1960s) that they can't practice artificial contraception without committing grave sin. In other words, whether they can afford more kids or not, they will either have to have them (or take the high risk of such) or not engage in sex, period. You call this promoting "social life"? How so? How so when a Catholic family that can barely make ends meet increases to the size of 8 or 9 kids most of whom can't be fed properly, or clothed. This is barbaric, not social!

This was what led me ultimately to leave the Catholic Church behind, because I maintained they had no goddamned business telling me that I had to have kids, or was forbidden to use artificial birth control. I told them, 'Hasta la vista', became an atheist, and never looked back. As I once informed my highly Catholic mother: "Catholicism became like a child's confirmation suit which I had to discard as an adult."

My German sister-in -law, Krimhilde, did likewise, because she found the R.C. Church too concerned with small issues, too stultifying to her own spiritual growth, and too hypocritical. She left to became an Eckist.

And so it goes.

Meanwhile, the best testimonial of all to leaving religion behind may be in the statistics delivered in the article in Free Inquiry, Vol. 29, No. 1 Jan. 2009 (p. 24), noting the key index for inequality- the Gini coefficient- is lowest in the advanced secular nations compared to the highly religious ones. In terms of practical applications, a Gini index of zero would denote perfect equality or everyone receiving the same pay. A Gini of 1.0 would be perfect inequality or 1 guy collecting all the marbles. In terms of western industrial nations, most European nations (e.g. Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands) and Canada tend to have Gini indices between 24 and 36, the United States' is currently at 48).

The primary finding that runs likes a thread through all this research is that religious belief and activity is a superficial coping mechanism easily cast aside when the majority in a given society enjoy true (not faux) democratic government, and a secure, comfortable and middle class lifestyle. Those who claim the universality of religion or that it is integral to human nature commit the basic selection effects error, in that they conveniently overlook the data showing broad secularization of western Europe, Anglo-Australia, Canada and other developed nations.

Indeed, in 18 out of 19 of the most prosperous democracies the share of population reporting absolute belief in a god or gods ranges from between as little as a few percent to at most one-half. In some of these nations, mainly in Western Europe, two-thirds proclaim to be either atheists or agnostics.

Meanwhile the U.S., with its historically lower taxes, fewer public safety nets, and more poor than rich (by more than a 25:1 ratio) displays a greater disparity than any other nation. Moreover, it displays a much greater social pathology. Understanding the basis of this pathology doesn’t take a genius. At every point of political contention now, one can hear the Religious screaming that the people "must depend on God, not Government". But what has this wrought?
Well, a “re-balancing” of budgets on the backs of the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the homeless. The results are predictable: loss of health care, loss of jobs and loss of overall security, as well as increase in drug use, violent criminality and prostitution.

British philosopher Nicholas Humphrey, in his superb book Soul Searching, has an excellent explanation for this clinging to God and religion in the U.S.

"Religions and quasi-religions offer remarkably effective medicine for orphaned minds. As Jung said: 'They give a human being that sense of wholeness, which he had as a child, but which he loses when he leaves his parents"

But the key fact which all secularists know, is that when people mature and develop minds of their own they no longer need parents - or religions - to dictate to them how to live their lives.

Thus, the grown up is more concerned in his world with the problem of human apathy - such as to the plight of the poor, growing economic inequality and increased military spending to bankrupt a nation- than "religious apathy".

The DOW Has Only Begun to Fall - And the Fed is "Out of Bullets"

This last week provided a sobering reminder of the parlous economic straits that persist in the U.S. and around the world, even as the DOW lost 6.4% of its value with selloffs approaching panic level. Even as the DOW plummeted, investors fleeing equities rushed into U.S. Treasury bonds for their perceived safety. The resulting increased price, because of much increased demand, pushed their yields to the lowest values since the 1950s. Even gold and silver fell (silver more than gold) as desperate investors attempted to seek out anything of value. Reflecting the trading anxiety, total trading volume on the NYSE hit 6.95 million shares on Thrusday, the largest since the debt crisis frenzy of Aug. 11.

Meanwhile, the Fed and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, are hoping to push another round of stimulus by purchasing another $600b of longer maturity bonds. They also are weighing allowing interest rates to even go lower than the current pathetic ¼ %. Most on the Street don't buy it and are convinced the Federal Reserve is now effectively punchless as demonstrated by Friday's stock drop. According to Bob Worthington, President of Hatteras Funds and quoted in yesterday's WSJ (p. A3):

"It's clear the Fed is out of bullets."

He is quite correct.

Nothing the Fed can do at this stage will make a dime's worth of difference, and won't make banks lend any more money, or people spend more. Nor will it make companies use part of their stashed (in cash) $2.2 trillion to create jobs. In other words, we are headed for a "lost decade" or worse, just like Japan, unless we change our ways. And by that I mean alter the toxic political tableux to free government to do what it needs to do in a barely viable aggregate demand environment.

The reason is that what we're seeing is what Japan macro-economic expert Robert Koo (also an expert on the Japanese deflation of the 1990s leading to their lost decade) calls a "balance sheet recession" and you cannot deal with it in the same way as a typical cyclical recession. Because the balance sheet form features general low aggregate demand in concert with a nation's high deficits, the first reaction is generally to try to cut spending and lower deficits to get back to normal. But in fact, this is the equivalent of tossing gasoline on a raging fire. You are going to make it worse! (Koo does agree deficits must be dealt with but not until after proper stimulus is applied to the moribund economy!)

As Koo points out in a recent interview with MONEY magazine (October, p. 64):

"It is good that congress managed to avoid default. But they should keep in mind that Japan's deficit actually increased when the government tried to cut the budget while the private sector was paying down debts".

And as a recent issue of TIME noted (Sept. 19), the biggest current private players - the Banks - are currently still trying to pay down their debts (e.g. remove risky assets), and hence have reduced their overall lending by 1.3%. The reason noted in the TIME piece is because the stress tests applied in 2009 weren't stringent enough and while they showed the banks were able to survive the 2008 meltdown, they didn't show the extent of liabilities left on their books. In effect, when the banks repaid the federal bailout money, they did it prematurely.

Koo's point is that the Japanese fiscal cutback via an austerity mentality (similar to what pervades the political process now in the U.S.), made their situation much worse and extended the fiscal travail. The U.S. can learn from these Japanese errors, but only if it ditches its austerity obsession-compulsion, or rather the austerity compulsion fueled by the 'Tea Party Express' and its Repuke hatchlings in the House.

As for the complainers that the original Obama 2009 stimulus (now a dirty word thanks to the wingnut and tea party freaks) was useless, Koo adds:

"Obama kept the economy from falling into a Great Depression. But you never become a hero avoiding a crisis. The economy is still struggling so people will say the money was wasted. Not true! The expiration of that package is behind the economy's weakness right now .

Yes, the Bush tax cuts were extended last year, but tax cuts are the least efficient way to support the economy during a balance sheet recession because a large portion of the cuts will be saved or used to pay down consumer debt.

Government spending is much more effective."

In other words, a more solidly rational approach to the economic miasma we're in is to allow ALL those Bush tax cuts to expire, but to then enhance government spending by using the money saved (at least part of it) from the expired tax cuts.

The first and biggest nation-saving, job forming move would be to spend $1.5 TRILLION at once to repair the crumbling infrastructure - including water lines, sewer lines, bridges. That is still only about 45% of what the American Society of Civil Engineers regards as necessary, but it's a start. Meanwhile, Obama's $447b plan is too little and more in line with his overly timid 2009 stimulus of $797b, which was also diluted by being contaminated by one third tax cuts.

In the immediate near future, the Repuke House can stop fucking around and allow a full $3.6b to be passed for disaster relief, without demanding job-weakening -destroying "offsets" to Dept. of Energy programs. (They are currently insisting at least $1.5 billion be cut from those programs to pay for hurricane disaster relief to the NE corridor).

In the end, this nation's destiny and economic future will largely be in the hands of the Republican House and John Boehner- Eric Cantor. If they continue to demand austerity spending cuts they will create the very morass Robert Koo warned us about. And they will be to blame for the the Third World status we find ourselves in, as well as the additional 3 -4 million jobs lost by this time next year.

You can make book on it!