Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Yeah, Kids Are Entitled To Be Heard - Barely!

December, 1957, near Everglades National Park. We could no more decide where to go to on a family vacation than we could be given the checkbook to make out checks for whatever we wanted.

The WSJ Sunday Review article ('Children Should Be Heard But Only So Much', p. C3, by Jennifer Breheny Wallace) definitely merits attention by the "Generation Z" and similar parents who are convinced they were put on earth to satisfy their kids every whim -and be their perpetual pals. In the 50s such a thought would have been scorned from all quarters, and kids were "to be seen and not heard."

Meanwhile, Ms. Wallace cites examples of this modern breed of airhead parents:

- Allowing a 6-year old daughter to approve a NYC apartment, not completing the deal until she gave it her thumbs up

- Allowing the kid to pick a restaurant to go to for a family dinner

- Giving the kid or kids final decision on where to spend the family vacation.

More astounding: In a recent National Retail Federation survey of 1,000 parents of Gen Z'ers "67 percent said they solicit their child's opinion before making family purchases and 59 percent said they will not buy an item unless the child approves"

My reaction? You've got to be jiving me.  If we attempted to impose or beg for a "kid" decision concerning the destination for a holiday, or a luxury purchase, or home purchase, we'd have had our heads clipped by my dad. It simply wasn't on and the most substantive decisions we were allotted were reduced to: Which side of the huge backyard we wanted to weed first, or which serving on our dinner plates (calves' liver, lima beans or baked potato) we wanted to dive into first. That was it.

Ms. Wallace puts it: "When in doubt parents can ask themselves: What is my motivation behind letting my child make or influence the decision?"

To my dad, a WWII vet, there was no asking himself anything "motivational"  other than:  "Which side of his head do I put a dent in first?"  say if one of us insisted on getting an ice cream treat on the way home from the drive -in.

Some may be aghast at this "ancient" parental code, but not so fast. Dr. Richard Weissboard of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (quoted in the article) notes that when parents become too dependent on their children for closeness "it can undercut a part of the child's moral development".

It can, in fact, lead to a narcissistic or entitled kid. Also a dead kid. The classic case was 11-year old Mark Garrity Shea who mustered a test of will against his mom, Ms. Brucie Jacobs, in 2000, when the two took off for a jaunt in Botswana. Young Mark had always camped in a tent by himself in his home environs of suburban Maryland and insisted he wanted to do likewise in the Okavango bush of Botswana. After all, what young man at the age of eleven wants to sleep with mom? That's the epitome of babyness, and Mark wanted no part of it.
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Mark Garrity Shea - eaten by hyenas when he insisted on having his own way in Botswana.

Had this middle class mom thought deeply about it, she'd have realized the pair were not anywhere near a Maryland camp site, but in the Odavango...one of the last real African wilderness areas left, and certainly not to be treated as a zoo. But she didn't and so allowed Mark to be in a tent sleeping by himself.

She only realized her mistake some time later, after midnight, when she heard her son's frantic screams as he was dragged away by a pack of hungry hyenas.

Some lessons are simply learned too late, and way too painful! Had the mom established the parameters of her will many years earlier - maybe as young as when Mark was two, this awful incident might never have transpired. Mark would have understood at his mom's initial 'No!' that this is what she meant and it was no use pressing or pushing her to change her mind and let him camp out alone.

But let's be clear, too many kids today are like Mark and firmly believe they rule the roost rather than their parents. And it is the parents' own fault for making them believe so.  According to studies disclosed in a 2012 WSJ piece ('A Field Guide to the Middle Class U.S. Family', p. D2, March13), this has now become the nature of the American middle class: perpetual wimps - giving in to anything their kiddies want, and worse, sometimes even acting as their slaves.

The study of interest was conducted by researchers at UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), and geared to 'in vivo' or real life observation, rather than in labs. The studies, using video cameras to record family interactions in middle class America, Samoa and Peru's Amazon, showed how widely children are treated across cultures.

In Samoa, for example, children serve food to their elders and wait patiently until these elders have had their designated selections and started eating before they eat. They can't come to a table and just lunge or grab at food like many American kids. In Peru's Amazon girls no more than 5 years of age are required to climb trees to harvest papaya, and must also help (along with the boys) to haul logs thicker than their legs to stoke fires.

In other words, these kids aren't waited on, they aren't treated like "pals" and they are not permitted to exercise their own wills other than in limited domains.

The CELF U.S. videos showed parents doing most of the house work and not asking any kids to help out - even to clean their own room. In one video scene, an 8-year old named "Ben" is shown sprawling out on a couch demanding his dad to untie his shoe, then when he does - to put the shoe back on and tie it up again. The dad complied each time like a trained chimp, whereas the first time I'd have tried a stunt like that with my own dad, he'd have asked: "WHAT did you say?" as he reached for a belt.

Thankfully, even this wimpy LA dad eventually reached his limit of being pushed when the kid then demanded the dad bring him his coat from the closet and the dad responded, "Get it yourself!" Wow! Rough, tough and hard to diaper, there!

The CELF videos trained on middle class American families also revealed that in 75% of the families, mothers  "gyrate around the house" - bouncing between kids, their homework, groceries, dinner and laundry. Is it any wonder so many American married women are totally neurotic and more than 70% can't get a decent night's sleep without a pill? Cripes!

And what about the kids in all this? You know, the same ones who at age 5 in Peru would be harvesting papaya by climbing trees and who in Samoa would be cooking AND serving the food to their elders? According to Dr Elinor Ochs, the anthropologist in charge of the CELF study (ibid.):

"The kids are oblivious to their parents' perspectives"

In other words, American middle class parents appear to be raising a bumper crop of narcissists and egomaniacs. And the likely outcome from them when they will, at some point - have to acknowledge another's will (even if it's just a demanding, no-nonsense physics teacher)? Well, either prison for antisocial behavior, or more likely, a borderline personality disorder which will follow them through life with endless altercations, job firings, divorces ....whatnot.

Or maybe, god forbid, they mutate into more Trumps or Trump-like assholes. Just what the country needs: millions of entitled little shits out to get theirs and theirs alone and screw everyone else.

Richard Weissboard  makes the point "children need to be taught to make sacrifices and not to assume that others will organize their lives around them, which can lead to entitlement".

Or, it can lead to dashed expectations and severe depression when the professor or boss lets the entitled little twit know that  his or her self priorities won't work. The homework assignment, lab or paper will still be marked with an 'F' if not delivered on time, and the boss will fire your ass if you keep showing up late and making daft excuses that order your time over the company's.

But without their charges being instilled with the importance of constraints,  parents  can also hatch reckless, moral nitwits like Obdulia Sanchez. She thought it was cool to do instagram live streaming while driving her vehicle with no hands and singing a dumb song. Until she careened off the road, killing her younger sister in the back seat. This irresponsible, entitled fool now faces twenty or so years behind bars for her stunt.

Bottom line: Kids need to have limits on their choices imposed from early, because later on - not only will teachers or their bosses be likely to impose them - but the law as well.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Should Undergrads Be Exposed To Modern Physics?

A Loyola University undergrad, ca. 1966, studying for a test on special relativity. The class used a text by Hugh D. Young entitled 'Fundamentals of Mechanics and Heat' (which I reviewed at Amazon) and included at least one chapter (14) on special relativity. 

That is perhaps the most that the majority of bright undergrads would be able to cope with even today.

An ongoing controversy in physics education is just how much modern physics today's undergrads should be exposed to. By definition, 'modern physics'  includes all the physics established since 1900, including: quantum theory, special and general relativity and some high energy particle physics (nature of quarks, neutrinos etc.)

The typical plaintive cry, to judge from occasional letters (say to Physics Today)  amounts to some variation on:

"Why must we be stuck in the tedious, boring physics of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries? Why always Newton, Faraday and such instead of Bohr, Einstein and Schrodinger?  We want to be taught more of the modern physics less of the antiquated stuff!'

Thus, they are chagrined they're still being taught mostly Newtonian mechanics,  and 'old-style' Electricity and magnetism, thermal physics and only a little bit of special relativity.  What they don't say is that even that "little bit" of special relativity often poses problems.

So the question remains: can they really handle more? Most undergrads even at the top universities are simply not at the level they can grasp quantum mechanics or general relativity. Even Richard Feynman ('Feynman Lectures')  while conducting his famous first year course at Caltech, complained about the difficulty of getting quantum concepts over to many of the students.  Of course, there will always be the select few with plenty of mathematics and physics background for whom the content won't present huge problems. But make no mistake they're in the minority.

I still recall teaching a Calculus physics course for which the final chapter of the text assigned had significant quantum mechanics content, including:  the basic Schrodinger wave equation, quantum square well, atomic energy levels, eigenvalues, probability densities and how to compute expectation values. Attached below  is one problem which I worked out for the class:

But which only 1-2 of the class actually got. Most were stung by: a) not having the requisite mathematical ability (which makes one wonder how they managed to be allowed to move on from the earlier semesters) and b) not being able to conceptualize (despite numerous visual aids).

One of the visual aids which flummoxed them is shown below, including the first 3 wave functions for the H- atom(far left), the corresponding probability densities (middle) and the associated energy levels for an "infinite square well".

Basically, the possible energies of the particle, called energy levels, are quantized. The integer n used to designate them, is called the principal quantum number.

The state with lowest energy, n = 1, is called the ground state. The state with n = 2 is called the first excited state and so on.

There are n/2 de-Broglie waves capable of fitting into the well if the particle is in the nth quantum state.

At once the diagram captures the beauty and simplicity of quantum mechanics, in showing how energy is quantized in "jumps" as it is in the actual hydrogen atom.

In retrospect, the experience at Loyola with Hugh Young's presentation  of special relativity was perhaps at the limits of what a well prepared undergrad could understand.   For example, his derivation of the relativistic equation of energy (W) on pages 394, 395:

ò x2 x1  dp/dt  dx = ò t2 t1  (dp/dt)(dx/dt)  dt =

  ò t2 t1  v(dp/dt)   dt  =  ò v2 v1  v(dp/dv)  dv

W=   ò v2 v1   v  d/dv [mo v/ Ö (1 - v2/c2 ] dv

The preceding equation for W applies since for relativistic momentum:

p  =  mo v/ Ö (1 - v2/c2 )

I argue the above is "at the limit" because of the calculus -based approach with which most undergrads would not be comfortable, even those who've taken AP Calculus.  More to the point, if one veers into quantum theory and general relativity, it doesn't get any easier.

This leaves us asking the question of whether there is an alternative solution or approach, specifically for those less able students who aren't attending Caltech, MIT or Harvard.  I believe there is and came away with one idea from a recent Readers Forum article ('How Black Holes Saved My Astronomy Course')  in Physics Today by Joseph Ribaudo..  Ribaudo - based at Utica College, New York- noted the struggle of his students to master the material  with most underperforming (averages in the "C range")  in his astronomy course.   He realized a large part of the problem was that  the existing astronomy textbooks were all too similar in their writing, content and design elements - and often way too mathematical. So he turned to Neil Degrasse Tyson's 'Death By Black Hole' as his central (core) text aided by "reading and writing assignments derived from popular and historical science publications".

Can a similar strategy be used to incorporate more modern physics into undergrad classical physics courses? I am confident this is feasible. Of course, the extent of integration of the modern physics material will hinge on the time allotted for the course or courses.  In most ('General Physics') courses, the modern physics is fit in at the very end - usually in one or two chapters featuring special relativity and some of the 'original' quantum mechanics, say of Bohr then Schrodinger.  At the maximum level of exposure students will be shown the use of the Schrodinger equation to solve for simple QM systems, say a particle in a box. This assumes, of course, the student has done some work in differential equations. (N.B. It is extremely rare for freshman and sophomore physics majors to take a dedicated modern physics course, far less a QM or Relativity course.)

But let's assume students are roughly at the math and abstraction level of  Ribaudo's astronomy class. What texts might supplement the approach to teach modern physics? I'd include the following:

'The Strange Story of the Quantum' - by Banesh Hofman (Dover, 1964)

'Thirty Years That Shook Physics' - by George Gamow (Dover, 1966)

'Relativity and Common Sense' -  by Herman Bondi (Dover, 1964)

'Sidelights on Relativity' - by Albert Einstein (Dover, 1954)

'The ABC of Relativity' - by Bertrand Russell (Signet, 1959)

 All of the above are eminently readable, and the math is at a minimum. Much of the math that is set out, such as in Bondi's book, is in the form of geometry from which simple derivations of the principles are shown. Einstein's book is terrific in providing an understanding at a non-math level by the master himself.

Ribaudo mentions in his article (p. 11)  setting one mid term exam question to the effect: "Discuss the value of reading 'Death By Black Hole' and whether you'd recommend this book to others".  The same sort of question might be asked of any of the books listed above.  In terms of how much contextual mathematics one's students can handle that has to be left to the instructor. For those who might wish to know some QM but minus all the math, Hoffman's book is probably best. For those who might wish to know some special relativity without the math, Russell's book is likely best. For those who are comfortable with plane geometry and some algebra,  Gamow's book is ideal for QM, and Bondi's ditto for special relativity.

If instructors in special relativity wish to get into more problem solving and math exposure - still largely at the intermediate algebra level (with a tiny bit of differential calculus)-  my own text: 'Modern Physics: Notes, Problems and Solutions' is ideal, namely the first three chapters (pp. 1 -45).

Ribaudo also cites "reading and writing assignments" from popular science magazines (e.g. Discover) and this can also provide fertile material for modern physics. For example, asking students to read the excellent article on quantum entanglement in Discover (July/August, 2016, p. 60) and asking students how they might explain this to a friend. Or better, how they might explain it if they could go back in time and encounter Neils Bohr.

In the end, it is possible to present modern physics to undergrads, but it has to be tailored to their own math and abstraction abilities.  If this is done, and there is the time allotted to do it without having to rush, then both physics instructors and their students will be all the better for it. And we may see much less whining from the undergrads about being denied entry into the "modern stuff".


The best modern physics text I've found for math proficient students - geared to freshman and sophomores - is 'Space, Time and Quanta: An Introduction to Contemporary Physics' by Robert Mills (1994).  In his Introduction,  Mills writes of the text being a "supplement to a more conventional course" or "designed for the physics side of an interdisciplinary course" - i.e. for other (non-physics) students, but don't believe it. The text is in fact perfect as a standalone, totally complete modern physics text - at least on a par with the analogous content in The Feynman Lectures.  The end of chapter problem sets are especially good, and I simply can't see any "interdisciplinary" student being able to get through them.  Hence, I believe Mills greatly underestimates the book's value as a teaching text for modern physics.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Was SPLC Wrong to Educate Middlebury Students On Covert Hate Monger Charles Murray?

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Protesters at Middlebury College not long ago, and subversive, racist - eugenicist hate monger Charles Murray.

Let us concede we live in treacherous times for bastardized memes and subtle mind viruses to be unleashed on an unsuspecting populace, especially by those endowed with an academic cachet or more or less benign appearance. There is no doubt,  not one, that if Josef Goebbels had re-materialized at Middlebury College four months ago and brandished a thesis that Jews were inferior and hence needed to be eliminated, there'd have been an unholy outcry. And oh yeah, a lot more than screaming and pulling fire alarms would have gone on. Also that there would have been no mistaking such a screed for "free speech".  In fact, if erupted from Middlebury's students they'd have been lauded rather than now vilified for "attacking free speech" regarding Charles Murray's attempted appearance.

The screeching of most of the media - including some overpaid moron named Carl M. Cannon at 'Real Clear Politics' -e.g.


 has been that the great Murray was delivered a hate -filled beat down and after all he does hold a "doctorate from MIT" and is a member of the "esteemed American Enterprise Institute".

But before our compadres on the Right do backflips in exultation at Murray's claimed respectability, let us bear in mind that the Jew-hating  Joseph Goebbels also  obtained a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1921. So a doctorate is no assurance of respectability or moral probity. After all,  this eugenics -imbued mastermind of Nazi propaganda is the one who developed numerous tracts comparing Jews to vermin, paving the way for the Final solution.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1989-0821-502, Joseph Goebbels.jpg

As for the American Enterprise Institute, which the ignorant hack Cannon praises, e.g. "this Washington-based think tank is devoted to 'defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world."  (sic, barf) let's not overlook the applicable facts here:

The AEI  were the ones offering scientists up to $10,000 each to write tracts and op -ed pieces denying global warming.  As reported by the UK Guardian "letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered."

Real charming bunch of individuals devoted to "human dignity" there. They'd allow humanity the "freedom" to burn in an unbearable hothouse world - devoid of polar ice caps and glaciers, coastal cities sinking, diseases rampant-  because they've enabled liars and propagandist schmucks to brainwash people into thinking climate change is a myth or hoax.

According to The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), of which I've been a member for over 15 years, Murray - like the AEI -  "advocates the total elimination of the welfare state, affirmative action and the Department of Education, arguing that public policy cannot overcome the innate deficiencies that cause unequal social and educational outcomes".

This academic reprobate's central thesis (in The Bell Curve) is that:

"the United States has experienced dysgenic pressures throughout either most of the century (the optimists) or all of the century (the pessimists). Women of all races and ethnic groups follow this pattern in similar fashion. There is some evidence that blacks and Latinos are experiencing even more severe dysgenic pressures than whites, which could lead to further divergence between whites and other groups in future generations.”"

A section that could have come straight out of Goebbel's hands.   What are Murray's "dysgenic pressures"?  They are the selection effects, factors responsible for the reduction of a population's intelligence arising from a regressive gene pool.  In this case,  because blacks and Latinos exhibit lower average I.Q.s than whites (or Orientals) they impact the aggregate gene pool adversely sending the overall intelligence lower.

Note that while Murray has loudly insisted he's not espousing eugenics, the very use of the term "dysgenic" - which recognizes negative eugenics, show that he is.

One here is led to reference Goebbel's tract (The Nazi -Sozi, 1932) cited by Konrad Heiden in his monograph The Fuehrer, :

"Certainly the Jew is also a man, but the flea is also an animal. And the other animals do not harbor and cultivate the flea but exterminate it"

To be sure, Goebbels in his tract is blunt, crude and merciless. There is no effort to disguise exactly what his eugenics theme means.  This is unlike Murray's which basically says the same thing (pertaining to Latinos and blacks),  but is couched in academic lingo (delivered in the guise of a serious academician)  to disarm any would be critics.  Thus, because Murray offers an academic patina he is to be treated respectfully and given a fair hearing for his toxic ideas, mind viruses and memes.  "Free speech", after all. But under SPLC tutelage the Middlebury students weren't fooled and were not about to confer respect, gravitas or dignity to a racist rapscallion.

The SPLC again:

"Many criticisms of The Bell Curve, most notably Charles Lane’s thorough takedown in The New York Review of Books, have pointed out that Murray’s attempts to link social inequality to genes are based on the work of explicitly racist scientists. In an afterward to the book, Murray rejects criticisms that rest on the fact that “we cite thirteen scholars who have received funding from the Pioneer Fund, founded and run ([Lane] alleged) by men who were Nazi sympathizers, eugenicists, and advocates of white racial superiority.” Murray contends that the racist pseudo-scientists he cites “are some of the most respected psychologists of our time” and that “the relationship between the founder of the Pioneer Fund and today’s Pioneer Fund is roughly analogous to that between Henry Ford and today’s Ford Foundation.”

In fact, the Pioneer Fund’s ties to eugenics and white supremacy are not nearly as historically remote as Murray would have his readers believe. The president of the Pioneer Fund at the time The Bell Curve was written was Harry Weyher, who was a personal friend of the Fund’s founder, Wickliffe Draper, and shared his supposedly archaic views on race. Just two months after the initial publication of The Bell Curve, Weyher gave an interview in which he argued, among other things, that desegregation had “wreck[ed] the school system.”

Russ Bellant, author of 'Old Nazis, The New Right And The Republican Party', South End Press, 1991) traces the current incarnation of the Pioneer Fund back to the Reagan era with the likes of Ralph Scott and Roger Pearson both of whom "received tens of thousands of dollars from the Pioneer Fund which assists researchers attempting to prove Black inferiority".

So we return to the central question: Should an idea - no matter how abhorrent and toxic  - be able to receive an unopposed hearing anywhere?  Especially at a university? And the answer now, as before  when I posted about it (Jan. 9. 2015) , is absolutely not! 

As I noted then:

"There is a vast gulf between what clueless humans call "freedom of expression" and moral communication.  The key difference is that moral communication does not incite to violence, by castigating and vilifying a whole people. And yes, that means words and cartoons can act as murderous weapons! They embed themselves in the mind, especially of those already with axes to grind, and incite them to take precipitous action.

And lest we take that as a freak exception let us recall how Limbaugh once referred to Leftists as "cockroaches" e.g.


And the Nazis during the Third Reich regularly depicted the Jews in cartoons and films as "rats". E.g.


Was this free expression or free speech, given the horrific effect it had? Of course not! It was the most scurrilous, vile refuse and propaganda masquerading as speech. No form of propaganda is defensible, whether in books, film or cartoons. This is not free speech but hate speech. It defiles the user as it does the target, reducing each - via dehumanization. See the Nazi material produced on the Jews in the preceding link."

Back to the SPLC again:

"Murray and Herrnstein described Richard Lynn, whose work they relied on more than any other individual, as “a leading scholar of racial and ethnic differences.” In his many subsequent defenses of Lynn, Murray neglected to mention the many serious methodological criticisms of Lynn’s work, or his contributions to white supremacist publications including VDARE.com, American Renaissance and Mankind Quarterly, the last of which Lynn also serves on the editorial staff of.

The Bell Curve not only relied on “tainted sources” like Lynn, but is itself making a fundamentally eugenic argument. The central, and most controversial chapter of the book, focuses on the threat of “dysgenesis,” a term that Murray and Herrnstein claimed to have borrowed from population biology, but which in actuality was coined and has been used exclusively by eugenicists to describe the problem that their policy proposals were intended to fix. Dysgenesis refers to the supposed genetic deterioration of a population, but while Murray and Herrnstein wrote as though it represents mainstream science, dysgenesis is not considered to be a real phenomenon by modern evolutionary biologists. It is widely accepted only among the “scholars of racial and ethnic differences” that appear so prominently in The Bell Curve’s bibliography."

In other words, like Goebbels' own distorted eugenics (applied to Jews),  Murray and Herrnstein's is also tainted by pseudo-science, yet has the disproportional effect of undermining the fundamental fabric of our society if taken seriously. Again, why should anyone have to waste gray matter rebutting this offal any more than Goebbel's comparison of Jews to fleas? The point is there is no intellectual rebuttal possible that will persuade the minions who emotionally  gravitate to these toxic notions, given they use the notions as points of support for their racist beliefs. Hence, best to not to allow the emotional chords to be excited in the first place!

We may conclude the students at Middlebury were right to disrupt Murray as they likewise would have been to disrupt Josef Goebbels.  (They were not right to engage in any physical force or assaults, obviously ) The reason is that hate speech, irrespective of any academic veneer, merits no special place or respect and absolutely no dignifying by resort to a "free speech" ruse to peddle it.  As the notorious Gen. Hudson Austin opined after slaughtering hundreds in the Spice Island of Grenada (before U.S. forces arrived in Operation Urgent Fury in 1983): "My biggest gift was being allowed free speech on the radio to pave the way for my purge!"

Hudson had been enabled - by the deft use of hate speech and propaganda - broadcast over Grenada's government radio, to enlist enough support to put hundreds of his political opponents  (to the New Jewel Movement) in the Richmond Hill prison. There,  antiaircraft weapons were subsequently used to slaughter Austin's hapless victims, after they were forced into the prison courtyard.

Most Americans never knew or heard about that, only about the invasion of the island nation which all the Caricom nations (including Barbados) had called for.

But Charles Murray would never advocate that!   Maybe not, directly. But it is but one small step to deem a race inferior before some faction will believe it is entitled to wipe out the group so designated. Let's not fool ourselves.

It is ironic beyond belief that Morris Dees is ridiculed in Cannon's piece using ad hominem ("a shyster") while the SPLC is deemed a "hate group", even as Murray and the AEI are extolled as the bearers of light and human dignity.  But this merely discloses how perverted the intellectual landscape and critical thinking basis  has become in the U.S., to the point the pro-Trump and right wing media and its memes now hold so much sway.

See also:


Friday, July 21, 2017

Will Trump Allow Space Weather Prediction Initiatives To Proceed?

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Several posts ago (July 18) I highlighted how our space weather forecasts are rendered replete with errors by virtue of changing magnetic fields. These can be localized solar region fields such as occur near sunspots (and which trigger large flares) or larger scale solar magnetic fields that interact with Earth's magnetosphere.  In any case, space weather research is motivated by the quest (and need) to understand the proximate and distal effects that solar activity has on the near Earth space environment. It also includes the effects on our electronic infrastructure.

In my June 10, 2012 post I noted that the CME (coronal mass ejection) you don't want to see is the one that smacks our planet broadside, sending power grids crashing down like so many tenpins, knocking out GPS satellites, and in general making life miserable for millions. As I noted in an earlier blog:


 We narrowly dodged such a monster six months before that blog post was written.  Less well known is that barely five weeks later, on July 23, a solar storm manifested which had a magnitude comparable to the classic Carrington event. It narrowly missed Earth but provided an object lesson on the need to plan and monitor for such intense events.

While it is some comfort to know that flare energy (as well as that to power coronal mass ejections) is limited by the magneto-hydrodynamic potentials available on a star like the Sun, this is not really much consolation if and when a major energy burst whacks us straight on broadside with 1 million amp field-aligned induction currents that have the potential to take out all our power grids in a cascade of failures. Space weather aficionados call such maxi-catastrophes "Carrington Events" after the signature original event that transpired in September, 1859. This event incepted geo-magnetic currents so large that for days telegraph operators could actually disconnect their equipment from battery power and send messages solely via the emergent "auroral currents".

In our own current situation, we've become a more vulnerable society by constructing mammoth, interlocked  power grids which can crash if the right combination of factors is imposed. While we do have high voltage transformers that connect directly to the ground (zero or earth potential) to neutralize power surges from lightning strikes, these don't afford any protection against powerful geo-magnetic currents that are induced in the earth and flow upward into the grid. Then ...one such mammoth event, could spark calamity.

Over the last two years of the scientifically savvy Obama administration, notice was taken of these solar events and a strong impetus provided to monitor space weather and devise strategies for forecasts and dealing with impacts. In October, 2015, for example, the White House Office of Science and Technology released the National Space Weather Strategy:


And also an accompanying action plan:


Subsequently, an October 13, 2016 executive order called for space weather preparedness and efforts to minimize the extent of economic loss and human hardship from adverse space weather events such as powerful CMEs. See, e.g.:


One thing all workshop participants agreed on even then is that despite major developments in space weather modeling, the forecasting is still in its infancy. As I pointed out in my previous post on space weather, a lot of this can be attributed to inadequate data or observations by which to construct theoretical models. Let us note here that these are the gold standard for prediction, as opposed to relying on brute statistics - often using ex post facto methods.

One of the shortcomings which I noted before is the dearth of space craft between Earth and the Sun. One of the primary monitoring craft we have is confined to the L1 (Lagrangian) point i.e. where Earth's and Sun's gravities balance out. This is the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite which can measure the intensity and magnetic orientation of any CME that sweeps by it. There is also the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

A huge current problem is that ACE is nearly on its last legs and a replacement monitor is needed, lest we become "blind" to the killer CME with our name on it.

Is the Trump bunch doing anything to repair the ACE or ensure the other craft remain in prime monitoring positions? We don't know but it appears all these programs have been left to languish along with the development of forward strategies to deal with space weather cataclysms. One thing we do know is the space budget has been cut and severely.

The biggest need currently is open access  to models in space weather research. Such models being readily accessible to the space weather community will ensure we move forward expeditiously in forecasting, testing and validating models.

On the positive side, . Ed Perlmutter (CO-7th) introduced the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act.  The Act strengthens space weather research by directing federal agencies to develop new tools and technologies to improve forecasting and set benchmark standards to measure space weather disturbances and their potential impacts to Earth. The legislation outlines clear roles and responsibilities for the federal agencies which study and predict space weather events, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Additionally, the legislation enhances the relationships between federal agencies, academic researchers and the commercial industry. The legislation also directs NOAA to develop plans to provide a back-up for the aging Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, the only currently operating satellite providing imagery of space weather that could impact Earth.

Even if by some small chance the Act passes the House, we have to hope it also passes the Senate and that Trump manages to muster enough sense to sign it. Don't hold your breath.

See also:


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Will Trumpies Be Aroused From Their Coma By An ICBM Called "SATAN II"?

Russia unveiled chilling pictures of its largest ever nuclear missile, capable of destroying an area the size of France last month. A contract for the weapons was signed in 2011, and they are expected to be ready in 2018

The largest ICBM ever made: The RS Sarmat -28 or "Satan II" - in NATO nomenclature. One of these could wipe out an area the size of Texas. Are Trumpies finally going to take the Trump -Russia ties seriously, or punk out like fidget-spinner zombies?

To most Trumpie zombies, the whole Trump-Russia narrative is all baloney, pure bunk. They refuse to take it seriously and believe it is just a media-Democrat conspiracy to bring down the biggest horse turd to ever occupy the Oval Office.  They insist the narrative (and investigation) stop and just let the horse turd do what he was put into office for. Which most of us presume is to lay waste to this Republic and leave all ethical standards and norms in tatters, defining the country itself down to gutter level as he "fast forwards" its decline - according to one Aussie (Australian News) political editor.

How whacked out are the Trumpie zombies, otherwise known as "Storm Trumpers"?   Their alarming descent into madness is grimly illustrated in the results of a new survey by Public Policy Polling (PPP). Some examples from the survey:

  • Only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton...even though Trump Jr. admitted it. 32% say the meeting didn't happen and 24% say they're not sure.
  • 72% of Trump voters consider the Russia story overall to be 'fake news,' only 14% disagree.
  • Only 24% of Trump voters even want an investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, 64% are opposed to an investigation.
  • Only 26% of Trump voters admit that Russia wanted Trump to win the election, 44% claim Russia wanted Hillary Clinton to win, and 31% say they're not sure one way or the other.
  • Even if there was an investigation, and it found that the Trump campaign did collude with Russia to aid his campaign, 77% of his supporters think he should still stay in office to just 16% who believe he should resign.
A psychologist like my niece Shayl or Dr. Pat Bannister might inquire as to what manner of sickness we have displayed here. After all, less than half of the Trump disciples believe that Don Jr. met with Russians despite his having confirmed it. Shayl has already offered the opinion that the Storm Trumpers are suffering from the late stages of schizoid personality disorder and could use a number of sessions of ECT. But some of us wonder if even that can bring them back from their political delirium.  But look, the hacks who defend Trump and attack the Russiagate story aren't much more advanced.

According to WSJ resident nabob, Holman Jenkins ('On Don Jr. Media Can't Help  Itself'):

"The farcical element continues to predominate in Russiagate...But real trouble can flow even from a farce. Thinkers for whom Russia was just one problem in a world full of problems (who previously did not identify Moscow as the No. 1 enemy), now do so vociferously....Even the estimable Anne Applebaum - author of a book on the Soviet Gulag- now fulminates in The Washington Post against every recent president for 'failing to heed Russia's peculiar dangers'"


"Most U.S. reporters know they are overplaying the Trump-Russia connection, even as they revel in the Don Jr. gotcha moment."

In the same piece Holman mocks the import of the Russkie lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, as well as the "tubby British music publicist who babbled fourth hand Russian government support for the Trump effort".

This and other pieces probably led a Denver Post letter writer to scold the Post over its recent Trump-Russia coverage: "The 'smoking gun' ballyhooed by Democrats and The New York Times (and The Denver Post) is really only them blowing smoke. If anything it is a toy gun masquerading as a real one."

In other words, like Jenkins, he believes this is a whole lot of nothing, aka a "nothing burger". But is it really?

In terms of Jenkins' take,  let's first note that mere days later the WSJ featured a major story 'Lawyer Met With Russia's Top Prosecutor' (July 15-16, p. A5) pointing out that in fact Ms. Veselnitskaya had close ties with the Chief Prosecutor Yuri Chaika's office. Noting also that Chaika is a "top official appointed by the Kremlin".   In other words, she certainly wasn't the casual person of acquaintance Jenkins' makes her out to be.

Supporting that, in an interview on CBS Tuesday morning,  former U.S. fund manager William Browder told Charlie Rose and co-hosts that Veselnitskaya was the "most aggressive lawyer he'd ever met" and indeed went to the mat with him to try to overturn the Magnitsky Act.  This is a 2012 U.S. law that locked up Russian funds tied to its Kleptocratic oligarchs.  In response, Veselnitskaya  and her cohort have launched all out efforts to upend it.

Jenkins' and the Post letter writer's other strategy appears to dismiss the import by mocking the whole factual basis, including that the guy who contacted Donald Trump Jr. was Rob Goldstone, a "tubby" Brit clown who once blabbed - while on an African jaunt- that "the only thing to do here is eat".  Of course, mocking a conspiracy has always been one of the means used to try to dismiss it.  Just ask those who've investigated the JFK assassination for many decades.

But even if Don Jr. is dismissed as a dope or clueless dunce - as Holman Jenkins seeks to do -  other aspects betray the meeting in Trump Tower. As per a recent piece in TIME (July 24, p. 24), the giveaway may not have been so much Don Jr.'s reactions but what his co-colluders (Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort) did not do.   In particular, they "never dismissed the offer of very high level  Russian support as phony or fake. On the contrary the prospect of Russian assistance  was real enough to pull these busy men into a Trump Tower office to meet with a messenger (Veselnitskaya ) from Moscow."

Again, one needs to look beyond Trump Jr.'s foibles to what his companions did. Are Kushner and Manafort to be written off as "gullible clowns" too? I think not.   Even more damning - and given Veselnitskaya's actual background noted from the WSJ story:

"They also failed to report the alleged effort of a foreign power to influence the election".

As I told Janice on relating this information to her, it appears too many Americans now have had their brains and intellects gutted to the point they are little better than walking zombies. In establishing this it is always useful to go back in perspective to what citizens confronted by similar news would have done 50 years ago.  Without any doubt, none - zero, if this story broke of a U.S. President and his team meeting with the Russians the WHOLE nation (not just part of it) would literally have gone ballistic and called for all and sundry to be charged with treason. Yes, you read that, treason, not just collusion or even a Klein conspiracy.

Yet 40 percent of today's citizens (about the same who are committed to Trump come hell or high water) actually regard the Russians as "friends".  This is simply unfathomable. As TIME also notes (ibid.):

"From Damascus to Turtle Bay, from oil fields to outer space, Russia is a fierce rival of the U.S. and has been for generations.  What politician jumps in bed with Russia? Whether overt or covert, Moscow's stance toward Washington runs a short, troubling gamut from mischievous to hostile."

Then quoting Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine:

"Russia is the one country that could physically destroy America."

And to underscore that capacity, let us now introduce to readers the largest, most monstrous ICBM ever built: the RS-28 Sarmat Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, nicknamed that Satan II by NATO.   This 100 ton beast, one of which is capable of obliterating the state of Texas, has recently been revealed by the Russian Defense Ministry.

There are a number of aspects of this missile that ought to keep Trumpie zombies awake at night, or at least get them to reconsider their "Russiagate is nothing" or "Russia is our friend" memes, and especially the noisome "if Russia can help Trump defeat a Dem in 2020 we're ok with that".

One is that the Satan II has been designed with stealth technology, which means that it can be fired at a target without being detected by U.S. radar.  This means the Russians - if they wanted- could launch a pre-emptive strike to knock us out of the game before we could launch a single Minuteman III ICBM.    Another is that this missile can deliver up to 12 independently targeted warheads in the 350-500 kiloton (e.g. half a megaton) range. Any one of which could wipe out whole cities the size of Dallas, Houston, LA or Miami.   This also means the U.S. defenses would be rendered impotent, after all which particular warhead do you target with an anti-missile missile?

Add to that the capability of the Satan II coming across over the South Pole, as opposed to the usual North Pole track, and you have a nightmare scenario.

Let's again emphasize that by the time this beast is ready by 2020 it won't be aimed at Iran, Japan, India or Kenya. Nope. All five hundred-odd Satan IIs will be aimed at U.S. states - regions to deliver their nuclear payloads for imminent obliteration.   And no it shouldn't take a genius to grasp this.

What about Trump's 2nd (secret) meeting with Putin, with only a Kremlin translator there to help him? A bad scene all around since the translator could have told the Donald anything and he'd never be any the wiser.  But the most dangerous aspect isn't necessarily Trump cooking up some nefarious plan with Putin. No, it would be a U.S. President - a largely unread and stupid one with no security personnel of his own - in the presence of a supreme former KGB operator.  The latter, being a guy who can size an opponent up as formidable or a dumb turd in a micro-second.

And if the latter is interpreted, along with a critical character weakness, how long might it be before that is exploited, leading to a first strike nuclear attack to take out an enemy?

Maybe it's time the Trumpie faction of the nation start to get serious about the Trump-Russia issues too.

See also:




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Niall Ferguson Again Shows What A Bozo He Is -This Time On JFK

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, textSome four years ago (June 16 post to be exact) I skewered the semi-educated Brit twit named Niall Ferguson over his distortions of the fracking industry and its effects on water.. (Ok, actually I recounted Josh Fox's snappy takedowns of this puffed- up former Oxford don, noting how Josh  "ate his lunch" in the course of an appearance on Bill Maher's Real Time.)

Now, Ferguson is offering his inane, know nothing bloviations again, this time as part of a London Sunday Times polemic against John F. Kennedy. (One would have thought these latter day academic goofballs who know next to nothing of the Kennedy presidency would by now have steered clear of it, but like blind fools they put their feet into it every time).

In this specious polemic Ferguson makes use of a "contemporary" verdict on Kennedy's presidency to arrive at this sloppy conclusion:

"The resemblances between the two presidents are more than superficial. In particular both were too much inclined to see politics as a family affair. What the Trump presidency has revealed is not the way the presidency has changed as an institution but the way the American press has changed."

Implying that every major media piece blindly praised Kennedy as opposed to excoriating him. But anyone who paid attention to the media at the time knows this is bare bollocks.  For example,  the central organ of finance capital - The Wall Street Journal -  launched various diatribes accusing JFK of being a "statist" and other things. Some of those articles include:

- 8/6/62 'No Cause for Celebration'; p. 6;

- 3/26/63 'Too Much Money, Too Little Thought', p. 18;

- 8/15/63 'When Friends Become Foes', p. 8

Meanwhile, Henry Hazlitt, contributing editor at Newsweek (The Washington Post's sister publication) was airing many of the same complaints against JFK. These polemics, appearing regularly in Hazlitt's 'Business Tides', included taking JFK to task for his tax policies - including the proposed tax on U.S. business earnings abroad while he also chastised Kennedy for "welfare spending".

One month after the 8/15/63 WSJ article, Fortune implored Congress to stop JFK from using tax policy "as instruments to manage the economy". ('The Dream Businessmen Are Losing', Sept. 1963, p. 91).

As for the "contemporary  verdict" cited by Ferguson, it was undoubtedly excavated from one of the Reich wing nuts that detested him and all he stood for. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, in his book A Thousand Days, pulls no punches on how Kennedy was vilified:

“…in the domain of the radical right it all became much sicker and nastier. Not since the high point of the hate-Roosevelt enthusiasm of the mid-thirties had any President been the target of such systematic and foul vilification. Everything about Kennedy fed resentment: his appearance, his religion, his wealth, his intelligence, his university, his section of the country, is wife, his brothers, his advisers, his support of the Negroes, his refusal to drop the bomb.”

All this is germane now as we continue to see codswallop penned by semi-educated screwballs like Niall Ferguson.  The 'family affair' charge alone discredits everything else Ferguson writes. By way of historical note, JFK appointed his brother Bobby to the position of attorney general. A one off in terms of any claimed "nepotism". That was it. Trump meanwhile has had Don Jr. running campaign aspects and lying about meeting with Russkies (even getting the number he met with wrong), as well as son-in -law Jared making nice with the same Russkies and virtually taking over all State Dept. functions while wife Ivanka has set up her own office beside Daddy's in the White House. What exactly does Ivanka do? Who the hell knows?

How has Ferguson managed to make such an outsized mark for his over-inflated intellect? One theory advanced by Daniel W. Drezner in his book, The Ideas Industry  is that  "the extraordinary rise of the American superrich, a class interested in supporting a particular genre of ideas", has led to their wider dissemination.  According to a recent article in The New Republic ('The Rise of the Thought Leader: How The Superrich Have Funded A New Class Of Intellectual', June).

As the piece explains:

"Whereas public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Martha Nussbaum are skeptical and analytical, thought leaders like Thomas Friedman and Sheryl Sandberg “develop their own singular lens to explain the world, and then proselytize that worldview to anyone within earshot.” While public intellectuals traffic in complexity and criticism, thought leaders burst with the evangelist’s desire to “change the world.” Many readers, Drezner observes, prefer the “big ideas” of the latter to the complexity of the former. In a marketplace of ideas awash in plutocrat cash, it has become “increasingly profitable for thought leaders to hawk their wares to both billionaires and a broader public,” to become “superstars with their own brands,"

Ferguson is also included in this class of plutocrat- funded nattering nabobs, e.g.

"Similarly, the historian Niall Ferguson leapt headlong into brand-building: crafting books intended as scripts for TV series, giving lucrative speeches, and writing for a dizzying array of publications. Like other overstretched thought leaders, Ferguson landed in trouble when his Newsweek cover story on President Obama in 2012 turned out to be riddled with errors and misleading claims. Interviewed for The Ideas Industry, Ferguson is frank about his transformation from Oxford don to thought leader: “I did it all for the money.”

Well, it is pretty clear one can also conclude vast errors are replete in his pseudo-historical comparisons of JFK to Trump.  And if he's already produced a tract "riddle with errors" on a relatively recent president, why the hell should anyone trust him on one living more than fifty years ago? Ferguson may know some history all right, but all of it ersatz history.

The NR piece again:

"As Drezner notes, some of the marquee names in thought leadership are distinguished by their facile thinking and transparent servility to the wealthy."

So clearly it would serve Ferguson's purpose of servility to the plutocrats to enhance Trump comparisons to Kennedy despite the fact virtually none exist (apart from being the offspring of a rich guy). This also explain how Ferguson could write such twaddle as:

"Perhaps if JFK had been a Republican, he would have been treated with the same ferocious animosity as DJT is treated today for much less luminous acts".

But I already showed how false this claim is by reference to much of the financial press at the time. A real historian -   as opposed to a pretender like Niall Ferguson - would have been competent  enough at his job to turn up the many instances in the larger media where JFK was attacked. But, like his defense of fracking 4 years ago, his knowledge of Kennedy is half-assed.

But maybe we have another explanation (besides sheer incompetence)  for why Ferguson's pontifications are so patently half-assed. For example,  when he so aggressively defended fracking four yeas ago. The New Republic again (ibid.):

"Corporate sponsors, in turn, have grown bolder, pressuring scientists and others to steer their research away from conclusions that might threaten profits, and working to discredit those who insist on following the facts where they lead, particularly in climate science. "

Bottom line: the guy is a plutocrat's dream: a yapping 'yes' monkey and historical revisionist,  prepared to hock his principles for a fast buck and who merits no more respect now than he did when Josh Fox ate his lunch  four years ago.

See also:


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How Changing Solar Magnetic Fields Complicate Space Weather Forecasting

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Solar magnetic field lines depicted above based on a model. They are subject to further change (twisting, looping) on encountering near Earth space. This results in errors in space weather forecasts.

As noted in previous blog posts, space weather is the term which embodies all manner of phenomena that impact the Earth or its magnetosphere including magnetic substorms, sudden ionsopheric disturbances (SIDs), and CMEs or coronal mass ejections. Each of these merits forecasts but the last is particularly critical in terms of priority.  Powerful CMEs of such magnitude that they merit the name "Carrington events" and originate at the solar central meridian (relative to Earth observers) are events we wish to avoid. Even a glancing blow from a CME has the potential to knock out one or more power grids such as occurred in Quebec in 1989 after a giant solar flare.

The "ultimate" CME then is that which smacks us broadside, knocking down power grids like tenpins across the side of Earth facing the Sun when it strikes. Five years ago this led to one projection from a University of Colorado astrophysicist that sheds a good deal of insight:

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

Thus, the interest in CMEs and space weather forecasting is not some mere armchair academic obsession but has real world consequences. Even magnetic substorms which spawn SIDs can wreak their own  form of havoc including disruption of short wave and even higher radio band signals, as well as affecting navigation controls on aircraft.

My own research had focused on the origin of SIDs from a specific type of flare identifiable from its soft x-ray signature. This led me to postulate,  in early 1984,   sudden ionospheric disturbance-generating (SID) flares, with the release attendant on a change in initial free magnetic energy (E m = B2/2m ) given by:

/   t  {òv  B2/2m  dV} = 1/m  òv div[(v  X B) X B] dV 

 -   òv  {han | Jms |2 }dV       

where the first term on the right side embodies (loop) footpoint motion, and the second, joule dissipation, but with Jms the current density at marginal stability – since the marginal stability hypothesis is required for a driven process, and h an  is the anomalous resistivity. In the same paper, it was shown how the flare distribution corresponds to a Poisson process of the form P(t) =    =   exp (- l)   lt  / t!, where theoretically the Poisson mean rate of occurrence is: lm =   l Dt.

Thus tying both SIDs and CMEs together in terms of the magnitude, time and location of the flare that produced each, though in an empirical-statistical context.    As I pointed out in a paper published in The Meudon Solar -Terrestrial Predictions Workshop  e.g.
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this was the best one could do  - minus the necessary physical details -  for a valid theoretical model. My paper ‘Limitations of Empirical-Statistical Methods of Solar Flare Prognostication’ appeared on pp. 276-284 of the Proceedings and received much attention from the other contributors - since of course it impacted in multiple ways on their work as well.  Up to the time of the paper (and even beyond) we have been constrained to rely on empirical statistical methods to compensate for the lack of more precise physical, quantitative models.

The project itself saw the input from over two  hundred solar and space physicists covering every aspect of the problem of solar-terrestrial interactions, including: long, medium and short term solar  forecasting, geomagnetic activity and auroral (substorm) forecasts, as well as ionospheric predictions.

Understandably, the more energetic and complex the solar flare the more difficulty in arriving at the prognostication needed.  The sheer diversity of flare morphology, combined with an insufficiency of detailed observations - owing to lack of proper observational tools - adversely affects the degree to which reliable forecasts can be made.  This will be expected to change with the launch of the Solar Probe Plus - renamed the Parker Solar Probe. The probe will  travel to within 4 million miles of the solar surface  (photosphere) and withstand temperatures of up to 2,500 F.  We expect the optical observations to approach the resolution of 0.1 arcsec, which many solar physicists believe is the limit needed to identify the energy release volume in coronal loops. 

Even with greatly enhanced resolution and  the acquisition of other critical data, moving beyond statistical models to wholly physical ones (yielding their own self-consistent aspects) will not be easy.
In the case of CMEs,a theoretical, quantitative strategy would revolve around obtaining the rate of increase of the poloidal magnetic flux   (Φp) associated with a specific flux rope (e.g. that shows kink or other instability) e.g.

dΦp(t )/dt

Then, for a predictive basis one would require the related function be adjusted for each potential CME (dependent on its current heliographic location) that best fits the total observed data. This function would normally be given in terms of the electromotive force associated with the active region so that:

E(t ) ≡ −(1/c)dΦp(t )/dt

Where the preceding would constitute a forecast from the theory for each CME trajectory.  This would be called a "theoretical forecast" say compared to an empirical forecast, i.e. based on analyzing the frequency and intensity of fluctuating microwave bursts over time (say several  Carrington rotations).   In the above case we see that rapid changes in the poloidal magnetic field, Φ ,  can throw off theoretical model forecasts.  Hence, the more we can learn about the genesis and maintenance of such localized fields the more the models (and forecasts) can be improved.

Then there is the influence of the much larger scale solar magnetic field. Beyond all the above considerations, space weather forecasting requires understanding what happens when the Earth’s magnetic field meets the Sun’s in space. When their field lines make contact, for example, they can suddenly link up and explosively realign. Like a snapping rubber band, the field lines rebound, sparking geomagnetic storms and sending dangerous radiation toward Earth that can damage satellites and threaten power grids.

However, some conditions are more conducive to this process, called magnetic reconnection. Particularly important is the orientation of the Sun’s magnetic field. Although the Earth’s magnetic field is fixed about its North and South poles, the Sun’s magnetic field is warped throughout space, and the Earth may find itself in a part of the field pointing in a different direction at any given time. The best conditions for magnetic reconnection are when the Sun’s magnetic field is aligned southward, antiparallel to Earth’s.

Recent studies have shown that the direction of the Sun’s field can shift by the time it reaches Earth’s magnetic field, apparently twisting after passing those satellites. This could lead to inaccurate space weather forecasts. To determine why this happens, Turc et al. analyzed archival data for 82 solar storms caused by approaching magnetic clouds ejected by the Sun. The team compared solar wind measurements with data from closer satellites orbiting in and around Earth’s magnetic field and used a model to reconstruct the conditions in between. Their work zeroed in on two factors.

1) The bow shock that the Earth creates in the solar wind. Like a ship plowing through water, the Earth creates a shock wave in the solar wind as it flows past, which the Sun’s field lines must traverse. Turc et al's analysis showed that depending on their relative orientations, the shock could alter the direction of the field.

2) After crossing the bow shock, the solar field lines encounter the Earth’s magnetic field. They don’t simply meet it head-on, but instead  overlap  the Earth’s field, and are warped in the process.

The authors report that these two factors combine to shift the direction of the field, which could alter the probability of magnetic reconnection. In some cases, it even reversed a benign northward field into a reconnection-prone southward field, and vice versa. These reversals spanned roughly 20% of the Earth–Sun magnetic field boundary and lasted over half an hour, making them significant enough to potentially throw off forecasts of geomagnetic storms.

The authors report that their models successfully reproduced the observations roughly 80% of the time. But more work must be done to improve their performance and incorporate them into real-time forecasts.

In the case of SIDs and CMEs the space weather forecasting difficulties are even more formidable. But I am confident that the Parker Solar Probe will finally put us on the path to genuine space weather forecasts for all phenomena that affect the near Earth space environment.