Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Rally to Restore Sanity: Did It?

Some of the scenes from yesterday's "Rally to Restore Sanity" at the Washington D.C. Mall.

Yesterday's D.C. "Rally to Restore Sanity" commanded 200,000 strong (based on latest national park estimates) or roughly double the numbers at the Beck fear rally held nearly ten weeks earlier. The Rally, which featured comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart also had many serious undertones that bespoke to the sad political condition of our country, that so many (of the Tea Party contingent) could be so mad at everything, with so little constructive ideas forthcoming.

So, the question occurs: Did the Rally to Restore Sanity actually restore much to the country overall? Difficult to say. The most we can conclude is that the rally restored some civility to about two hundred thousand on the Washington Mall at that time. As opposed to the hangover of fear and loathing, a more light hearted tone was taken - though there were also signs that alerted one to the zeitgeist currently sweeping the nation.

Some of the signs:

"Righties, don't stomp on my head"

(The above a reference to a Republican rally in Kentucky at which a liberal activist was pulled to the ground and stomped on by a Rand Paul Tea bagger. )

"Real patriots can handle a difference in opinion"

"It could be worse but let's not make it that way"

"Death to Nobody"


"I wouldn't care if the president was Muslim"

Of course, the sad fact is that nearly 35% of the populace do care, and also - would care if the president was an atheist. But then, those are the tea baggers, all united in their outrage, but not quite sure what they are so outraged about. I mean, think of it! (Even some of the teepees who may be reading this, including one "james p.b." who alas didn't have his comment posted yesterday because it was top-heavy in f-words, and a-words. A clue to any such readers: If you want to be posted here, clean up your language. If you can't do that, don't bother to make the effort. And further, if you don't like the blog topic or topics, don't read the damned blog! Go on a march or find an old Beck or Hannity tape or dvd to occupy your time.)

The thing that's most distressing about the teepees is their total lack of interest in solving actual problems that face this nation, problems for which the collective action via government is absolutely essential. (One of which, ironically, is the metastasization of corporate power of the form that is funding most of the tea party networks through the Koch brothers! With no small help from a co-opted Supreme Court through its 'Citizens United' ruling)

Other disturbing aspects:

- Many of the tea partyers are middle and lower middle class, the very folks who could benefit from having their kids enrolled in their own job-based health benefits or insurance - yet they rail and screech against "Obamacare". I guess they just can't wait to shell out all the extra thousands to keep their young adult kids safe.

- Many or most raise hell against the stimulus and the bank bailouts and deficits created, but most can't distinguish between the two or why each was necessary to avoid another Depression (Especially the bond-rating agency AIG). Lacking adequate economics knowledge, I doubt most would know what a credit default swap is, or be able to differentiate between the demand and supply side of the economy. (Here's a useful clue: to get a quick handle on it all, be sure to try to see 'The Insider' at a theater near you. It has the lowdown on the whole financial meltdown and delivered in 1 hour 20 minutes)

- Many are incensed about the magnitude of the deficits, but unaware that nine-tenths were in place before Obama even took office! (Indeed, most don't know that the TARP -toxic assets relief program - was begun under Bush, not Obama) These deficits were primarily associated with: the Iraq and Afghan occupations (begun in 2003, and 2001 respectively), the Medicare Modernization legislation (2003) - which was actually a corporate welfare giveaway to Big PhRma and the HMOs; and the Bush 2001 and 2002 tax cuts - responsible for nearly $2.2 trillion in deficits alone including interest to be paid. Total deficits before Obama arrived: $7.7 trillion.

Meanwhile, others ramp up against "entitlements" but I've yet to see any of them burn their Social Security or Medicare cards. Nor have I seen one of them correctly castigate and blame the enormous bulk of military spending - now nearly 55 cents of each dollar, and more than the total of the next 45 nations combined, including Russia and China. Thus, anyone truly serious about deficit cutting needs to look at paring defense spending. And before you come back with the nonsense that "defense is the only spending allowed in the Constitution" I want you to check the Preamble to the Constitution - where it clearly states one major function of government is to "promote the GENERAL welfare".

Not "military welfare", not "corporate welfare", but GENERAL WELFARE.

Meanwhile, railing against "socialism" and calling for a return to the Constitution will not solve a single problem - if the basis for the problems is not understood in the context of the solution actually needed. And speaking of that, a correct take from a liberal blog:

"You can't foam at the mouth about what a freaking socialist Barack Obama is and then call him a Nazi at the same time. Unless, of course, you happen not to mind looking like a moron. Which, of course, all too many Americans don't anymore"


In contrast to the Beck rally to "restore honor"(sic) some nine weeks ago, replete with dour white folks, this one featured diverse crowds from across the spectrum who were festive, goofy, disillusioned with the state of politics if not the nation, and ready to play nice at a gathering called to counter all the shouting and flying insults of these polarized times. So were the hosts.

The problem is that, unfortunately, it takes two sides to have a civil, thoughtful nation or rather people. It is not even clear that most of those in attendance at the" Sanity Rally" understood the nation's problems any more deeply than the tea party brigade. Most, it seemed, were simply there to have a good time, and be in the midst of their own "Woodstock", since a number of performers appeared, including Ozzy Osborne, and Sheryl Crow and The Roots.

While this is nice, it's not a substitute for solving the nation's problems or returning us to a state of comity as opposed to near civil war. Somehow, and some way, a means must be found for the two sides to reach across the divide and actually communicate, as opposed to shouting (writing) strings of f-bombs like my friend 'james p.b.' did in his comment. F-bombs don't get us anywhere or move us closer to solutions, and I doubt they even have much therapeutic value for the f-bomber, other than to confer a temporary patina of machismo or some pseudo-relief to the effect that,....There....I got the bastard to see how I feel at last! (Actually not, since as soon as I read the pre-clips on Blogger -for the comment to be moderated- and spot even two consecutive f-bombs, the 'delete' button is engaged. I refuse to waste time wading through some ill thought out, disrespectful garbage).

At the same time, I have some intimate idea of how the typical tea party associate feels, and understand a lot is rooted in Obama's presidency....and the sense he evokes an "elitist" attitude or demeanor. (I was also called an "elitist" or rather "elitist asshole" in the colorful comment from yesterday which I deleted). I discovered this via exchanges with two of my brothers, one in Oklahoma (a "red state" if ever there was one, and indeed, which 'james p.b' may even be a resident of) and the other the preacher in Florida. Going through all their emails and posts since the 2008 campaign (which I saved) what I see is not only that they believed Obama not to be an American rather a "Muslim", but also callow and pretentious, without the experience that a John Mc Cain would have brought.

Also, like most tea partyers, neither of them actually believed Obama would win. When he did, it came over as a massive shock. As the shock gradually wore off (as with most current TPs), it transmuted to fear, then anger: "What the hell have we got ourselves in for with this guy?" Yet, 53% of the voting populace cast their ballots for him, so it was no fluke. Whatever happened to accepting the results of an election without drama or fanfare or bellicosity? (The Bush case in 2000 was different, since we know the Florida vote saw nearly 58,000 black voters deliberately disenfranchised using tactics approved by then Secretary Katherine Harrise: See 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy', Chapter One, for copies of Harris directives in her letters and other evidence, including the fake felon rolls that disqualified black voters, especially in Duval County.)

My worry is that if a Republican wins in 2012 then what? Is the other 35% of the partisan divide going to be militantly against him (or her)? Is that portion going to reject that elected person as their president? Are they going to mount endless investigations, subpoenas for some past wrongdoing, or whatever? Are they going to paint Hitler mustaches on her face? Or, call him or her a "Nazi" or worse?

When does it end? Or does it? Until we as a nation resolve this impasse, and agree that whoever is elected (assuming that no disenfranchisement methods are used, including via computer techniques) merits our respect as the president of all of us, we shall remain a nation divided. And as we know, united we stand, but divided we fall.

Until we all process that, however we can, our nation will remain a sham and not worth "taking back" - because only a whole nation is worthy of the name.

Until we figure this out, rallies like the "restore honor" or "restore sanity" will do neither, and we will continue to spiral down a tortured path to total destruction - without one external enemy having to fire a shot.

Think about it!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Introducing Some Basic Astrophysics

Let's now start examining a number of basic problems typically posed in astrophysics. We'll start out with one of the most fundamental, the nature of "gray atmospheres" in stellar modelling. Stellar modelling itself is a topic that can occupy whole monographs (e.g. 'An Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure' by S. Chandrasekhar) but we will confine current interest strictly to one simplified aspect of stellar atmospheres for now. (At a later point, we can examine how a full stellar model is developed from the interior to the outer envelope).

Modeling stellar atmospheres is similarly a very complex undertaking that often requires we make basic assumptions. The “gray atmosphere” is one such simplifying assumption.

First, some preliminaries on essential technical terms, etc.

The Planck function describes the distribution of radiation for a black body, and can be expressed:

B(L) = {(2 hc^2)/ L^5} * [1/ exp(hc/LkT) - 1)]

where h is Planck’s constant, c is the speed of light, T is the absolute temperature, k is the Boltzmann constant, and L defines the wavelength.In the plane-parallel treatment, we take layers of the gases in a stellar atmosphere to be like layers of a “sandwich”, where ds is an element of length or path perpendicular to the layers

-------------------] ds

This is opposed to employing curved layers (as would technically be the case, but for which the math is many times more complex!)

Now as a beam of radiation passes through stellar gases, there will be emission and absorption along the way. The “source function” specifies the ratio of one to the other and can be expressed:

S(L) = e(L)/ k(L)

where L again denotes wavelength, e(L) is the emission coefficent, and k(L) the absorption coefficient.

In the case of simple radiation transfer in a model stellar atmosphere (e.g. nothing changes with time), we have the relation of radiation intensity I(L) to source function S(L):

dI(L)/ds = -k(L) I(L) + k(L) S(L) = k(L)[S(L) – I(L)] - 0

or I(L) = S(L)

Now, for a black body, I(L) equals the Planck function B(L)

So, in effect, we have:

S(L) = I(L) = B(L)

And this is a condition – which for any stellar atmosphere – implies LOCAL THERMODYNAMIC EQUILIBRIUMor LTE

Note: LTE does NOT mean complete thermodynamic equilibrium!(E.g. since in the outer layers of a star there is always large energy loss from the stellar surface)

Thus, one only assumes the emission of the radiation is the same as for a gas in thermodynamic equilibrium at a temperature (T) corresponding to the temperature of the layer under consideration.

Another way to say this is that if LTE holds, the photons always emerge at all wavelengths.

Now, in the above treatment, note that the absorption coefficient was always written as:
k(L) to emphasize its wavelength (L) dependence.

However, there are certain specific treatments for which we may eliminate the wavelength dependence on absorption, and simply write:ke.g. k has the same value at ALL wavelengths!

This is what is meant by the “gray atmosphere” approximation.

I’ll now give a specific application of the gray atmosphere approximation. In a particular integral, the surface flux

(pi F(O)) = 2 pi (I(cos (theta)) =[a(L) + 2(b(L)/3 ] pi

and F_L(0) = S(L) (t(L) = 2/3

which states that the flux coming out of the stellar surface is equal to the source function at the optical depth t = 2/3. This is the important ‘Eddington-Barbier’ relation that paves the way for the understanding of how stellar spectra are formed.

Once one then assumes LTE, one can further assume k(L) is independent of L (gray atmosphere) so that:

k(L) = k; t(L) = t andF_L(0) = B_L(T(t = 2/3)

Thus, the energy distribution of F_L is that of a black body corresponding to the temperature at an optical depth t = 2/3.

From this, with some simple substitutions and integrations (hint: look at the Stefan-Boltzmann law!) the interested reader can easily determine:

pi F(O) = o(T_eff)^4 and T_eff = T(t = 2/3)

where o is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant. Thus, the temperature at optical depth 2/3 must equal the effective temperature!

Robot Females? Not a Good Idea!

With the advent of more advanced neural networks, and earlier animatronic robots (such as featured at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World), the stage now appears to be set for the creation of female robots- at least according to Arturo Arsenio, a Ph.D. candidate working in the Humanoid Group of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT.

While an "amorous" robot is still a ways off, Arsenio asserts that at his initial phase, creating mathematical frameworks for tuning networks of neural oscillators - the control of rhythmic motions in head or other parts is on the horizon. More subtle degrees of motion (not so jerky) would confer the equivalent of a socialization personality. According to Arsenio, though such a robot would not have the capability of facial expressions, it would express emotions via its varying postures.

Within several generations, of likely quantum dot neural interfaces, we may see robotics merged with the biological organism itself. This is already an emergent field: The potential already exists for emotions emanating from the brain’s amygdala, or hippocampus to be regulated by appropriately installed, advanced computer chips such as quantum dots.

Indeed, ordinary people may also be willing to seek the advantages of installed quantum or other mini-electronic components in their brains. Perhaps to regulate or ameliorate anger (such as some frothing at the mouth teepees require who are unable to post temperate comments on this blog), or addiction, depression or other misfiring of the natural, non-computered brain. And if these can be incorporated within 4-5 years, then their interfacing with advanced AI robotics in an amorous robot is fully within the scope of possibility.

But would this be a good thing? My take is emphatically 'No!'. Arsenio appears to agree as he was quoted in a recent newspaper article as averring:

"Personally, I won't work on such a technology. I don't think benefiting humanity will be in that direction. My direction will be in developing robots that could improve human situations...such as for amputees..."

So, Arsenio is prepared to work within his specialty up toward refining a specific motor capability but no farther, and I commend him for that.

I believe that already over attachment to technology has exacted a fearsome price in human relations, and actually caused the social fabric to degenerate to hitherto inconceivable levels. People who post online comments, without being face to face, have no compunction in using any sort of intemperate language - that they'd never use if face to face with the actual person. Others, using Facebook technology, employ that venue to attempt to bully their peers.

Meanwhile, political blogs (which btw, this one isn't - it only occasionally delves into that arena) sometimes go off half -cocked and exact a price, such as Andrew Breitbart's blog which impetuously attacked a black government worker with wild claims of racism, costing her a job she loved. (Well, let me correct that, the Administration reacted without getting all the facts, expediting her firing, when they ought to have been much more cautious about right wing blog claims)

Other commentators (e.g. Mark Bauerlein, in The Dumbest Generation) have noted the decline of even basic communication skills, logic and language mastery, much of it attributable to over use of computers, Facebook lingo and the like, and concomitant lack of reading (and not only e-books, since as a recent Scientific American article pointed out, there's no chance any ancient books like Aristotles' 'Nichomachean Ethics' will be found on Kindle even in the next 200 years, if that!)

So the last thing we need now is an amorous robot, female or other, to further de-humanize us. What we do need is to get away from the technology every now and then and remind ourselves there's a real world out there with real people in it, and we should be doing more than connecting in an ersatz way with blips, words and numbers flashing on computer monitors.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Nothing more pathetic than a mentally deranged relative

A Panorama of Pastor Mikey's Hell porn. As one can see, he requires serious psychological intervention.

As I scanned the blogs today, I winced at the latest eruption of vile on Pastor Mike's blog. I also felt sorry that a loved one could evince such throes of psychotic illness, and I'm unable to help - though I have tried. But I believe the sort of therapy he needs is so intense that it would demand his institutionalization at an asylum. (Including forced to go "cold turkey" from his KJV biblical crack that feeds his delusions.)

What I refer to is his endless shtick to hurl people, honest, moral and decent people, into his "Hell" phantasmagorias. The individuals so far number in his list (he has cast whole groups there too, including all JWs, Mormons, Hindis and Muslims) are shown in the graphic and span the range of human spiritual and philosophical inquiry, from atheists like Chris Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, to the Dalai Lama - a Buddhist, to our own Dad, a committed Catholic (who begged four weeks before his death for me to try to salvage Mike from the fundamentalist parasites that now want to wreck the country). Of course, assuming Mike is sane and not mentally sick, we can easily affirm he wouldn't be fit to lick the soles of the shoes of any of these folks. So, for that purpose, let us assume he's mentally ill and needs help, not condemnation. (Though we do nevertheless excoriate his actions!)

Amongst the most degenerate and evil concepts ever spawned by the human brain is the Hell Myth. This despicable, malignant psychic embolism has not only severely delimited lives of millions of humans (out of sheer fear) but it has also allowed degenerate “Satanic” religions to control masses of minds even as others are driven into delirium and psychosis.

Ironically, the colorful, artistic renditions of this abode (obviously, since there is no empirical proof at all it exists) didn’t commence until after Dante Alleghieri’s Divine Comedy and ‘Inferno’. Prior to the imaginative Dante, Christian writers only rarely depicted Hell, though writers and artists depicted Purgatory almost ubiquitously.

As the fables of Hell and its denizens metastasized, it became ever more obvious that Christians (like the Zoroastrians and Manicheans et al before them) required these nasties to help instill fear in their minions and sustain mind control. What use is a religion if it can’t hang on to its flock? And the best way to do this is threaten them with the worst torments imaginable if they leave (or to outsiders, if they never embrace their beliefs!)

In his book, ‘The History of the Devil’, Dr. Paul Carus observes that “demoniality, or Devil-worship, is the first page in the evolution of religion

Now, religions and especially their assorted fundie believers, won’t relish being called “Satanists” or “Devil worshippers” but that’s exactly what they are if they uphold belief in Satan and Hell. And though they can insist their (corrupted-KJV) bible scriptures lend credence to their beliefs, in the end those text references are fraudulent later additions, exploited to enhance control via the use of an alleged “authority”. But make no mistake this “authority” is useless, especially the KJV which is descended from a corrupted and mistranslated miasma due to a flawed 12th century text copied by Erasmus.

Why are Hell-believing religions Satanist? As Lauran Paine has noted (‘The Hierarchy of Hell’, Barnes & Noble, 1972, p. 140), the erosion of Church power almost exactly paralleled the demise of the long –enduring “orders and hierarchies” of Hell. These had been put together by clerics and Church authorities from the time of Aquinas- and made use of dozens of Satanic entities including: Asmodeus, Belial, Asiel, Gaap, Raum, Sitri, Focalor and dozens of others – each presiding over an order or level of Hell. The Satanic belief system with its ordered hierarchies was so entrenched by the 14 th century -when the Malleus Maleficarum was written that one was regarded as a heretic or atheist if one didn’t accept it! Hence, the belief in Hell and its denizens amounted to Satanism and alleged theism had mutated to theism-Satanism.

The generic standard belief (ibid.) was that “there was God and there was Satan”, the latter had dominion over the Earth and the former over everything else.

The tragedy is that few rationalist Christians could see the contradiction here. For while they insisted God was “omnipotent” or all-powerful, they allowed that an evil entity (“Satan”) could drive this Being from control of one planet! But obviously, if It could be weakened on one planet or its power curtailed there – even on a little one like Earth- it couldn’t be all-powerful by definition! In addition, if it allowed a “Hell” to be manufactured (and one wonders by whom) then it could no longer be OMNIPRESENT. The very attribute of omnipresence would mean that IF a Hell existed, it could only do so as part of God. If, on the other hand, Hell existed separately – then this marked a place or condition where God wasn’t, and hence God was therefore limited, no longer omnipresent!

The trouble is that none of this rational argument works on a brain that is seized and diseased by core Hell belief. The reason is that the disease affects those regions of the brain (see diagram) based largely in the limbic system and reticular formation and hence least susceptible to logic or rational argument.

To fix ideas, in the summer of 1973 in Barbados, two late teen girls – who I will call “Myra” and “Maura”- were hospitalized in the island’s Jenkins Asylum in Black Rock. Both had been days in a state of catatonic fear – unable to even feed and clothe themselves. As further investigation proceeded, it was revealed that their one commonality was having both attended a hellfire sermon (based on quotes in the KJV) from a Sunday night service at the Berean Bible Church, off High Street in Bridgetown- the capital.

According to the psychotherapist (Dr. Pat Bannister) who worked with both girls, they had been terrified out of their minds by the fear of Hell. They both had become so pathologically frightened of ending up there- despite being good Christian teens- that they'd effectively retreated from life and sealed themselves into a hermetic other world. Worse, their fears made it impossible for them to sleep. Like the poor kids stalked by Freddy Krueger in the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series, they dreaded losing consciousness and possibly awakening in Hell.

Psychotropic drugs like largatyl only brought them out part of the way, and as it turned out prolonged electro-convulsive therapy – administered at least once a week- had to be used. Myra finally climbed back to reality after almost a year of steady treatments. Maura took nearly a whole extra year to re-acquire some semblance of mental health, and her speech facility was only slowly regained after two years. She had become convinced a demon might enter her soul if she opened her mouth to talk. (She only ate very little, and briefly and even had to be intravenously fed a number of times).

While these were admittedly extreme cases, they highlight the depths to which the corrosive and cancerous Hell belief can wreak havoc in fragile minds, especially young ones. According to Pat Bannister, some of her preliminary studies actually showed most young Hell believers were more prone to schizoid personality disorder, as well as schizophrenia. (Of course, some authorities have juxtaposed this and maintained the schizophrenia was already there and paved the way for hyper-Hell belief). For example, it's quite possible another hyper-Hell mongerer, Fred Phelps, is schizophrenic.

Bannister’s primary conclusion, however the etiology of the psychopathy developed, was that Hell belief was pathological for a human brain. Holding such a destructive belief over time, even if the person sincerely believed his “scriptures” validated it, and was as toxic for a brain as taking a brew of speed, heroin and alcohol. She also was convinced that early dementia could be one offshoot- if it wasn’t quickly brought under control.

Bannister’s later work (she died before it could be completed) separated the victims of Hell belief from the perpetrators of it. While “Myra” and Maura” were its victims, it was the Minister who delivered the scorching Elmer Gantry –like sermon who was the infectious agent. Thus, Hell belief is like a viral meme or mind virus that had to disseminate from one highly infected source.(Much like the God meme is disseminated from one infected brain to another, as Persinger showed in his ‘The Neuropsychological Bases of God Belief’)

What nature of source might this be? According to Harvey A. Hornstein in his terrific book Cruelty and Kindness: A New Look at Aggression and Altruism (Prentice-Hall, 1976, 'We and They', p.13.), the dogmatic belief mindset is germinated in the authoritarian personality type. This personality is pathologically rigid, absolutist and displays little or no flexibility. In the words of some, “It’s my way or the highway”.

The seed of this germination probably inheres in one or more incidents in the early life especially if the person was dominated by an authority figure, perhaps paddled by a teacher or threatened in some way. The experience then buries itself in the subconscious and though this person may spend most of its adult life exorcising its demons in drunkenness or whatnot, it eventually will come back to the authoritarian mindset that originally dominated it and use that as an experiential template. The generally accepted paradigm here is that of the "dry drunk": who had been addicted to his booze, but now left it behind - but became a sanctimonious sore head instead, who was gratified that he'd found a source (Bible) that validated his unseemly and insufferable self-righteousness. Ask most people, and nine of ten will aver they preferred the regular drunk to the new dry variety, devoid of any love, emotion and knowing only rules and rubrics....while launching jeremiads at all who didn't meet its moral or theological standards.

Not surprisingly, as Hornstein notes, many of these authoritarians become either military commanders, cult leaders (like Jim Jones and David Koresh) or ministers in extreme fundamentalist religions (like Fred Phelps). They find that in these venues their exercise of control is maximized to the hilt and there are few people with the moxie to challenge them. Further, they try to amplify their authority by basing its exercise on an independent external authority in which they invest their minds absolutely. For the military commander it may be the Joint chiefs, and for the minister – his KJV. Never mind either might be corrupted at the core, their word is “gospel” and more than enough for the authoritarian to spread his noxious material.

From reading Hornstein’s chapter on the nature of the authoritarian personality it isn’t likely that any of the usual treatments reserved for Hell-belief victims (such as ECT or psychotropic medications) would do a thing to alleviate the “religious dictator” Hell-pushing syndrome. Obviously, reason also has limited use, since the authoritarian simply dismisses all appeals to reason or logic and falls back on his corrupt bible- spewing out deformed quote after quote to convince himself he is in the right. Asking daft questions such as: “And what will you do, Mr. atheist, when you find yourself in Hell?” Well, obviously nothing since there is no Hell other than in this character’s febrile imagination and his defective scriptures. What HE will learn, is that when he’s dead, he’s dead. There won’t be so much as a wayward fairy to see,

To me, therefore, the only way to remove the insidious Hell virus is to implant quantum dot electrodes in the authoritarian’s brain – probably in both the temporal lobes and the reticular formation (near the amygdala). Quantum dot scales are now such that these could easily fit in numerous places, and if done correctly, act as a supplemental neural network to regulate thoughts. I firmly believe if the correct neocortical thresholds are established and then adapted to the dots' functions in situ (by appropriate voltage testing), it's feasible that the person will never be able to think of Hell again. If he even hints at it, it's possible for the dot to trigger an electro-chemical release that will overcome him with nausea. Obviously, if he can't think of it, he can't spread its vicious meme.

I firmly believe this is the last hope for Pastor Mike, to prevent him from any further dissemination of his Hell porn and perversions, that these may strike the minds of the vulnerable, especially impressionable children. Recall then the words of Yeshua, that it is better a millstone be hung arond the necks of those who would harm any child (including psychological trauma) and that they be cast into the sea.

But we shall be generous and regard Mike as disturbed mentally, not evil. So, we will hope that he gets himself to a proper mental health outlet to be treated....before his mental hallucinations and brain pathology renders him totally incapacitated....and merely a drooling shell attached to a low threshold ECT machine....that delivers small micro-amp jolts every hour.
Footnote: Contrary to one teepee crank who offered an intemperate comment (which was instantly deleted because of overuse of the f-word), orthodox Catholics do not push their hell concept relentlessly like the evangelicals do. In addition, the general teaching now for the Catholic version is one of separation from the Beatific vision NOT of "fire and brimstone". Other Catholic theologians, e.g. Hans Kung - Eternal Life? - have pointed out (p.173), the "eternal punishment" of Catholic doctrine inheres in the punishment being "definitive but not of literal eternal duration of the torment". As Kung notes (ibid.): "Neither in Judaism nor in the New Testament is there any uniform view of the period of punishment" thus (p.174) "the eternity of the punishment of Hell is not regarded as absolute". By contrast, ALL fundies DO regard it as absolute, but then what can you expect when they lack thinkers like Kung and always go for the rubber stamp motif?

Kooks R US: Teepees Get Their Hitlers Mixed Up!

The Tea Partyers are nothing if not hyper. As Maureen Dowd put it in a NY Times column some weeks ago, their recent outbursts and erratic behavior appear to show that the whole nation may be in the midst of a massive nervous breakdown. But I believe that’s an over generalization. Many of us remain rational, though we do regard the current spectacle of so many fellow citizens “losing it” as indicators we need better mental health care, education or both.

Are the teepees kooks or just ordinary lil honest fellers out to make points? Judge for yourselves! On a recent Tea partyer’s blog, the above image and caption was posed along with a hyper victim spiel about how "Führer Obama" purports to treat those poor little Republicans, alleging he made the statement (no source or citation given anywhere):

We don't mind the Republicans joining us . They can come for the ride , but they gotta sit in back."

Puh-leeze! THIS is what these clueless twerps think passes for “Hitlerite” mandate? (Assuming it’s even remotely true and not something Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity put into Obama’s mouth- or the Teepee himself conjured up out of a recent bout of flatulence after eating one of those 64 oz. super burgers. In which case he may need a blogging license before he next assumes the position at his keyboard!)

Even if it is true, let’s think about this: What have the Republicans done the past two years to merit any respect? Hint:Name one major bill where more than two participated in passage. The answer is all they’ve done is obstruct. And proud of it! From a recent Republican mailer (sent to me obviously because they believe an independent might vote GOP: “I wish we had been able to obstruct more!” (Mitch McConnell).

Now, let’s put this in perspective: when a parent asks for his kids’ cooperation, say to lay new sod on the lawn, or help to re-paint the garage, and the kids all rebel and bellow:


What do you suppose the result will be?

Well, on the next trip in the family camper or RV the kids will be told to “sit in the back”!

In other words, they are rightfully treated as the spoiled little bratskies they are and not as family equals. Since they disdained contributing to the family tasks and issues, there's no alternative but to let them chill out in a separate time out. This is all Obama has done in his statement (again, assuming it’s even true, since no source was given). After all, if the Repukes aren't prepared to work in common cause why give them any profile, period? Clearly they aren't up to the job and indeed have already made their intentions known: that they fully expect to "shut down the government" after the mid-terms. Are these the acts of a responsible person or group? People you want "sharing the front seat"? HELL NO!

Look, when a political party or a kid acts like a recalcitrant brat, then it merits being treated in kind. This isn’t the least bit related to a “Führer’s” shtick even remotely.

Amazingly, while these bloggers get their panties in a snit over this and depict Obama as Hitler (showing they have no remote clue about the real Hitler, and need to actually visit Germany like I did and find out from those victimized by him) they slide over the actual fascist violence and words of their own troops.

Say, like thugs of Alaskan TP Senate candidate Scott Miller handcuffing a member of the press, from The Anchorage Daily News and shown on TV. Jumpin’ Jeebus! Hitler’s own SA – which rounded up journalists for imprisonment – would have been proud, but this idiot probably never even heard of either event.

Or, more recently, the vicious head stomping of a protesting liberal at a Rand Paul event in Kentucky. Fortunately, the victim suffered only a concussion, but could have been left brain dead - like the ignorant teepees who just stood around like zombies, watching.

While the teepee twerp scolds and whines about Obama’s alleged words (what any adult would say to impertinent, uncooperative brats) he conveniently neglects mention of the actual violence and hate (in real actions!) by his side. Or even the fact that one of his Tea Party candidate flock - Rich Iott- actually has dressed up as a WAFFEN S.S. - the bunch responsible for having most Jews dispatched to concentration camps. But this is par for his course, since his whole gambit is to be dishonest in whatever venue he aspires to debate. Then he has the chutzpah to allege the “cat” has Obama followers’ tongues? Puh-leeze! (And do remove your cranium from your posterior aperture when you get the chance!)

But one doesn’t even have to look very far in the real press (not the propaganda machine of Faux News) to see what we’re in store for if these Tea Party kooks come to power. Here in Colorado, Ken Buck is a case in point, caught on camera some years ago being asked if he’d go all out to prosecute a rapist, and Buck replying: “Difficult to do when you might find the alleged victim has ‘buyer’s remorse’

And then there’s Nevada nutcase Sharon Angle (who Joy Behar correctly called out) asserting that if a woman or girl is raped she ought to just “make lemonade from lemons” and have the rapist’s child. Never mind all the months of morning sickness, the threat to health and well being – not to mention mental well being (in the case of a younger female – perhaps victim of incest), you need to suffer that rape longer and emit the rapist’s parasite at the end.

And these same zealots, like Angle – as well as wannabe “witch” Christine O’Donnell- want to imprison any woman who goes ahead and aborts the rapist’s seed, while the rapist will likely be given a plea bargain of community service. Then these assholes have the nerve to compare Obama to Hitler? They have their historical perspectives badly juxtaposed.

What’s really going on here, especially with the millions of tea bagger voters very likely to at least award the House to these maniacs?

According to political analyst Bill Schneider, the Tea Party movement can best be compared to religious fundamentalism. (Which makes sense since at least one Rasmussen poll shows nearly 51% of tea party voters are also evangelicals. Thus, the “Moral Majority” of Falwell appears to have found a new home wrapped in the flag and Constitution, in a new GOP movement. This borne out in a special report: ‘The Resurrection of the Religious Right’ appearing in Church & State, Vol. 63, No. 9, October, 2010)

As Schneider writes:

It’s not just that tea partyers are anti-government …they are anti-politics. They believe that politics is essentially corrupt, that deal making and compromise are an abandonment of principle. The tea party is a political fundamentalist movement. Like religious fundamentalists, its members do not tolerate waverers. They drive out heretics (like Gov., Charlie Crist, of Florida)"

They punish unbelievers (like Mike Castle of Delaware) and they subscribe to the total inerrancy of their source, in this case the U.S. Constitution as originally written in 1787.”

Schneider adds the last part, because as any dunderhead knows the Constitution is an evolving document. Amendments are continually added, and the form we have now has many more freedoms than that originally crafted in 1787. (Obviously, since the Founders who wrote it were not seers who could see into the future but ordinary flesh and blood men. They expected their descendents to have the vision and common sense to make adjustments as need, not to think that a document scored in 1787 would still be totally relevant "as is", in 2010!)

Thus, if the 1787 Constitution was still adhered to, no 14th amendment, then black people would still be counted as only three-fifths of a person, and no one would be permitted to vote who didn’t actually own property. This little historical fact escapes the tea baggers, many of whom don’t own their own property but have to rent. In other words, these morons are actually in favor of eliminating their own voting rights, if indeed they want to return to the Constitution of 1787 (Somewhat like their religious fundy cousins who’d have us all still following Leviticus and casting out a woman as “unclean” if she’s having her period!)

To the Bible punchers it’s as if nothing good has happened in the world since Jesus walked on water. To the Teepees, it’s as if nothing good has happened in America since ‘Poor Richard’s Almanac’. In either case, the mentality is trapped in the past, and shocked by the Future. I’d recommend either read the book ‘Future Shock’ by Alvin Toffler and find out the real reason they can’t adjust to life.

Getting back to what Schneider wrote, if indeed true, and the Teepees hate the art of deals and compromise, then they are exactly like the Wanderfogel of the 1920s. These Wanderfogel were also put off by the endless deals that had to be processed through their Weimar Republic and by 1931-32 had enough. A “strong man” offering direction and guidance entered, and they followed him like so many sheep.

As my German friend Hans Borgers put it (Hans was a former member of the Wehrmacht):

We saw in Hitler someone like ourselves but not like ourselves. He was common like us, but a most gifted speaker who promised us new liberty and a stronger nation if we just followed him. We did and regretted it!”

In Germany, the “simpler era” longed for was the height of the Volkisch movement in the Middle Ages, when Jews “knew their place”. In the same way, the Teepees wish to return us to a period where all minorities “knew their place” (after all they counted as only 3/5 of a person) and it’s a White Man’s nation again. They can’t adjust to the demographic fact that America is no longer a white majority nation and it screws with their heads. No wonder they depict Obama like Hitler, because they don’t dare depict him as the pickininnie they desperately want to.

Some teepees insist that they are so into their past they also want to read the Federalist Papers and understand them. Well, why not? Last I checked they were at any library and versions may also be online. I’d suggest starting with James Madison’s Federalist No. 51, paying special attention to where he writes:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place to control itself”

And subsequently as to the meaning inherent in the American Republic:

In a single Republic all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government, and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound Republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each divided among distinct and separate departments. Hence, a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, and at the same time that each will be controlled by itself

Thus, the protections afforded to secure the rights of all citizens are already in evidence – manifested by the separation of powers. We have not only a divided governance in the House and Senate, but in addition three separate branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Obama occupies only the Executive so can’t possibly be the tyrant so many make him out to be. By contrast, within a year or so of Hitler’s ascent to power the German constitution was already rendered defunct by having removed the key protections. This gave Hitler carte blanche to do whatever he desired. Obama has no such absolute power and to depict him with such as to not only show gross ignorance of one’s own country, but history as well.

If the Tea Party Brigade can lose their hysteria and victimization for a few minutes, they might well bestir themselves to not only read the Constitution but many of the Federalist papers as well. If they do so, they’ll be less likely to make themselves out as idiots when they hold up their signs reading ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ and also they’ll be more likely to be seen as sane when they cease portraying Barack Obama as Hitler.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

M-Brane: The Mail Brane

Well, I now introduce the "M-Brane" or Mail Brane aspect of the blog. There's been about a dozen past emails backed up waiting for replies, and this will be the forum provided for them. In each case I'll give the questioner's ID as given, the location (if given) and my response. The order given doesn't necessarily reflect any priority.

Q.(1) You had blogs on stellar evolution and also a number on biological. Do you believe the two are connected at any fundamental level to form one Evolution?- Cloris, Dallas TX

A. That's an excellent question! In fact, strictly speaking the two forms of evolution are distinct, the first being purely physical, the second biological or organismal. Technically then, they don't form one unitary process governed by a single dynamic, and indeed, we know that natural selection has no role in stellar evolution at all.

Having said that, however, it is very true that without stellar evolution there could be no biological evolution. Indeed, the innards or cores of massive stars were required for the chemical evolution of heavier organic elements - which had to precede evolution of organisms. One could think of stellar evolution then as a necessary condition for the evolution of biological organisms, with natural selection the sufficient condition.

Thus, before the onset of biological or organis.mal Evolution there had to be Elemental Evolution occurring in the innards of the stars. There, for billions of years, the nuclear fusion of lighter elements, such as hydrogen and helium, transmuted into much heavier ones, such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and silicon as well as heavy metals such as cobalt, nickel and iron. Very massive stars ultimately became unstable, their cores imploding even as their outer regions exploded into space as supernovae.

In this violent process all the newly synthesized heavier elements were ejected into space. These elements to become the ‘birth material’ for newer, heavier generations of stars, not to mention planets, moons, asteroids and other objects. Elemental Evolution, then, is an ongoing process where chemicals are built up inside stars and later disseminated. In a literal sense, human beings are "star stuff".

Q. (2) I take a fancy to all your math blogs and have actually worked out a lot of the problems. Is there any place I can get all in one place instead of going back all through the blog? Mitchell, Corvallis, Ore.

Yes, all the math blogs up to differential equations are available in my book, Mathematical Excursions in Brane Space, available at (use search engine in the 'Medicine & Science' field). You can obtain an e-book for only $5 and a paperback one for about twice that.

Q(3) I get a real kick out of how you go after that brother of yours and the stuff he sometimes puts up on his blog, especially those insane Hell panels! Is he really that way, or does he just carry on like that to grab attention? Also, I kind of get the feeling when you reply to him in your blogs you aren't really addressing him but maybe many people who are waffling and even young people. True? - Derlwyn, Kokomo, IN

Okay, first, I suspect Mike really is the way he comes off. Remember the old saw that "there's no one more zealous than a fresh convert"? Well, it appears to apply to him. Bear in mind his whole identity seems to be wrapped up in this pastor shtick, so it isn't likely he'll change. It's his persona, and for him there's only one way he can bring it off: "My way or the Hell-way".

Second, you are correct that in almost all cases I'm not particularly responding to him, but to thinking people whose minds may not yet be made up about those issues. That includes his own kids, who hopefully haven't taken the "kool aid" but are still in the searching, questing mode. I long ago concluded that trying to change Mike's mind was more or less futile- say like trying to make a fish walk - so now mainly direct attention and responses to those who can still be "saved". Well, their minds anyway, since we don't believe in "souls" on this blog!

Q(4). What is your brother's obsession with Hell anyway? Did somebody burn him when he was a kid? - Maynard G. Toledo, OH

His case isn't particular or special, nor (to my knowledge) did he get burned as a kid. What we have found (this is based on conversations with Bajan psychologist Dr. Pat Bannister in the 70s), is that new converts always embrace the most extreme forms of their new religion and Hell appears as an extreme belief form in all orthodox faiths to which people may be inclined to convert. The newly converted are also much more likely than not to be purists about it. If their new religion declares x, y and z must be followed or accepted to the letter, then that's the way they go. There is no wiggle room, so no flexibility, and certainly no compromise. If there's any "Jesus" around, you all better damned well accept MY Jesus and no other form. (In the case of most evangelicals, they fancy him with some warrior suit on despite the fact the historical evidence shows he was more a hippie type- see John Dominic Crossan's 'Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography'. ) But because most newly minted fundies are hostile and bellicose they demand "their Jesus" be likewise. In effect, they project their own bellicosity and belligerence onto the Prince of Peace - then insist all the outside objective observers are the ones deluded since all other versions are "unbiblical" - as if an ancient, million times re-translated book can be accurate after thousands of years.

In the same way, new Catholic converts are also the most obsessively doctrinnaire, believing every single Catholic doctrine to the letter, from the "Immaculate Conception" to even peripheral stuff like the opening of the Fatima letters (which purport to claim exactly who will be roasting in Hell at the end of time, including millions of evangelicals, communists and others).

Q.(5) The spontaneous origin of the universe is really difficult to grasp! Is there any basic book out that can explain it? - Terence, Oslo, Norway

Unfortunately, there's none that I know of. Most books I'm aware of touch on it peripherally if at all. This is probably also because the concept is still a work in progress. In effect, the best way to grasp it is probably to approach it from the viewpoint of basic physics or general physics. Or even general or basic cosmology, for example a text like The Foundations of Modern Cosmology, by John E. Holcolm and Kathryn Hawley. This book is terrific because it approaches the topics from a very non-quantitative, or minimally quantitative view point. Two other good books to get: The First Three Minutes, by physicist Steven Weinberg, and The Structure of the Universe, by astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar. I also often suggest interested readers try to get the late Sir Fred Hoyle's monograph, Astronomy and Cosmology, which though a bit dated, nicely weaves physics and astronomy to cover many basic physical principles.

Q.(6) DO you think Christians and atheists will ever get along?, Deborah, Yonkers, NY

Atheists and Christians DO get along, currently! However, it requires some degree of compromise on both parts. Alas, zealots will always rebuff any and all compromises, whether extreme strong atheists (or anti-theists) or extreme evangelicals. But I am friends with a number of Christians, many of whom I've known for decades. What getting along requires is the ability to put your "fight armor" on the back burner and just be friends, instead of waging religious wars 24/7. It can be done, and many do it.

It also requires a degree of humility, particularly shelving the shibboleth that your side has all the answers and the other side has none, or is "demon possessed". Demonization is never a good policy for human relations, and is often one that lays the basis of future warfare. Life is too short to be at each other's throats over a metaphysical point of debate - like "salvation" -which no one is in any position to know for sure, book or no book!

Q.(7) I really enjoyed the blogs on the biblical contradictions and also exposing the King James Bible? Do you think you might do any more? - Jason, Sanford, FL

One is definitely being planned for the future which will show how grievous and widespread the deliberate mangling of the texts and passages are in the KJV bible.

Q.(8) I'm amazed by the details in your economics and finance blogs. Where did you learn this stuff, at what university?, F.W., Marion, OH

No university! Never took an econ course in my life! However, after firing our FA in 1996 for questionable practices (and after scanning his ADV, Part II) I decided that if I was going to manage all our finances I needed to know as much as possible about finance, investing, economics. To that end, I became a regular subscriber to magazines like MONEY, Forbes, Business Week, and The Economist, as well as The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, and also acquired a number of books including 'Surviving the Coming Mutual Fund Crisis' - which alerted me to the need to get out of equities before 1999, Other helpful books were: Retire on Less Than You Think, by Fred Brock, and Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin.

All of those empowered me to make my own financial decisions, as well as the best for my wife. (It was my decision to have her pull out of risky funds before the 9/11 meltdown). Tragically, too many Americans are financially clueless and aren't even able to budget properly, but I hope my blogs have shed some light on the important issues.

The Alien-ET Vote in Denver: Joke or not?

As November 2nd or election day rolls around, many observers' eyes in Denver will be focused on on Initiative 300 on the ballot: a referendum measure to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to "ensure the health, safety and cultural awareness of Denver area residents and visitors in relation to potential encounters or interactions with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles".

Many people are amazed that sufficient signatures (60,000 needed) appeared on referendum sheets to get on the ballot. But here in Colorado, many people (and not just kooks) take the possibility of alien visitation very seriously. This followed a spate of UFO sightings 2 years ago, and in at least one case a "close encounter of the Third Kind" as defined by the late Prof. J. Allen Hynek in his book, The UFO Experience. In that particular encounter, at least one "ET" interrupted a Denverite's dinner, surprising him as it peered nonchalantly through his window pane. The guy was so shocked he forgot to get his digital camera aimed, and the photo he did take disclosed a somewhat ambiguous "head" in the window.

Now, as many others have noted, there's nothing inherently unscientific or preposterous about such an event occurring, or indeed the notion that dozens of alien vehicles may have visited Earth with some of the aliens alighting on our soil and even interacting. It certainly has far more to commend it - given a universe teeeming with billions of possible habitable worlds - than the notion of "demons" skulking about and taking control of people! (Where not one demon "world" has been empirically proven to exist, and the only basis for believing so are the additions to an ancient book, made to try to extort unbelievers)

While it is true that many thousands of UFO reports are rather silly, and many more thousands just plain lazy and/or careless (mistaking a readily verifiable astronomical or man-made object for an unknown) many others are not that way. I can pointedly refer here to my own experience, in observing an actual unknown - which fortunately was seen by dozens of other observers as well (so it couldn't have been a hallucination, unless it was a mass hallucination, which stretches the laws of probability in a different direction).

This particular observation occurred in March, 1962, after my two younger brothers and I, along with about three hundred people, had assembled for the grand opening of a shopping center in Carol City (nee: Miami Gardens), Florida, just off Miami Gardens Drive or 183rd St. It was around seven o'clock in the evening and the sky was dark except for the scattered light coming from some of the buildings. At approximately 7:05 p.m. a luminous, orange disc appeared out of the north and hovered for three seconds directly above the crowd. Except for assorted "ooh's" and "aah's" from a dozen or so witnesses there was no sound at all. After three seconds, it headed due south and vanished below the horizon.

Those fortunate enough to have gazed up at the right time talked of seeing a "flying saucer" afterwards. My younger brother Jerry talked excitedly about the "saucer ship". "How do you know it was a ship?" I asked him. "I dunno. I just figured it was. It seemed to act like a ship hovering and all." I recall responding: "Yes, but you don't know it was even made out of anything solid. You’re only guessing."

As a seasoned sky observer, even at the age of 15 (having made my own refracting telescopes), I ruled out the usual obvious explanations: Venus, shooting star, weather balloon, helicopter or other aircraft. The dynamical and luminescent behavior simply didn’t match those. Nonetheless, I wasn’t prepared to go hog wild and claim I’d seen a "flying saucer". As far as I was concerned it was an unidentified aerial phenomenon (I didn't even wish to use the word "object" since that implied an unproven solidity.)

Considering the observation at nearly a 50 year retrospective, I've played the thing back in my mind and have conceded that the fact it was evidently reported on the radar of Miami International Airport could imply an actual object under controlled flight. However, I'm still prepared to place the odds at only 50-50. As I've repeatedly told audiences since, I simply can't bring my mind to accept that aliens could actually be visiting our humdrum little world with the frequency that thousands such sightings a year would suggest. We just aren't that important. We aren't so important to own our own "Cosmic Savior" and we aren't so important to be visited by alien intelligences thousands of times each year - from presumably as many worlds! In the cosmic scheme, we are little better than two-legged roaches.

Now, this is not to say that such aliens can't exist. Or are "impossible". A vastly habitable cosmos, or the proposition of such, is totally consistent with what we've already discovered about the evident criteria for life on Earth. And the fact that even microbes and lichens can survive in the harshest environments, discloses the potential for alien life to do the same. Neither we nor our world are "magic". Thus, given the same necessities, chemicals and materials exist elsewhere in the universe (as determined by our spectrometry) there is no reason other life- even intelligent life- doesn't as well. Merely because some antiquated book scribbled by preliterate and innumerate nomads doesn't mention it, doesn't make it impossible.

So I don't disagree with the ballot measure in principle.

Where I have some problems is with the subtext or the undertones of the measure. That is, that the government has somehow managed to suppress or conceal information that thousands of alien visitations have occurred, and many thousands of humans have been contacted by these aliens, but the government has them in some hidden redoubt, incommunicado. Thus, I suspect it is possible this measure will go down in flames once many Denverites understand or see the full text on the ballot, and realize they're being asked to require their city government endorse a massive conspiracy theory- where even alien cures for cancer, the common cold, herpes and AIDS are being kept from us.

What I'd like to see much more earnestly on future ballot measures, is the funding approved to teach people much more astronomy, biology and Earth Science. None of these receive much attention in grade or high schools, but they ought to. Their inclusion might very well limit the amount of pseudo-scientific nonsense we behold, and also tamp down the rampant supernaturalism that appears to have ensnared so many vulnerable minds. At the very least, we can teach kids that a god isn't needed to account for the origin of the universe.

Stay tuned!

A Look at Magnetic Helicity

As the new solar cycle ramps up, attention turns again to the forecasting of large solar flares and their possible terrestrial effects. These can include everything from interference in radio and TV communications (since satellites can be saturated with x-rays), to disturbance of navigational controls aboard aircraft, and the melting of large conducting transmission lines in power grids (as occurred in Ottawa, due to a large flare in 1989).

Factoring in new flare indicators is an ongoing task, and as each critical morphological or physical feature is included, it must be examined carefully in the whole soalr flare dynamic process. One of the more recent flare indicators to have made the cut - certainly in the last decade or so - is the magnetic helicity.

In this blog I want to explore a bit what it is about and why we want to integrate it into our forecast schemes.

Before going on to magnetic helicity, it is useful to get a general idea of helicity – for example in the topological sense.

To do this very easily, you can simply cut out a rectangular strip of paper with the rough dimensions shown below:


Now take the strip and put a kink or half-twist into it about two –thirds from one end, then tape the free ends. What you will have is called a Moebius strip.

The Moebius strip has one part twist and one part writhe and this is the fundamental basis of helicity. You can get a pictorial idea by going to:

“Magnetic helicity” was probably first introduced by K. Moffat in the late 1950s as a topological invariant that describes the complexity of a magnetic field. Like the pure tolpological helicity, this magnetic helicity also has “twist” and “writhe” components. It is written as a function of the vector potential (A) and the magnetic field (B), and measures the topological linkage of magnetic fluxes (F)

The magnetic helicity H of a field B within a volume V is defined:

H = INT V A*B dV

where INT denotes integral over the volume V and A is the vector potential, B is the magnetic induction.

In actual working solar conditions, one prefers a gauge-invariant form of H and this is provided by the “relative helicity” – wherein one subtracts the helicity of some reference field (B (o), e.g. associated with the force-free parameter alpha = 0) and having the same distribution of the normal component of B on the surface (S). Thus,

H(R) = [INT V A B dV - INT V_o A_ o B_o dV_o]

It is hypothesized that shearing and twisting of the field “injects” helicity and that this may be useful in quantifying: a) how much magnetic free energy becomes available, and b) whether instability can be predicted based on observed indicators of helicity at the level of the photosphere-chromosphere.

H(R) can then be resolved into two components such that:

d H(R)/ dt = d H(R) [T] / dt + d H(R) [W] / dt

where term 1 on the RHS refers to the “twist” and term 2 to the “writhe”

We see evidence of the Sun’s magnetic helicity in the solar corona as well as the solar wind that streams past Earth. In eruptive prominences, for example see the one in the attached image, we actually have the graphical detection of the twist and writhe (or helical structure) associated with topological helicity – and which is magnetic helicity in the Sun’s magnetic environment.

Also, if you carefully inspect and study the prominence in the upper right of the image below, you can discern both twist and writhe in the plasma filaments. Evidently then, prominences are capable of transporting magnetic helicity in the solar corona.

The magnetic helicity is also visible in the gas filaments of the prominence depicted in the lower left of the image below:

Solar eruption, especially coronal mass ejections (CMEs) carry magnetic flux as well as helicity from the Sun. When the erupted magnetic field reaches the Earth it interacts with the magnetosphere, causing magnetic substorms and auroras.

Some recent research also reveals remarkable aspects of magnetic helicity in the solar environment. For example, it seems that magnetic helicity of different signs or polarities (+ or -) can occur, depending on which hemisphere of the Sun it’s measured.

Specifically, the sign of helicity will be positive or negative, depending on what is known as the “hemispheric helicity rule.[1] That is, the force-free a characterizing each active region will have a tendency to be (+) in the southern solar hemisphere, (-) in the northern solar hemisphere. Thus, in effect, in this case (-x2) -> alpha = (+ curl B_n / B_n), where B_n is the normal component of the field in the particular region. and 'alpha' is the force free constant (the (assumed) force-free parameter associated with the vertical current density, J_z, and vertical magnetic induction, B_z, is such that: alpha = u J_z/ B_z, where u denotes the magnetic permeability of free space, or u = 4 pi x 10^-7 H/m)

When you think about it, though, this makes eminent sense. (Think of the Coriolis force causing a preferred sign or handedness, relative to convective flows in the northern and southern hemispheres of a planet like Earth) If there is a preferred “handedness” (or chirality) associated with magnetic flux, it would be expected to exhibit a different sign in each hemisphere.

Observations confirm that this sign asymmetry exists throughout the solar atmosphere: in the corona, the solar wind and the photosphere. (For the latter evidence, see, e.g. A.A. Pevtsov et al, The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 473, p. 533, 1996)

Next: Specific applications in flares

[1] K. Kusano et al., Astrophysical Journal, 577, p. 501, 2002.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Courageous Atheist Faces Death Unabashed

Christopher Hitchens, left, now faces his final passage as a still determined atheist. No doubt though that some Christian cowards will try to insert his visage into their Hell porn to get their jollies at his expense!

It's no news for most of us in the atheist community, that friend and fellow infidel Chris Hitchens now wages a monumental battle against esophogeal cancer which has produced secondaries in his lungs. The prognosis is not good, and he has since made out his will and other arrangements, as he describes to Sally Quinn in this interview:

Of course, there's no surprise here that Hitchens has a special disdain for deathbed religious conversions, as all atheists do! Nothing sticks in an atheist's craw more than the oft-spouted canard that "there are no atheists in fox holes or in cancer wards". Horse manure! In fact, the first canard is skewered every single month in each new issue of The American Atheist magazine, which features its 'Foxhole Atheist of the Month', generally one of many thousands of confirmed atheists currently serving in Afghanistan, or (earlier) Iraq. The second has been confirmed time and time again, either by open atheists (like Hitchens, and earlier Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan) who plug onward toward their inevitable demise without yielding to the vultures baying at their deathbeds, awaiting a final "conversion", or by others (e.g. Stephen J. Gould, Katharine Hepburn) who near the end admit their unbelief for the first time.

In fact, only recently Hitchens - appearing at a gathering sponsored by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life - criticized the pressures put on Tom Paine to embrace Christianity and the malicious rumors of faith that followed Charles Darwin's demise. (To wit, that he made a last minute deathbed conversion to make up for his faithless scientific impertinence, which is total bull pockey and BS). As Hitchens expressed it:

"I've already thought about this a great deal, thanks all the same. The idea that you may be terrified is no reason to abandon the principles of a lifetime."

Indeed. Since only a coward runs to grab an alleged "insurance policy' at the last minute to sacrifice his principles, no matter how many Christian (mainly John 3:14 evangelical) cowards flash their Hell porn, or last minute threats in his face to "grab the free gift of salvation", never owning up that this "gift" is not "free" but at the expense of one's integrity.

In this light, there appears to be the need to believe that Atheists will awaken in the nick of time on their deathbeds and reconcile with their Maker or retrieve a once lost faith. This is accepted because it perhaps increases believers’ existential comfort levels. The very idea of an Atheist laughing, or at least in good humor on his deathbed, is a terrifying prospect for those that invest death with mounds of supernatural significance. As opposed to death in the Materialist view, which is simply a wholly natural vehicle to expedite evolution. If organisms didn’t die, no change in species could occur: Stasis would be the rule with all the lack of biodiversity it portends.

In a Newsweek 'My Turn' submission 18 years ago, I noted that the Atheist accepts infirmities more or less stoically as part of the price for life as a finite creature. Sure, he may cry a bit from pain (he’s human after all), even yield to a few doubts, but he refuses to succumb to his inevitable end as a material being by substituting supernatural illusion. The Atheist refuses to compromise his unbelief to make believers’ own road easier or more secure. They are obliged to do this on their own.

At his Pew confab, Hitchens admitted he's unlikely to make it even 5 more years. When asked if he objected to people praying for him, he responded: "No, no. I take it kindly, under the assumption that they are praying for my recovery.”

And when pressed whether he might give in and make the proverbial deathbed confession, he puckishly dismissed both that notion and the idea that, if he did, such a profession would be valid:

The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain. I can’t guarantee that such an entity wouldn’t make such a ridiculous remark, but no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a remark.”

Indeed, since we know that near death as organs break down, especially as brain neural functioning lapses, all sort of circuits get fried. The synapses are clogged with errant messages, even as a deluge of brain chemicals, including dopamine, adrenalin, vasopressin and even the intravenous drugs pumped in, combine to wreak havoc on genuine neural processing. The person becomes a simulacron, or what Daniel Dennett once called a "Zimbo". He looks and somewhat acts like the real person, but is no longer that person. His brain has been usurped in the same way a crack addict's has and thus the output can't be trusted. Is this just an excuse in case Hitchens does confess? Nope, merely a cautionary warning not to trust the words emitted by a Zimbo.

Look, if your grandma is on the Alzheimer's ward and she orders you to "put that rat poison in your tea to see me better tomorrow", what? Are you actually going to be idiot enough to take her at her word and do it? Of course not! You know it isn't really the grandma you know talking but her ravaged brain! Likewise, the related mouthings of deathbed patients usually can't be trusted, no matter how many "white lights" they claim to see, or how many "demons" or "pitchforks".

At the Pew Forum, Hitchens was asked a mischievous question: What positive lesson have you learned from Christianity? He replied, with great earnestness: the transience and ephemeral nature of power and all things human.

But what he might have also considered, with his Christian brother Peter standing by his side, is that REAL Christians do exist who evoke the love of neighbor taught by their master. They do not stoop to crassly exploiting a dire situation to push their own agendas to compromise the will of those who are vulnerable, but use their compassion to make their path easier. Commendations to Peter Hitchens, in showing not only how a true brother behaves, but also a true Christian as opposed to a cultist. One who has the courage and integrity to refuse to use his brother's condition to score make believe brownie points by forcing his own beliefs to mute his own uncertainties.

Tea Party Racists? Not necessarily an Oxymoron!

One of the Tea Partyers' favorite images, circulated widely both on their blogs and on signs at their rallies. Though touted as simply an 'exercise in free speech' - the use of a known racial stereotype (going back to the Old Confederacy) shows it is essentially racist. The spin of the TPs is to invoke such blatant imagery then merely profess they are expressing 'concerns about our country'. Bull-shit!

We now are aware, as if we weren't already, that a significant proportion of tea partyers are racists. We can assess it from the blatant racial stereotype images they portray of President Obama (see that depicted by one Florida Tea Partyer on his blog) to the comments and remarks they make, using subterfuge words like "socialist" to conceal the actual N-word they'd dearly love to spout.

More in your face evidence of their racism (denouncing "liberals, their n.....r pals and socialists") arrived via e-mails sent to several bloggers on, compliments of the "King Street" group in Houston, outraged at the efforts of 'Houston Votes' to get out the minority vote, see, e.g. this from blogger William Rivers Pitt: (
Seems the local teepees were convinced voter registration laws were being violated. Well, in the Jim Crow South ca. 1964 this was also the sentiment in places like Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi, if a black showed up within 500 feet of a voting booth. Within an instant, yahoos bearing Johnny Reb regalia would show up blocking the entrance and asking the would-be voters if they'd taken their "Voters qualification" test yet.

Now in Milwaukee we behold a somewhat different tack, as reported in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, of large billboards around the town featuring images of brown and black people behind bars, staring out helplessly with the three foot sign beneath reading: "We Voted Illegally!" Not so blunt as using dogs, clubs and firehoses to keep black voters they did in Selma, but intimidating nonetheless....given we know nearly 1 in 2 black males in the U.S. of A is already under control of the justice system (either via parole, on probation, in prison, or otherwise.)

The question resurfaces: Are the Tea Partyers racists, or simply ordinary common folk with a load to get off their collective chests? We need to know as the Nov. 2 elections approach.

According to the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, the NAACP, a report was released last Wednesday declaring that "the Tea Party is permeated with concerns about race." The report also added:

"Tea Party groups have given platform to anti-Semites, racists and bigots and Have attracted white nationalists looking for recruits. The Tea Party movement has unleashed a still inchoate political movement who are in their numerical majority angry middle class white people who believe their country, their nation has been taken from them."

Which explains the "Take back America" signs one often sees associated with them.

The NAACP report and research was done by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights - an organization dedicated to examining and mobilizing against racist, anti-Semitic and far Right social movements. To reach their conclusions they analyzed six nationwide Tea Party networks at the core of the movement and concluded that the leaders of all but one, FreedomWorks, a libertarian group in Washington, had raised questions on the validity of Barack Obama's birth certificate.

While some past posters on this blog have tried to suggest this raising of questions is merely out of curiosity, since Obama has never provided his official birth certificate (in fact, Hawaiian officials have repeatedly posted it, they just haven't noticed - or maybe as one wit opined, they merely want their own personal copies sent to them!) the truer fact is that to all sensible people the matter is closed. Obama is a bona fide American citizen, and no amount of aimless, clueless chatter about his "Kenyan father", or any other deflecting baloney will change that. They need to deal with reality. Or at least drop the "phony birth certificate" dodge and 'fess up the real reason they believe Obama's presidency is illegitimate!

Curious as to whether this movement might have some historical precedents, I did some work on my own, using records, videos etc. supplied by a number of German friends. It didn't take to long to track a similar movement known as the 'Wanderfogel' active in pre-Nazi era Germany and with a mandate to "take the country back to its roots". Not coincidentally, the movement achieved acceleration concomitantly with the skyrocketing German inflation in the mid 1920s, which ultimately saw the end of the Weimar Republic.

The "taking the country back", of course, echoed the much earlier Volksich movement which was anti-Semitic to the core. The nattering about "discipline" especially fiscal, hailed from an earlier time of German self-dependence, and one of the Wf members quoted in the film referred even to a remark made by SS High Chief Goebbels that: "Men of courage are bred on the farms, but cowards in the cities."

The zeitgeist operative was that when "the shit hit the fan", say economically, one would want to take care of his own and this was more plausibly done in the setting of the bucolic German countryside than in its cities where people would naturally be dependent on shipments of fuel and grain to survive. Thus, survival demanded one become an agrarian and cease being dependent on the government. This played into the then rising Nazi ideology, and especially its anti-Semitic rhetoric, e.g. that most Jews were "merchants and bankers" bleeding the nation dry.

Some may believe this odd, but even in a trip to Germany in 1985 I found this meme remarkably prevalent. One German (in Hemsbach) even informed me with a straight face: "How can you expect plain Germans to do better, when the Jews who own the newspapers in the United States always give us the back of their hand?"

Well, not too terribly different from what Tea Bagger princess Christine O'Donnell recently opined at a "Value Voters Summit", as she unleashed a stinging attack on "ruling class elites determined to drag down the country" (Source: Church & State, October, 2010, p. 7). O'Donnell went on to assert (ibid.):

"The small elite don't get us. They call us wacky. They call us wing nuts. We call us 'the People'!"

As indeed the Vanderfogel and their descendants would claim too! (And btw, many don't know how much the anti-Semitic sentiment increased in Germany after the shenanigans of Goldman Sachs were disclosed, particularly their profiting at the expense of poor Germans during the 2008 meltdown, especially undertaking 'buyouts' of venues, e.g. subsidized apartment complexes, many ordinary German workers counted on to survive).

Will the Tea Party usher in a Fascist-style takeover, similar to what befell the Weimar Republic by 1932, when Hitler was awarded the Chancellorship? We don't know, only that we do hope our Constitution (which the teepees love to quote and worship) will be strong enough to prevail no matter what menagerie of kooks arrive in D.C. as a result of next month's elections. In the meantime, it might be a wise thing for ordinary progressives to re-read the 2nd amendment again and become familiar with their own state's provisions for owning firearms and under what circumstances they can be used. Ordinarily, I'd never advocate such a thing, but after seeing a liberal having her head stomped in by a Kentucky teepee last night at a Rand Paul rally, I don't think we should take anything for granted.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Neutrinos: Then and Now

Fig. 2: Image of the "Ice Cube" neutrino detector to be built in Antarctic. Note the dimensions of the detector compared to the Eiffel Tower.

Neutrinos are amongst the most fascinating subatomic particles in existence. Moreso because for a long time they were illusory, and many believed them to be purely products of physicists' imaginations. In fact, around 1930, the neutrino was imagined or rather invented, in order to balance a nuclear fission equation. Basically, in this light, when the nucleus of a radioactive atom disintegrates, the energy of the particles emitted must equal the energy originally contained.

This is in connection with the so-called "Q" of the reaction, defined:

Q = [M(r) - M(p)]u

where M(r) denotes the mass of the reactants, M(p) the mass of the products, and u is an atomic mass conversion factor (e.g. 931.5/ MeV/u)

If Q > 0 one has an exothermic (heat generating) reaction, else one has an endothermic (heat absorbing reaction)

What physicists of the early 1930s era noticed was that the radioactive nuclei were losing more energy than detectors were picking up. To account for the extra energy, Wolfgang Pauli (who formulated the "Pauli Exclusion Principle", conceived an extra, invisible particle emitted by the nucleus. In his journal he actually wrote:

"I have done something very bad today by proposing a particle that cannot be detected. It is something that no theorist should ever do."

Though premature, his instincts were correct. By the 1950s, physicists working at a nuclear weapons lab in South Carolina determined that their experiments ought to be generating nearly ten trillion neutrinos a second. For a detector, they used two large water tanks placed just outside a nuclear reactor and found three neutrinos an hour. Pathetic in terms of numbers, but the neutrino was at last detected. Now, having established the reality of the neutrino, further study accelerated.

Around a decade later, after physicists surmised the Sun ought to be the biggest generator or neutrinos, detection experiments commenced to confirm the existence of the putative fusion reactions in the solar core - from which neutrinos emerged as byproducts (see diagram, Fig. 1). In the initial fusion reaction of the proton-proton chain, one has theoretically:

H1 + H1 -> D2 + e(+) + v

that is, two protons fuse to yield deuterium, plus a positive electron (positron) and a neutrino. Given the mass of protons converted in the solar core a massive amount of neutrinos ought to have been detected. To this end, a neutrino trap was set up in South Dakota, placed 1500 meters below ground and filled up with 100,000 gallons of cleaning fluid (tetracholoro-ethylene or C2 Cl4).

The principle was simple: the cleaning fluid contains one atom of the isotope 17 Cl 37 per molecule. When an incoming neutrino of the right energy reacts with it, one atom of 18 Ar 37 is formed along with one electron. This 18 Ar 37 is actually a radioactive isotope of argon which is allowed to accumulate for a number of months. At the end of that period, helium gas is pumped into the tank to clean it and the argon formed is adsorbed (not absorbed) in a cold trap. The argon is then sampled for radioactivity, the intensity of which is an indicator of the number of neutrons present.

Perfect right? Well.....after 15 years of conducting these measurement experiments, Dr. Raymond Davis of Brookhaven National Laboratory showed the numbers of neutrinos detected were far below the numbers predicted, and within the range of probable error.

The results of the Davis' experiments touched off one of the most controversial debates in the annals of astronomy. At stake was the accepted model of the Sun, with its dense core harboring the supposed nucelar fusion reactions, surrounded by a radiative zone then a convective outer zone. To bolster detection, the cleaning fluid devices were replaced by twenty tons of Gallium instead - ideal since the Gallium would also be sensitive to low energy neutrinos.

The "neutrino deficit" unfortunately continued, leading the way to the more powerful "Super-Kamiokande" or Super K detector, situated in Japan, some 1300' underground in a zinc mine with a detector comprised of 50,000 tons of water in a domed tank with walls covered by 13,000 light sensors. The thousands of light sensors did detect the occasional blue flash (too faint to be visible with human vision) made when a neutrino collides with an atom in the water and emits an electron. By tracing the exact paths of the electrons in the water, physicists could infer the source of the neutrinos in space. Not surprisingly, most were found to come from the Sun.

The problem is that the Super K still didn't detect as many neutrinos as predicted.

Eventually, the reason emerged, from research conducted at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), in Sudbury, Ontario . The Observatory, installed in a 6,800' deep nickel mine containing 1,100 tons of heavy water or deuterium (the same deuterium formed when to protons fuse, as shown in the earlier fusion reaction described in Fig. 1). The SNO device also included a geodesic superstructure (to absorb vibrations) and 9,456 light sensors.

Amazingly, SNO physicists in 2001 discovered that a neutrino can spontaneously switch among three different neutrino "identities": the electron neutrino, the mu neutrino and the tau neutrino. The tau neutrino has the greatest mass-energy, followed by the mu then the electron neutrino. Physicists say that the neutrino "oscillates between three flavors". This discovery, to say the least, carried startling impications - especially pertaining to the failures of the previous experiments to detect the predicted numbers.

The most basic reason for the deficits? All the prior detectors were tuned to only one neutrino flavor, the electron neutrino, and fixed at that flavor. Thus, all the mu and tau neutrinos were missed. The finding also threw out another belief among many phyysicists, that the neutrino (like the photon) lacked any mass. But for any entity to alternate flavors means implicitly it must have mass. That is something that only particle with mass are able to do.

Right now, we have rough estimates of the respective mass limits of neutrinos, but no exact values. For example, the tau neutrino has under 35 MeV in mass-energy (where 1 eV = 1.6 x 10^-19 Joule), while the mu neutrino has just under 250 keV, and the electron neutrino ~ 8 ev.

To get a further threshold limit and window on the differering masses, KATRIN is being built (Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino Experiment), which features a 200 ton mass spectrometer that will be able to measure the mass of atoms before (M) and after they decay (M') radioactively, thereby revealing how much mass the neutrino carries off - since one merely needs to subtract: M - M'.

In the meantime, many other physicists and astronomers are interested in detecting neutrinos frmo much more distant objects, such as supernovas, and colliding galaxies. To that end, an enormous neutrino telescope detector called "Ice Cube" is being constructed inside an ice field in Antarctica. (See attached image). Its sensors will be aimed not only at the sky but toward the ground to detect neutrinos from the Sun and outer space that are coming through the planet (most neutrinos rip through the 8,000 mile diameter Earth as if it's not even there).

Stay tuned, there will be much more to learn about neutrinos and the roles they play in basic astrophyiscal objects and processes.