Friday, March 31, 2017

Devin Nunes Exposed As Bannon's Punk and Trump As Putin's Pawn

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"Hey! I thought I was tweeting real news! I didn't know it came from the Russians!"

The comments in serious online forums, from The Financial Times to the New York Times, all echoed the same chords: the White House is now coming apart literally at the seams. All the efforts and energy put out to try to put the Russian 'genie' back into the bottle have basically gone for naught. The path to the final collapse - which as former Repub strategist Rick Wilson said will likely occur by the fall, commenced when Trump-Bannon 'waterboy' Devin Nunes, e.g.
Image result for Devin Nunes cartoon
Devin Nunes - acted as Steve Bannon's trained monkey in blowing up  the House investigation.

was exposed yesterday for the corrupt fabulist he is, having essentially torched the House Intelligence Committee hearings by leaking classified "pseudo documents" from two sources - while on the WH premises.  We also now know the names of the two "unnamed" sources who took him into their confidence - as revealed by the NY Times: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council (and a pal of Jared Kushner), and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’s committee.  In other words, NO outside special sources delivered any documents to Nunes, it was all an inside job - instigated and fomented from the White House. Obviously, to provide cover for Trump, and stonewall the House Russian investigation. When the heat gets too much the culprits need a trained monkey (or punk) to deflect the target - and that was Devin Nunes.

As for Kushner pal Cohen -Watnick, he was an NSA liaison (on the National Security Council)  that newly appointed National Security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. Mc Master wanted gone. As in out of there, fired. Vamanos! But on learning of McMaster's intent from a proxy, the little imp (and Mike Flynn mole)  ran to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner (later to NSC Counsel John Eisenberg too) and  begged them for reprieve.  So McMaster, who was promised when he came on that he'd have final say on NSC staff - especially not having to tolerate any Flynn 'leftover' - got punked by the Trumpy Triumvirate of Bannon, Kushner and Eisenberg.

As Counterterrorism and Intelligence Analyst Malcolm Nance noted last night:

"You've seen the limits here of a four star general who could not get rid of a junior intelligence analyst. I mean, Watnick is thirty years old, graduated with a Bachelor's degree in 2004 and got a year's training at DIA so he'd have only four years experience in an intelligence position. How he got to this (NSC) position at the White House is a disgrace - because with that background at most other agencies like the CIA, you're just the guy who goes out and gets coffee."

In other words, Cohen-Watnick was the perfect foil for Bannon to use in a revenge op for a fake "security briefing" with Devin Nunes as the recipient.

Bannon, whose feral hands are all over this Nunes intel play (leaving Devin the patsy), told Trump to let him stay on - certainly as a Flynn proxy  - now that Flynn was exposed as the key contact with the Russkies.

Flynn, according to the WSJ,  is now begging for "immunity" to testify in any hearings as the rest of the rats get set to jump ship. It's all coming together - or apart - depending on one's point of view. Some of us are in the process of watching the biggest collapse of a corrupt executive branch since Nixon and Watergate. As Sen. John McCain put it as the Senate's own Intelligence hearings opened:

"There's a lot more shoes to drop from this centipede"

Indeed!

Anyway, the fact that both Ellis and Cohen-Watnick are White House insiders tells me the whole Nunes' show was conceived as a clever (well, half clever) pushback op  by none other than Steve Bannon,  to toss a monkey wrench in the House investigation. The reason is simple to grasp, as I noted in my previous posts (Mar. 21,  Mar. 23): Just when Nunes, Gowdy and Co.  thought they'd successfully steered the initial House hearings into leak territory, FBI Director Jim Comey blew their fantasies to smithereens.  

Comey openly acnowledged before the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was conducting an active investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russians blew all Nunes' leak first fantasies into a cocked hat.  In essence, Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said bluntly agents would pursue it “no matter how long that takes.”  Typically, only extraordinary conditions would see an FBI Director admitting this in an open hearing, and to quote Comey: "This is one of those circumstances.

By this time Nunes could only have watched the spectacle unfolding before him appalled, if not in sheer terror. It went further south when Comey dismissed Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor  during the campaign. Comey’s response (to Adam Schiff's question about Trump's tweet) that "no information" was available to show any wiretapping had the analogous effect of squashing a bug with a sledgehammer. The final blow was NSA's Mike Rogers confirming there was no wiretap evidence, i.e. to affirm GCHQ (the Brit NSA) had assisted in any surveillance of Trump Tower.

By now Steve Bannon, watching the proceedings on FOX, was also seething but also pondering what kind of retribution might sink the House investigation once and for all. Also get back at the damned leakers that enabled things to get to this stage. Bannon, as an information warfare and fake news provocateur, knew he just needed a plausible ploy that could be turned against the investigators and at least make the media pause and think maybe Trump in his wiretap tweets wasn't batshit nuts after all.

What to do?

Bannon came up with the plan to involve House Committee Chairman Nunes via Ellis and Cohen-Watnick - as two 'dummy' sources with ostensible "secret" documents that would shed light on Nunes' House investigation. Also, show that,  hey!....maybe there was something to Trump's wacko wiretap claims after all.  And like a trained monkey, Nunes obliged and played the role Bannon assigned him to a tee. In front of the press corps Nunes claimed he  "recently confirmed" that  "on numerous occasions the intelligence community had  incidentally collected info about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition."  

But when the otherwise somnolent media tried to pin him down, he got slippery with his responses as a trained monkey will do. Did something illegal happen? "Uh, sorry, can't say for sure, maybe".  Are you saying President Trump's personal communications were intercepted? "Uh, no, I think when we talk about intelligence products we have to be very careful". So the answer was a 'no'. as to Trump's communications being monitored.

Kasie Hunt: "So were POTUS'  communications intercepted incidentally but not specifically targeted?"

"Uh, yes, it is possible but we won't know until we get further information on Friday."

Nunes then continued his trained monkey act at the behest of Trump and Bannon  through the beginning part of this week, playing it coy with the press, and even at times snarky in response. "My sources? Why should I tell you?"   

But some honest broker, a patriotic leaker - did reveal those "sources" to the NY Times yesterday, and now we know what a dog and pony show Bannon put on  - with his waterboy's help and using two NSC lackeys, Ellis and Cohen - Watnick.   I call Nunes a "water boy" because he's obsessed with finding leaks, not the facts behind the case tying the Trumpies to the Russkies.  I call Ellis and Cohen-Watnick lackeys because Bannon merely inserted them as fake security fronts for Nunes to exploit in his waterboy-monkey show.

The giveaway, as Chris Hayes and Rick Wilson pointed out last night ('All In'), was the very fact this cloak and dagger meet took place on the White House premises. Given we know NO one gains entry without being documented, the stink of suspicion turned to absolute exposure of an inside con job - on the press, the rest of the House Committee and the American public. Is Bannon laughing? Yep, he is for now, at least until he gets dragged before one of the investigations - or both the FBI's and the Senate's.

As for Trump, based on testimony at the Senate Intelligence hearing yesterday - the opening round- we now know Trump the 'great' was played as a dupe by the Russians. When I write 'dupe' I mean he acted as a dumb, willing conduit for circulation of false news, propaganda.  Clint Watts of George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, bluntly informed the Committee:

"Part of the reason active measures have worked in this US election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at time [sic] against his opponents,”

Of course, his main opponent was Hillary Clinton, against whom he made use of the most vile, recirculated  fake news stories, including that "illegal votes" were being cast and "the election was rigged". Each such tweet or remark played directly into the Russkie active measures agents hands  and dopey ass Trump didn't even know what a pawn he was. As ignorant as Devin Nunes in the trained monkey role he played for Steve Bannon.

Watts, a former FBI special agent and army officer  came under personal siege from Russian-backed hackers, told the panel  that social media accounts associated with spreading pro-Russian fake news were visible as far back as 2009.  He added that Russia possessed unreleased hacked information on thousands of Americans it could “weaponize” to discredit inconvenient sources. Those and other measures provided Russia with an inexpensive tool to check its wealthier adversaries in the US and NATO, as several scholars and former US officials assessed.

When asked why  Putin felt the 2016 US election provided the Kremlin an opportunity to intervene – the consensus position of US intelligence agencies – Watts pointed to Trump.

Wittingly or not, Trump and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, embraced and promoted narratives, including false ones, convenient to Russian interests, including a fake story about a terrorist attack on the Turkish airbase at Incirlik used by US forces and baselessly doubting the US citizenships of Barack Obama and Ted Cruz.

Bottom line here? You don't have to be a fully conscious dupe to act as a dupe, spreading megabytes of false information, like Michael Flynn did with the Pizzagate nonsense.

Watts further testified, to the rapt attention of the Senate panel:

On 11 October, President Trump stood on stage and cited what appears to be a fake news story from [the Russian propaganda outlet] Sputnik News that disappeared from the internet. He denies the intel from the United States about Russia. He claimed that the election could be rigged – that was the number one theme pushed by RT, Sputnik News,”

In his parting statements Watts urged  a response to the Russian interference in the election. He also said the US approach to Russia was provocatively ambiguous. He said:

I’m not sure what our policy or stance is with regards to Russia at this point in the United States. I think that’s the number one thing we’ve got to figure out, because that will shape how they interface with us."

So now, by this stage, the political miasma we've entered the past two weeks begins to become clearer. Two things we know now, as of today are: Nunes willingly acted as Steve Bannon's punk and Donald Trump - wittingly or not - acted as a grade A Russian dupe to spread malicious, false information about Hillary.  Both of these monkeys should be forced to account, and definitely to resign.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Battle Against Coarseness and Incivility in Trump Nation Will Be A Long One


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"I say nyaaaah! Fuck the country and fuck all those who didn't vote for me! How's that for bein' civil?"

Seriously, this is the state of the Union now: an inherently uncivil state riven with crudity and coarseness, most of which emanates from Trump and his Vulgarians.  Now we know (Denver Post, Mar. 12, p. 12A) there is a dedicated mission afoot to restore some level of civility to the nation especially in terms of public dialogue and discussions. Alas, the chance of returning to a civil era with Trump in the White House is slim and none.

As per the Post article  ('Initiatives Fight Back Against Coarseness') we read:

"Americans alarmed and disheartened by a coarsened culture and incivility in politics - especially after a brutal presidential campaign season - are fighting back with a range of initiatives around the U.S. to restore some semblance of decorum."

Seriously? After 62 million of our fellow citizens helped put a 'pussy grabber" and mocker of the disabled into the freaking White House?  How in the hell can the well meaning decorum seekers get back any degree of comity or civility now that 46 percent of the electorate committed mischief of faction and put the ultimate uncivil renegade into the highest office?

But we now know interest has surged in groups such as the National Institute for Civil Discourse, founded at the University of Arizona and in the wake of the ascension of Trump to the White House, following his unrestrained, caustic, uncivil campaign.  As noted by Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the Institute's Director:

"I don't think there's any question that this is a national crisis at this point."

Indeed.

Let us agree then that one of the roles of a President is to project decorum and respect for this office, and from this office to the world - and to his fellow citizens But what did Trump do in his recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel? He sat next to her like a goddamned spoiled brat pouting and refused to even shake her hand! The epitome of classlessness, and gauche behavior. Commenting on this exhibition, NY Times' Richard Cohen wrote:

"When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money — piles of it — for Germany’s defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year’s Paris climate accord and kept “frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, "

Meanwhile, one commenter also wrote:

"Trump's behavior with Merkel was not only disgraceful, it showed the rest of the world what a shallow, ignorant, unprepared, know-nothing he really is. Every American, and especially every Republican who voted for this man, ought to be ashamed and embarrassed. The GOP has besmirched the presidency, harmed our national security and soiled our country's international reputation"

Some might think this comment to be hype but not if you've been paying attention the past 75 days. Anyone with eyes and more than air between the ears can see how low Trump and his sickening lot have set the bar for civility.

The D. Post article actually included some referenced head scratchers, such as this one compliments of Brendon Holloway who "participated in various Democracy Project Initiatives", e.g. at Middle Tennessee State:

"There's so many people with a difference of opinion. It's really important to bridge that gap."

Why? This comment shows me that Holloway has no clue why this gap exists and why people are becoming more energized about expressing differences of opinion. But in the wake of the fail of the misbegotten GOP tax cut plan (AHCA) - masquerading as a health care plan - he at least ought to have a clue by now.  In particular, seeing how many items would have been cut had it passed, including ER visits, hospitalizations, maternity care, and mental health services.

The point is that when you threaten a citizen's basic welfare and health care access he is not going to just take it lying down, not if he or she is sentient. No, he will protest and do so loudly and regularly at town hall meets. (And no, he doesn't need to be paid to do so!)

In the same way, after I learned yesterday that a gaggle of Republicans in the Colorado State House plan to block implementation of the medical aid in dying act (despite it being passed by 65 percent of Colo. voters on Nov. 8th) I was furious. I am now advising members of the 'Indivisible" movement in our state to protest at the actual homes of these presumptuous reprobates. One of whom was actually quoted in yesterday's Post as saying: "I find that law so morally offensive I cannot in good conscience allow taxpayer dollars for any part of this process."

Sorry, asshole, it's NOT up to you! That is what the people - taxpayers, voted for. At least 65 percent did,  so that they WANT their taxpayer dollars used for that purpose, To turn it upside down and make it like you will impede the bill based on the 35 percent minority (that didn't vote for it)  is to commit mischief of faction. In that case, you merit being protested relentlessly and vociferously - and in front of your home!

Is that being "uncivil"? In some quarters it might be so considered, certainly politically incorrect. But I make no apologies.  My reasoning is that it is more uncivil, more barbarous,  to disrespect the will of the state's voters.  Hence, those who do so - like these three GOP lawmaker mavericks - make a mockery of democracy  Since civility will be in greater regress if democracy fails, there must be payback for their actions. The desire to move toward civility - while worthy in itself- cannot be used as a smokescreen (or bludgeon)  to inhibit or prevent robust outrage or protest when and where it's justified. As it surely is in the cases I've cited. 

Having said that, there's is much to be said for retaining civility in interpersonal discussions and  debates.  This despite a recent Zogby poll that found more Americans believe it's okay to interrupt, shout over, belittle, insult and personally attack a person or question his or her patriotism. Absolutely not okay. We treat each other with respect even in the midst of heated exchange. The only exceptions I make are in the case  - say for town hall or other meetings - when reps disrespect their constituents. Say by not allowing a meeting in the first place, or not allowing them to speak and voice their complaints, such as in the recent meetings about the repeal of Obamacare.

Will people speaking out get excited and perhaps over the top in their vehemence? Yes, perhaps they will. But what does one expect when their family welfare may be on the line, or worse a family member may face his untimely end if he is unable to get the care he needs.

British author and manners gadfly Lynne Truss, in her book, 'Talk To The Hand: The Utter Bloody  Rudeness Of Everyday Life', documents a whole litany of examples of how basic civility has declined. She examines many reasons for this state of affairs, including the breakdown and erosion of class and power barriers - which over the centuries ensured common folks toed the line. Now with those barriers collapsed, every manjack believes he's owed the same deference and respect as a prince, king or Lord  - no matter what he says or how he behaves.  This has even led to the extreme situation (p. 131)  of a "Universal Eff Off Reflex" in which many aren't prepared to tolerate a whiff of criticism by an equal or a higher up. (She cites one London youth wearing the tattoo "FUCK OFF!" on his arm, as if to deliver pre-emptive warning to anyone who might castigate him for his long green hair, shaggy jeans or beard.)

But this could encapsulate the present state of affairs in our social media realm too. I addressed a lot of this in my August 26 post on 'internet hate culture', e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2016/08/internet-hate-culture-why-so-many.html

wherein I noted the rise of hate on the Internet and  especially in sites as  diverse as Reddit, Twitter and even Facebook, that hate speech and vitriol  has become the new coin of the realm.  This was thanks to mentally deranged trolls who get off on pissing in public and on fellow commenters.  The frequency of vile comments, particularly in media comments forums, caused many sites to simply shut them down rather than consume resources to monitor and exclude the worst transgressors.

Truss' theory is that much of this can be traced to so many now carrying around them a personal "bubble" wherein  they perceive what they do at home or in the company of fellow degenerates, is now acceptable in public. So, because one carries his or her "bubble" in a kind of "omnipresence", i.e.  in which these things are allowed they aren't subject to behavioral norms. So we see airline passengers with no thought or consideration for others' sensibilities putting their bare feet on the tops of seats during a flight, or cutting their toenails and tossing the clippings into the air, or worse, picking their noses and rubbing the extracted nasal effluent on sundry backs of seats. Because these simpletons believe they're in their own personal bubbles it doesn't matter to them - and if others were to complain ("Why'd you wipe that bugger there?"), they'd likely invoke the Universal Eff Off.

Truss also extends this to the public square and political spaces. She doesn't mention Trump or his followers, because her book was published before he arrived. But it doesn't take a mind reader to know what she'd say of the Trump phenomenon and why he got elected: He epitomizes the brashness of the "ego bubble" trumping all personal niceties and sensibilities and hence applauded as being "different', anti-establishment and a "rebel". More to the point, his actions such as bragging about "pussy grabbing" were seen as transcending political correctness and "phony manners".

It would follow to Ms. Truss that Trump's ascension meant that a sizeable proportion of the population bought into this meme, or the "Universal Eff Off" reflex on a national scale. Is this bad for the nation? Of course! Because, as she puts it (p. 144):

"Other people have been eradicated, expunged ...or just ordered to stay indoors and stay out of my bloody way."

One of Ms. Truss statements stands out and ought to be taken to heart by Trump and his gang (p. 196):

"it is time to be plain at last. Manners are good. Rudeness is bad. Modern people are impatient with the good-bad distinction. They consider it intellectually primitive.  But rudeness is a moral issue and it always has been. The way people behave towards each other, even in minor things, is a measure of their value of human beings.."

Ignore the small niceties and what happens? Well, before long pussy grabbing is accepted, as well as mocking disabled people, belittling a Senator who spent 6 years in a North Vietnamese prison, and .... engaging in nefarious activities with a foreign power to interfere in an election. Of course, the ultimate embodiment of rudeness today is the Trump tweet, because it is aimed at further eroding manners while exalting the personal "bubble" of his own ego.  And Trump is the perfect embodiment of the rude human who lacks any superego that might otherwise exert control on his wanton, toddler-esque blurtations.

What is Trump's biggest crime against the polity? Ms. Truss would say without hesitation, it is defiling and undermining the conception of the "common good" and hence all those political actions that have a bearing on the common good. All his actions, as we've seen, explicitly are about exactly the opposite: eschewing the common good for whatever Trump believes is his personal good. In tandem with this dismissal is his yen for untruth, outright falsehoods. The one plays into the other: dismiss the "common good" as a lie or fabrication or mistake and you pave the way for its disrespect.

The media, alas, plays into this by not calling Trump out where and when he flouts the very concept of truth. Such was the case in the recent TIME  (April 3rd) with magazine cover asking "Is Truth Dead?" and in the related article 'Can Trump Handle The Truth' by Michael Scherer (p. 32). Throughout the piece Scherer cites Trump's disdain for the truth even referencing his praise - "as a businessman for strategic falsehood and truthful hyperbole" .  Of course, being truthful excludes hyperbole, so the phrase is an oxymoron. there's no such entity.  Incredibly, Scherer quotes Hanna Arendt's famous 1968 quote that "Truth is therefore hated by tyrants who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize". 

Yet her words seem to sail serenely over his head because, in the next sentence, as if taking leave of all his gray matter, he writes: "Although Trump is a tyrant only in the minds of his of his most fevered critics he often talks like one, e.g. any negative polls are fake news".  As if agreeing with Arendt then contradicting himself in the same sentence, especially as Trump always "talks like one".  His 'fake news' claim echoes on every item from climate change, to the Russian intelligence reports, to the election results.  Or to quote a recent WSJ editorial ('A President's Credibility'):

"Gallup has Trump's approval rating at 39%. No doubt he considers that fake news, but if Trump doesn't show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he's a fake President."

Or to quote Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett in a recent piece: "Can anyone in their right mind believe anything this man says anymore?"  Well, evidently, Scherer can manage that feat given he dismisses those who do as "fevered critics". (Yes, this referred to Trump being a tyrant, but as Arendt said, truth is hated by tyrants. Hence by definition Trump is a tyrant. Those who refuse to call a spade a spade or a tyrant a tyrant, are part of the problem.)

Thus it is cutesy, 'maybe -he is- maybe he isn't' passes like Scherer's which cause us to properly impute guilt to media nabobs who gloss over Trump's total disrespect for truth, even in so-called interviews. In trying to be objective and impartial, therefore, Scherer loses nearly all his credibility - by giving Trump's lies (and hence yen for tyranny) partial cover - as he dismisses those who recognize them as "his most fevered critics". As if they under some kind of delirium or spell. To bolster this, in the following TIME issue, April 10, in the 'What You Said' section with letters in reply to the previous issue, the editors quote an Alabaman commenter  who insists the "left as well as the right media is guilty" - employing the false equivalence meme. It is tripe like this that makes one want to tear his hair out, despairing this country will ever get its act together.

This evident tolerance of dissembling again goes back to the defects I described in terms of the dominance of the premoral mind. This was elaborated by Cheryl Mendelson, former Professor of Ethics and author of 'The Good Life'   who wrote (p. 77):

"In the premoral mind, in place of moral individualism - the individual's capacity to think and act according to conscience - there is mere egoism: the demand or wish, to be allowed to do and have what one wants....Because of his sense of entitlement, his greed and his demand for superiority feel right to him and are not internally moderated as they are in moral minds. Moral restraints may provoke him to outright rage and hatred."

Hence, we have the perfect tie -in to Ms. Truss' point of why one would regard Trump as rejecting any common good, hence any adherence to moral basis for manners, civility.  As Ms. Truss writes (p. 197):

"If we each let that part of our brains 'for the common good' shrivel on the vine, the ultimate result is crime, alienation and moral hell.  Manners are easy to dismiss from discussions of morality because they seem to be trivial.  The words 'moral panic' were invented to belittle those of us who burst into tears at the sight of 300,000 pieces of chewing gum on Oxford Street.  But if we can't talk about the morality of manners, we can't talk about the morality of anything. "

 Her next point is what that needs serious attention if those associated with the Democracy Project Initiatives are to make headway in returning our nation to civility after Trump leaves office. That is, "in place of manners, we now have doctrines of political correctness, against which one offends at one's peril."

The crux of our problem then is to excavate the need for attention and respect for the common good from the banal bane of political correctness.  We therefore cannot have a case where one expresses convictions or arguments that are politically incorrect and  then "by circular logic is marked as reactionary and therefore bad".

My earlier comments (endorsing protests in front of GOP lawmakers' homes) may be seen by some
as impolitic or politically incorrect, but their intention was for the common good.  And as Ms. Truss observes (p. 198): "Manners are about being connected to the common good".

In this sense, I believe firmly the Colorado medical assistance in dying act is FOR the common good, and at the same time that anyone who seeks to impede or obstruct it is acting against the common good. Hence, it is my duty as a citizen to inveigh against him - or them - and if that means energetic protests in front of his home, so be it. I apply the same thinking and actions to those who attempt to overturn the ACA or implement the god awful AHCA of Trump and Co.

What we really need to get this country back on an even civil keel then, is to follow Ms. Truss final bit of advice (p. 199) and assert "I am not going to calculate the cost of this action to me, I am just going to do the right thing."

Don't know what the 'right thing' is? Then step out of your personal bubble for the time you're considering what to do and then act with purpose toward the common good. You won't go wrong. If you are unable to perceive the common good or recognize it, then you are too much under the spell of Vulgarian Trumpism.

See also:

http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-ed-our-dishonest-president/

And:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/p-m-carpenter/71939/how-long-can-trumps-incompetence-and-madness-go-on

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Trump: The 'Hannibal Lecter' Of Climate With His Coal E.O.

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"Ah, for some nice roast planet, pickled Dems and ....fahvah beans!"

Let us admit right now that about the worst fuel that can be used on this planet is coal. As Bill Nye ('the Science Guy') explained last night on 'The Last Word', it is the stuff of ancient plants that existed millions of years ago. And not just in any era, but a very high CO2 era. Hence, burning coal releases the long sequestered CO2 within it, tipping our planet further toward the runaway greenhouse effect.

Let's also understand that coal mining jobs are decreasing and this is as a result of primarily automation. Coal companies have already cut mining jobs by nearly  two thirds since 1985 - because of factors like automation, as well as the fact that fracking produces a bigger 'bang for the fuel' buck for energy companies.  But don't tell Donald Trump that. Each day it seems this turkey occupying the highest office in the land knows less and less about less and less.

If not why would this odious gasbag issue yet another "executive order" this time to increase coal production, mesmerized by the "clean coal" oxymoron. Which makes about as much sense as "benign VX nerve agent" ... or "President Trump". 

But let's not mince words here, Trump launched an all-out assault on Barack Obama’s climate change legacy on Tuesday with a sweeping executive order that undermines the U.S. commitment to the Paris agreement. The worst aspect? This travesty took place at a ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, where BLOTUS FECES signed an order to trigger a review of the clean power plan, Obama’s flagship policy.

No surprise this move was swiftly condemned by environmentalists and climate scientists as a “dangerous” and “embarrassing” attempt to turn back the clock that would do little to revive the U.S. coal industry while threatening cooperation with major polluters such as China and India. In a speech noted for its stupidity and ignorance before he signed the order, Trump promised “a new era in American energy and production and job creation”.

He actually said: “The action I’m taking today will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow our workers and companies to thrive and compete on a level playing field for the first time in a long time. I’m not just talking eight years.”

Trump promised the measures would be “bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again”.

Don't believe it, not now or ever! Those jobs aren't coming back no matter what this glorified baboon says. The entire energy dynamic no longer supports coal miners. And no amount of Trump wishing it so or tweeting like a drunken canary will make it so. Even if this buffoon thinks of himself as a canary in a clean coal mine.

Adding insult to felonious injury Trump also pledged a future of “clean coal”, and dismissed “the so-called clean power plan” as “a crushing attack on American industry”. The executive order also lifted a moratorium on the sale of new coal leases on federal land, removes “job killing restrictions” on energy production, and returns power to state level. Of course, with no federal oversight most energy generating states will just go hog wild and try to expand fracking, for example, wherever they can. I expect now that Colorado will probably open fracking wells in or near Rocky Mountain National Park.

All of this amount to a recipe for ensuring this planet is uninhabitable for a future generation, say by 2100. Because if the equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima scale bombs are now being unleashed every year in the atmosphere -  comparable to the watts per square meter excess CO2 input from man-made global warming, then Trump's E.O will ensure it hits 500,000 bombs per year equivalent within 8 years.

While the fictional "Hannibal the Cannibal" butchered and ate 36 odd humans over his vile career (usually served with a fine Chianti and fava beans), the EPA estimates that 3,600 more will die each year if Trump's new climate insanity gets implemented.

And yes this nation's wealthy days, at least for the general population, are over. I've gone over the reasons until blue in the face in numerous posts but basically it's because the energy efficiency of our current fuels - that determined by EROEI or energy returned on energy invested- is much less than previously. If you want to talk of a "Peak oil" era we can.

At the heart of these considerations is the concept of net energy (cf. Weisz, in Physics Today, July, 2004, p. 51). Weisz posed this in terms of a concise equation:


Q (net) = Q (PR) – [Q (op)  + E/T]

In effect, for break-even oil one would find Q(net) = 0

For the last 700 billion barrels:    Q(net) = negative quantity =  - Q

Since the rate of energy production (Q (PR) must be debited by the energy consumed for its operation Q(op), and the energy E invested during its “lifetime” T. Thus its Q(PR) will be small in relation to the bracketed quantity.  In a similar vein, Richard Heinberg has used the quantity EROEI or ‘Energy returned on energy invested’ which for oil reached a high of 30 (ratio) in the 70s and is still the highest of all energy sources at around 22.   Thus, the problem in a nutshell is not “running out of oil’ per se but running out of CHEAP oil.

Right now, to fix ideas, we are very nearly at this Q(net) = 0 level with shale oil - which is why once its price falls to much lower than $50 /bl. it makes little economic sense to take it out of the ground. Compared to light sweet crude it is effectively garbage fuel. Bottom line, we need not run out of the stuff before the world economy runs into problems of untold, unspeakable proportions!

Alas, fracking shale oil - drilling into shale rock to get kerogen, or alternatively, natural gas, is in fact evidence of grabbing BREAK EVEN oil NOT high EROEI oil!  It is a sign of defeat and desperation.  not success - just like deep sea drilling for oil.

As Richard Heinberg explains (p. 110) it in his book: 'Snake Oil - How Fracking's False Promise Imperils Our Future':

"No evidence suggests that the technology of fracking has actually raised the EROEI for natural gas production. It temporarily lowered prices but only by glutting the market."


Get that? Adding it to the total world pool of higher quality oil merely "glutted the market". This is also what's dragging your 401k down right now, though yeah, you will catch kind of a break at the pump. Let's also grasp that this crap oil isn't even used here in the U.S. it's shipped off to places like China - where it fouls their skies and creates health havoc along with the CO2 and SO2 from factories and autos.

Given all of this which transpired yesterday, as Austan Goolsbee pointed out to Lawrence O'Donnell last night, what planet is Trump living on? How can he take a sledge hammer to Obama's climate legacy on the one hand and then expect to find comity and work with Dems on the other? Only a nut, a fruitcake who's 52 cards short of a full deck would fail to process the inherent cognitive dissonance.

Thus we have the latest evidence 'the Donald'  belongs in a face mask like Hannibal Lecter. Especially after Trump declared  some babble the past two days about "working with Democrats" including on infrastructure.   No Dem I know in his right mind would want to work with this orange-haired psycho ape, first because he can't even parse the most basic aspects of legislation and how to pass it. And second, well, because everything he touches turns to shit. Look at his foolish health plan and his claim to repeal Obamacare. If anything the win with health care will embolden Dems to further opposition of this maniac, which is the correct political call.

Sadly too many of his numb nut supporters bought into his con, just like the delusional coal miners did yesterday at his dog and pony show.

After Trump's latest load of fake bravado and posturing,  Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, offered the best take:

No matter what any elected official says, rescinding commonsense climate change regulations and popular public health protections will not revive the coal industry or put thousands of miners back to work. Market forces, including consumer preferences and technological advancement, are the primary reason for the surge in cleaner forms of energy. In fact, even without the clean power plan, we are likely to hit its emissions targets ahead of schedule – because consumers, cities and businesses will continue leading on public health and climate change even when Washington won’t.”

He is correct up to a point. Unfortunately, the CO2 already accumulated in the atmosphere over the past 100 years will continue wreaking its havoc as the rising CO2 concentrations disclose.  The best we can do now  is at least try to ensure the planet is 50 percent livable -while making plans to adapt to what we can in the other 50 percent.

See also:

http://www.salon.com/2017/03/29/donald-trumps-grotesque-new-grand-bargain-did-he-learn-nothing-from-the-obama-years/

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Peculiarities of the Fine Structure Constant

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Spacing of spectral line shifts depends on the fine structure constant. It's been found that different spectra are obtained in the lab vs. obtained from distant quasars with light passing through gas clouds.

In the table presented in my March 18th post, the fine structure constant is shown on the last line with a value of  a   =  1/ 137.035999139 or approximately, 1/ 137.   Note the value is the same irrespective of the system of measurement because this constant is a pure number - there ate no units attached- unlike the other constants I covered.  Indeed,  a    is an amalgamation of several other constants including the electron, the speed of light and the Planck constant. We can write, for example,


 a   =  1/ 4p e    { e2 / ħ c }   where:     ħ  =   h/ 2p


Physicists keep track of the fine structure constant by using quasars. Also called "QSOs" for quasi -stellar objects, these are active galactic nuclei of extremely high luminosity powered by supermassive black holes. As shown in the diagram above, on its way toward Earth the QSO's light passes through gas clouds which absorb light of particular frequencies producing gaps - also called absorption lines - in the otherwise continuous spectrum.  The typical profile of such an absorption line is shown below, this one centered at a wavelength of 5889.95 angstroms:
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As can be seen from the absorption line profile there is a variation in the line "darkness"  with the maximal degree at line center where the absorption coefficient is greatest. This then falls off in what we call the "line wings".   (Note here that  D uD  is the Doppler half-width of the line.)  The point is that the locations of these absorption lines depend on the fine structure constant. Thus, variations in the spacing of the lines in space or time might indicate the value of  a    has changed.

Is there evidence for such variations? In 2011, in a paper appearing in Physical Review Letters, John Webb of the University of New South Wales and colleagues reported the fine structure constant increases in one direction in the sky and decreases in the opposite direction. Almost if some special axis was running through the universe. Of course, no physicist would be content with such "specialness" or uniqueness. By the cosmological principle such behavior of a   ought not depend on directions. (And in this regard even Webb counts himself as a skeptic, as he should).

In fact, a compelling alternative explanation has been put forward by Michael Murphy of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.  He suggests the logical take that telescope calibration issues are to blame for the apparently changing value of a.   Using measurements free of calibration issues, the value of  stays put, as Murphy et al reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.   See also:

https://arxiv.org/abs/1606.06293


It should be noted, however, that Murphy et al's findings do not rule out actual variations in  with respect to the part of the sky observed by Webb in 2011.

Here's an interesting side thought to ponder: What if, instead of a   = 1/137 (approximately) it had been 1/ 130? Say during the birth of the universe. Then it seems clear the cosmos would have been set on a path to being barren, empty.

As an interesting historical aside, Sir Arthur Eddington arrived at a value of a   = 1/136 by taking the ratio of two "naturally occurring units of action". ('Great Ideas and Theories of Modern Cosmology', 1961, p. 178).  He chose one unit of action as the quantum for radiation, or  ħ  =   h/ 2p  and the second as the action for elementary particles, or e2 / c.   Then, taking:

{e2 / c}/  ħ  =  1/ 136

Curiously, Eddington wasn't bothered by the divergence (from a   = 1/137 )  , and just introduced a "fudge factor". This "was for obscure reasons that are difficult to understand". Perhaps, in the end, he was simply mesmerized by a kind of 'numerology' . Eddington also came up with a quadratic equation: 10x2  +    136x +  1 = 0,  linking his  fine structure result with the mass ratio of the proton to electron, i.e. in terms of the ratio of its two roots. From there, Eddington parlayed his fine structure and other pure number results into a kind of "universal theory" linking every aspect of the cosmos in a kind of romantic quest. Much like Kepler before him, with his "harmonic geometry"  in which the five Pythagorean regular polyhedra dictate the structure of the universe and reflect God's plan through geometry.

We shouldn't be too hard on Sir Arthur  (or Johannes Kepler) as he wasn't the first scientist to be taken in by numerical relationships, "harmonic" ratios, and "precision" theoretics. Nor will he likely be the last.  Even today we behold "scientists" seriously working on the so-called "anthropic principle". This  nonsense is based on the fallacy (due to a misunderstanding of physics units, dimensions) that there is an implicit "fine tuning". This in turn depends on a putative "fine precision" - but that is almost always based on the choice of units.

Thus, saying stupidity like "if the neutrino mass were 1 part in 10 35  smaller there'd be no expansion of the universe" is like saying that if Lebron James were 1 part in 10 16  shorter he'd not have been a great basketball player! 


Investors Hope For 'Correction' Cure - But It Won't Prevent the Ultimate Debt Crash

















The Wall Street Journal yesterday featured a front page article, 'Stock Retreat Has Its Fans', which piqued the interest of many.  Quoting from the first two paragraphs:

"Many investors and analysts fear a postelection rally that has driven the S&P 500 up roughly 10 percent has cleaved share prices from the underlying fundamentals that tend to drive gains over time, such as interest rates and corporate earnings.

What's due now, some investors say, is a correction: a 10 % pullback from the indexes' March 1 high. They contend such a retreat would tamp down speculation, defray pockets of froth in popular investments and provide buying opportunities for those still on the sidelines."

The article goes on to state that such declines serve an important function in a market economy basically letting some of the excess 'gas' out of the balloon - which might otherwise blow up, i.e. resulting in a major crash. In this regard, the stock market is already well into bubble territory. Thus, long periods without the healthy corrections lead to market pathology and "unruly trading" - inflating the bubble further until it bursts.

Some may console themselves that a 10 percent correction or maybe even 12 percent, will ease their insecurities but alas, the crash is still on its way. What I would call a "sovereign debt crash" because it will ultimately be the recognition that most national debts can't be repaid that will be the tipping point to one of the largest crashes on record.

First, let's understand the nature of a sovereign debt crisis.,  Sovereign debt is not the same as the mortgage crisis which nearly brought down the global finance system in 2008. The latter was predicated upon the unwise purchase (mainly by banks but also by some insurers like AIG) of esoteric derivatives called “credit default swaps”. These basically represented bets on packaged mortgage securities called collateralized debt obligations.

In the case of the sovereign debt crisis, nations – not banks- are on the verge of default and are seeing their national bond ratings plummet because their debts are too high in relation to their gross domestic product (GDP).  In my March 22 post, I already noted Barbados as being deep in the maw of a sovereign debt crisis.  This followed yet another Moody's bond downgrade, down to Caaa3+, and Barbados now being on the verge of currency devaluation.

The Moody's report on the reasons for the downgrade included:

The government debt burden reached 111% of GDP at end-2016, and the authorities have accumulated a large stock of arrears to the private sector and the National Insurance Scheme,, estimated at a further 11% of GDP at end-FY2015/16. 

The National Insurance scheme is similar to Social Security in the U.S. and what the Moody's report indicates is that this program is over extended with the gov't already in arrears in what it owes (fro borrowing from the NIS) by 11 percent of GDP. In other words, the Barbados government is printing millions of dollars a month to try to keep seniors receiving their pensions.

Some may believe Barbados is an exception, but it isn't. Around the world governments are buried in debt - sovereign debt. It is this debt bomb - building up - that will ultimately roil the markets, along with serious missteps by the Trumpites in handling any future financial crises.  

But back to the sovereign debt crisis, not only is the U.S. in up to its eyeballs, with the Trumpites set to blow the debt wide open, i.e.
No automatic alt text available.

That is, the federal debt as a percentage of GDP would explode through the roof - exceeding the size of the entire U.S. economy within ten years. of Trump and the GOP get their tax policy plans rammed through.

Meanwhile, Europe is printing euros like there's no tomorrow, and debt - especially in nations like Spain, Portugal and Greece, piling up to unprecedented levels.  Then there is the Bank of Japan which has printed over 13.3  trillion yen   The Fed in the U.S. has done its own form of printing money by way of "quantitative easing", purchasing over $4 trillion in the bond market.

All of these signals in tandem show the instability of the global debt crisis and no one who looks into these can remain complacent. Barbados, of course, is near and dear to my heart  - so I pay special attention to what goes on there, like I do here in the U.S. But other nations' debt issues can't be overlooked because they also impact our own financial-economic conditions. As their own sovereign debt crises have manifested the oncoming 'train wreck'  is difficult to avoid. Expect to see default after default.

What's my main worry looking at Barbados and other nations? Well, that none of their debts will ever be repaid. Those debts, including unfunded liabilities into the future (e.g. pensions to be paid) are simply too huge for repayment even in instalment. The credit agencies Standard and Poor's and Moody''s already seem to recognize the writing is on the wall in the case of Barbados, which is why the loan conditions now are so draconian there's no way the debt will be covered.

It is no 'biggie' then to foresee that the debt collapse now drowning Barbados will very soon hit Europe, then spread to Japan - and the U.S. by the end of the year.   That end point will be accompanied by falling oil prices, failure to raise the debt ceiling after a brutal partisan showdown (and Trump -GOP bravado), and then cratering bond prices.

Obviously, borrowing more money for any sovereign debt nation isn't the answer. It hasn't been for Barbados, and has only pushed it into a debt hole. The same is true for Greece, Spain, Portugal, Japan and others.  Borrowing is especially useless as the loan terms are degraded - less money on offer, accompanied by more demanding loan condition. Ask Barbados' Central Bank.

Yes, a correction will likely help in the immediate future to stabilize stocks, but not in the longer term, and Trump's own actions may precipitate whatever crash is in the works to happen much sooner.

Monday, March 27, 2017

College Physics Taught Without Problem Solving? Preposterous!


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In the most recent issue of Physics Today (March, p. 10), a 2nd year student in astrophysics at University College,  London  saw his roughly 2-page letter ('How to teach me physics: Tradition is not always a virtue') published. While  acknowledging "physics is the most exciting endeavor I can imagine", Ricardo Heras also wrote:

"The basic courses of my first two years were disappointing. They didn't really give me the opportunity to join that great adventure. Most of my lecturers followed traditional teaching approaches based heavily on solving standard problems and learning by rote, with no hint of free inquiry or discussion. They seemed to be convinced we would understand physics through that method. I was not enthusiastic. "

Mr. Heras then went on to complain that while he and fellow students "spent a lot of time and effort solving textbook-style problems" they didn't really understand physics by doing so and stated that he was "mainly trained to use problem solving techniques."  He then quoted Richard Feynman (of the Feynman lectures fame)  who wrote:

"I don't know what's the matter with people, they don't learn by understanding , they learn by some other way - by rote or something"

Let's first note that the Feynman Lectures in Physics (a  3-volume work) definitely  exemplifies the author’s unconventional approach to physics teaching. But even today most physicists I know look at it as an interesting experiment but only use the texts as  supplemental material to their undergrad courses (whether in QM, Electricity and Magnetism or Thermal Physics) but not as a standalone text.  This is understandable because Feynman drifted all over the place, and didn't follow the usual trajectory for teaching physics, e.g. mechanics, heat, wave motion, optics, electrostatics, E&M, atomic physics, and maybe some quantum physics.

Interestingly, Feynman explored some intriguing problems, such as finding how maser states vary when a maser cavity frequency is nearly - but not exactly- equal to the resonance frequency, w o (Cf. Vol. III,  Sec. 9.5 ' Transitions off resonance')  Despite numerous such examples scattered over 3 volumes, there was no supplemental problem set or booklet to accompany the lectures. Many have opined they might write such a set eventually, but co-authors Babcock and Leighton never did. .  In any case, it appeared Feynman himself didn't regard having such problems as being of paramount import, as this student Heras doesn't. Indeed, Heras even quotes David Goodstein from a Feb., 1989 Physics Today piece on Feynman:

"If his purpose in giving them was to prepare classes of adolescent boys to solve examination problems in physics, he may not have succeeded particularly well… . If, however, his purpose was to illustrate, by example, how to think and reason about physics, then, by all indications, he was brilliantly successful."


Heras' own frustrations are evident when he writes:

"The aspects of physics I have understood best so far are those I have studied for pleasure. I understood special relativity better when I derived the Lorentz transformations in a different form. This task was much more exciting than the usual assignment of calculating the length contraction of a rod."

But, of course it would be!   The key aspect as well is that when the student studies physics on his own he can apply the creativity and free inquiry he so often finds absent in the class-lecture setting. But this should not be mystifying. Check any university course catalog - even I suspect University College, London - and you will see course listings by credit hours. These give an indication of the time allocated in class for lectures each week. Also labs may be listed separately with their credit hours assigned (Often 1 cr. hr. but the student is actually in lab for 3 hrs.). The whole point is that the university schedule conforms to a specified time frame.  Administrators, for understandable reasons, want to make sure each undergrad - for example - can matriculate in 4-5 years, not take 10 or 15, which Feynman's "create and think it all out" rubric might require.

So it was easy for Feynman to write (as Heras quotes him):

"The best teaching can be done only when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher—a situation in which the student discusses the ideas, thinks about the things, and talks about the things."



But let's face it, Feynman is talking here about one -on -one tutorials!  Of course that's the best teaching! But how the heck are you going to apply that to a class of say 300 first year calculus physics undergrads - and that's for one section sitting in an auditorium?

Let's also not fool ourselves that problem-solving in physics is not critically important and often discloses how a student is able to think his way through a problem based on using known principles (not "rote").  Conducted with the most interesting, thought absorbing problems, problem solving can be a boon to inculcating physics principles. The object then is not to move away from problems (given they are used at every stage to gauge whether the student can advance - see the end of this post) but to craft better problems!

One such problem  I've given as part of a 2- year General Physics course, is shown below:
A group of 4 astronauts lands on Mars with solar radiation collection material of total area 2000 m 2 . If the efficiency of the material is 30%, and the ambient night time temperature on Mars (for their base location at Isidis Planitia) is -40 C (10C day time), will they have adequate collecting material if the solar constant on Mars is 620 W/m2 ? (Assume insulating material with a thermal conductivity of 0.08 W/mC, and a need to keep the inside area of their domecile at least at 10 C, requiring solar radiant energy collected of at least 1,200 W per minute for an area of 10 m x 10 m.)

Estimate the thickness of insulating material they're likely to need in order to make it work. Comment on whether this expedition is even feasible given the limits of their materials, and that no more than 100 m
3  of insulating material can be taken.
-------------------------------------
The preceding problem clearly makes use of physics principles which the student needs to know to arrive to the solution.  Also, it is clear the student can't just solve the problem by "rote", or by "finding some appropriate equations, putting them together, manipulating them algebraically."  In other words, problem solving need not be mutually exclusive with free inquiry. In fact, a homework problem can afford the opportunity for such inquiry that the limits of course and class structure don't.   Hence, I usually blame physics lecturers for offering uninspired problems for homework and tests, as opposed to creative ones that force the student to go beyond the rote or plug-in paradigm.

While one can sympathize with Heras’ poignant pleas for more “creativity” in physics teaching (especially at the undergrad level), the fact remains that the entire current structure of physics education is founded on mastery of content, as reflected in tests taken at various stages. These determine whether the student is qualified for promotion and even admission to the gateway for ultimate passage (the Ph.D.) which depends on passing a series of comprehensive examination.

To modify this didactic structure in favor of creative in- class learning simply wouldn’t accomplish the goals of physics departments as they are presently structured. For one thing, the time consumed for such learning would surely be much greater  than for the current lecture-lab format. Of course, one could assign projects such as I have during my physics teaching career in the 1980s- early 90s, but this is outside of class time. Hence, it does not facilitate learning by supporting independent student creativity in class.
What I have done, to a limited degree, is allow students - such as in general physics, calculus physics or space physics classes I've taught - to design some of their own labs. The design can be presented as a kind of "thought" experiment in the first instance, and then followed up by providing the specific apparatus that would be technically needed to carry it out.

For example, consider the design of an experiment to allow the student to simulate a "subflare", for which I have used the following:

Some solar flare models are based on 'equivalent inductive circuits' in which the circuit is suddenly interrupted or broken when the switch is opened, e.g.

No automatic alt text available.  When the circuit is broken the collapsing flux through the coil tends to maintain the current  I o hence will generate a spark at the gap if the switch is opened. Suppose the current is rising in simple circuit with a coil, a source of emf, a switch and an inductance, L. Let the current in the simple circuit rise at the rate dI/dt per second. If L is the circuit inductance then the back emf is:

Eb = L (dI/ dt)


The rate at which work is done vs. the back emf is:


 Eb I = LI (dI/ dt)


How might you use this to design an actual  circuit to illustrate how a solar flare occurs via sudden "circuit breaking"? List all the components needed and the specifications.  How would you estimate the magnitude of energy released? How would you re-design the circuit to prevent sparking , i.e. original energy stored in magnetic field of coil now stored in electrostatic field of capacitor? (This latter would be analogous to a double layer in a solar coronal loop which stores excess magnetic free energy. Thus, if its capacitance is large enough  the potential difference across it - and hence across the switch - never rises high enough to cause a spark, or flare in the case of the loop circuit configuration). 


Followup problem: In your lab experiment design, suppose a 1 A current is to be broken (without sparking) in a circuit with self -inductance 1 henry. Find the maximum threshold p.d. across the capacitor, beyond, i.e. which cannot be exceeded. Thereby find the least capacitance that can effectively connected across the switch.




This exercise not only tests the student's creativity and free inquiry skills in simulating a subflare in an inductive circuit, but also how such a flare can be "stifled" under the appropriate physical conditions.  It also addresses Heras' complaint that:
"Traditional teaching methods urge us to perform standard calculations that rarely spark our creativity. Being immersed in such teaching, I feel trapped in a labyrinth whose exit can only be found by solving a ton of mostly uninteresting textbook problems."
Perhaps Heras would have been more at home being challenged in my space physics labs, where free inquiry was given plenty of leeway. In space physics the student is introduced early on to the importance of the Earth's magnetic field, and in particular as the basis for the magnetosphere - on which the aurora depends. In another variant of the earlier experiment, I will set out the following materials  for a space physics lab with no specific instructions for assembly or application: a rectangular coil of at least N = 100 turns mounted on a light wooden frame, a square wooden base 10 cm x 10 cm, two set screws, additional wire, wooden stops, other assorted screws, pins, selected apparatus including flat needle pointer.  If assembled correctly it will appear in finished form below:
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The student is then required to construct a working ballistic galvanometer which he or she will then use to find: a) the magnetic flux φ  linking the coil of N turns, the angle of 'dip' and c) the ratio of the vertical component ( B v  ) of Earth's magnetic field to the horizontal component  ( B H ).   An illustration of the quantities in terms of the coil orientation is shown below, where d  denotes the angle of dip:
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The preceding examples are intended to illustrate that there is scope to interject inquiry and creative aspects into labs as well as homework problems. However, I believe it is unrealistic to expect entire classes to be devoted to free inquiry or creative learning via exclusively "first principles" understanding - by which I mean the student is responsible for all or most of the creative effort to learn all his physics "first hand" as it were - with zero outside input.  If we had all the time in the world, or at least more than 4 hours per week for lectures, 3 for labs, plus seven or eight years for physics students to graduate - that might be fine.

But seriously, what physics department today could even remotely entertain such a class or mode of subject delivery?  It would require vastly more time and resources, as well as a totally radical rethinking of physics pedagogy and would come up against the existing system for promotion and qualification, not to mention how we integrate students into the formal university course system. I am not saying it could never work, only that free inquiry and creativity have only limited scope as current physics departments are designed.

Perhaps the optimal time for such exclusive student pursuit of free inquiry is when Heras proceeds on to the pursuit of his Ph.D.  Then, by selecting a problem of inherent appeal, he can develop lines for  original expression of his curiosity, creativity and inquiry not readily available in standard courses. But to expect beginning physics students to do this in more than limited and controlled settings is, frankly, ludicrous.

Of course, to reach that ultimate Ph.D. inquiry point he will have to pass his Ph.D. comprehensive examinations, and that will entail solving a lot of  difficult “traditional” problems! Generally, there will be six exams in six subject areas: classical mechanics, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, mathematical physics, quantum physics, and electromagnetic theory. These will generally be four hours each.


One of the problems (of five) for the classical mechanics comp given at Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks is shown below:
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Even before crossing that threshold, he will need to get through the physics GRE subject exam, which consists of a solid 100 problems to be done in 3 hours. See e.g.

https://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about/content/physics

True, the problems are multiple choice (5 options) but that doesn't mean one can race through them. Consider the example shown below:

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The diagram (Fig. 1) shows a resting cylinder of weight W. The coefficient for static friction for all surfaces is 1/3.  The applied force for P = 2W
61)The distance d for which the counterclockwise motion is initiated by P is:
A) d = r/3    B) d = d/2   C) d = r/ 4  D) d = 2d/ 5   E) d = 3r/ 5

62) The vertical reaction force at point A is:


A)    0.3 W  …B)0.5W…..C) 0.8W…. D) 0.9 W…..E) 1.5W
 

63) The vertical reaction force at point B is:


A) 3W…..B) 2.7 W……C) 1.5 W…..D) 2.1 W….E) 2.5 W

64) The horizontal reaction force at point A is:
A) 1.5 W…..B) 2.1 W….  C) 0.9 W……D) 1.2 W……E) 1.8 W

65) The horizontal reaction force at point B is:

A) 1.5 W…..B) 02.1 W…..C)  0.9 W….D) 1.2 W…..E) 1.8 W
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My point in showing the above? Problems form the core for determining physics advancement at various stages. If you don't like working problems, consider them "too traditional", or whatnot, then physics may not be the "endeavor" for you.

Final note: The Scientific American blog also discussed Heras' letter but framed it in terms of "individualists" vs. "collectivists", i.e. in terms of research bent. Thus, the "individualist" does his own research and publishes his own paper, while the "collectivist" is part of an ensemble of authors - maybe 5 to 15 - who each contribute part of the overall work. But this is the wrong emphasis. No where does Heras even mention research. His complaints are with undergrad physics education and excessive use of traditional problems. His preference is for more "free inquiry" than problem solving, not realizing they need not be mutually exclusive if the problems are designed properly.  As far as research goes, free inquiry (and problem solving) are part and parcel of the process whether one is part of a team ("collective") or on his own ("individualist"). Hence, the SciAm blog mixes apples and oranges in trying to parse Heras' complaints.