Monday, May 31, 2010

Time to Move Away from the Perpetual War State

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies- in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 16, 1953 address.

"The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. "- George Orwell

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." -

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded because it comprises the germ of every other. As the parent of armies, war encourages debts and taxes, the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few”- James Madison

It is now more than ten years and counting since the Pentagon "misplaced" more than one trillion dollars of defense funding, as was then elaborated by former defense analyst, Chuck Spinnery. See also:

See also:

Given the exploding deficits of this country right now (with military spending consuming 17.1% of the national budget) , it's high time the U.S. cease pursuing ruinous policies of "Pax Americana" - in trying to force its will on other nations at the point of weapons of war. Even President Obama acknowledged as much in his first formal national security paper, in which he pointedly notes that the U.S. "will have to learn to live within its limits." He made specific mention of the fact that a situation of two wars (actually occupations) cannot be sustained much longer given the known spending parameters.

The hard fact right now is that each new dollar approved for Afghanistan, if not paid by U.S. taxes in a pay-go modus operandi, will have to come from Chinese bankers. Already, they own $896 billion in U.S. debt in the form of treasurys. How long can this insanity continue? Not much longer.

Either the U.S. must pull out of Afghanistan, acknowledging it can never accomplish what every other invading empire has failed to do in a territory (3 times the size of Iraq) of twenty distinct tribes, or it will spend itself into the same sovereign debt crisis as has Greece. And will likely have to go cap in hand to the IMF to have austerity measures imposed.

For reference, it is useful to take a historical perspective to ascertain how the current perpetual undeclared war state emerged. Few people in the country know, or are aware, but then few follow deep politics or the undercurrents of our hidden history very closely. It requires much hard research and diligence, and few are prepared to invest the time.

The key issue is to locate which special documents, or papers, conceived a role for the United States to endlessly meddle in the affairs of other nations - at enormous ongoing cost to its domestic fabric. If one looks back at the document track, one can pretty well discern that the incentive to meddle in other nations’ affairs – as part of U.S. foreign policy – probably commenced with The National Security Council (NSC) Directive ‘NSC 10/2’ on June 18, 1948. A key element therein warned that all activities to be conducted against “hostile” foreign states – on in support of “friendly” ones, were to be executed so that “no U.S. Government responsibility would be evident to any unauthorized persons.” The provision also had to be included that if such activities were discovered “the U.S. Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.”

The scope of activities enumerated under the directive included: “propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action – including sabotage; subversion against hostile states including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerillas and refugee liberation groups and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.”

Ratcheting up the effect, and consolidating the impetus to Empire building was the document NSC-68, prepared by Paul Nitze of the National Security Council – completed by 1950. The document essentially contained the blueprint for unending strife and undeclared wars, all of which would be invoked on the basis of a zero tolerance threshold for foreigners’ misbehavior. The putative basis? To enable U.S. agitation, overthrow (or assassination) of democratically-elected leaders, and large and small occupations (ranging from the few thousand troops in the Dominican Republic in 1965, to more than 200,000 in Iraq by 2006.)

The motivating force of the document was clear in this regard:

“a defeat of free institutions anywhere is a defeat everywhere”

In other words, any place for which the U.S. even remotely construes a “defeat of free institutions” gives it license to intervene at will. This critical aspect is described thusly by Morris Berman[1]:

Nitze emphasized the importance of perception, arguing that how we were seen was as crucial as how militarily secure we actually were. This rapidly expanded the number of interests deemed relevant to national security”.

In other words, it provided the formula for unending war, and the building of Empire. Gore Vidal pinpoints the emergence of the American Empire when he notes[2]:

“Since 1950 the United States has fought perhaps a hundred overt and covert wars. None was declared by the nominal representatives of the American people in Congress…they had meekly turned over to the executive their principal great power to wage war. That was the end of that Constitution”.

The key point to note here is not only did the U.S. invoke a specious doctrine[3] to entitle it to engage in warfare wherever it deemed the “need” (e.g. Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan etc.) but also to take out democratically elected leaders where and when they threatened U.S. corporate interests, such as Premier Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran (1953)- threatened U.S. Oil interests, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1954)- threatened United Fruit Corp. by giving land to farmers, and Salvador Allende in Chile (1972)- strategic interests threatened.

Even when specious doctrines weren't invoked, lies and deceptions often were in order to involve the U.S. in massive troop deployments and years of ruinous (to lives and treasure) military intrusions. For example, LBJ employed the ruse of the North Vietnamese firing on the Maddox and Turner Joy in international waters in August, 1964 as the basis to ramp up the Vietnam War. Similarly, Bush and Cheney employed the ruse that Saddam had "WMD" to justify Operation "Iraqi Freedom" (a bogus name if ever there was one) and invade Iraq - which had not one damned thing to do with 9/11. (Though the numskulls who watched FAUX News would argue with that!)

Meanwhile, at last count, the estimates of the total of Iraqi civilians killed (by the World Health Organization) exceed 600,000. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan it continues to grow each day – ranging from ordinary civilians slain in misplaced gunfire on the streets of Kandahar to wedding parties obliterated by remote drones. As with Vietnam, when so many innocents were butchered and others' saw crops destroyed by Agent Orange, this does not win hearts and minds. Rather, those hearts and minds side with the enemy when the mighty power isn’t around.

But why be amazed that our representatives voted for this atrocity, any more than that they voted for the misguided Patriot Act (in 2002), or the Military Commissions Act in 2006 which repeals habeas corpus, or voted for nearly $200 billion to assemble 130,000 troops for a "mini-surge" in Afghanistan? Do freedoms, real ones, matter any more? How can they when the most despicable provisions of the Patriot Act – due for expiry in February, 2010, were re-approved by the Senate earlier this year? To remind readers, these provisions include allowances for “black bag” searches of one’s home and papers without any consent or knowledge- in total and direct violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. (But since 83% of the country can't name 6 of the Bill of Rights, maybe they don't even matter any more!)

This is Memorial Day. But, along with the fallen soldiers, serious citizens (not just empty headed consumers or mindless bible punchers) need to ponder unemotionally and sincerely why those troops died and whether, in fact, they were actually fighting for our "freedoms" as the mouths of propaganda endlessly screech, or whether they were rendered expendable cogs to promote a Pax Americana - via the engineers of a perma-war state. One that is ruining this nation on multiple fronts - from snuffing out thousands and millions of young lives with promise, to the money wasted on drones and bombs not going toward infrastructure repair(of crumbling roads, bridges etc), to money not going to paying down our immense debt as opposed to increasing it by $20 billion a month. We would do well do ponder these other words of Orwell:

"War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair... war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. "

I would only make a small correction here to the end: "keep the structure of a FASCIST society intact"

[1] Gore Vidal: 2002, Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, Thunders Mouth, p. 124.

[2] Of course, the ignominious “Bush Doctrine” – crafted under the auspices of the 2002 National Security Strategy – was even more noisome and outrageous, allowing for pre-emptive war as it made Iraq the gold standard for precedence. See: Berman, op. cit., p. 203.

[3] Morris Berman: 2006, Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire, W.W. Norton, page 118.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Creation of the First Synthetic Cell: Time to Applaud or Cry?

The news that genomic specialists had created the first synthetic cell – after $40 million and 15 years of research- struck many in the scientific world like the news of the first atomic bomb. However, in the non-science world you could hear a pin drop in terms of reactions.

Before going into the consequences, which I believe will be major, let’s consider the back ground.

First, the researchers (at least a team of 25 working at the J.Craig Ventner Institute) had to select a “target” microbe which they would fully analyze in terms of it genome, then re-engineer into a novel form. Their choice was the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides.

Working with the bacterium meant first understanding the DNA sequence. In the diagram I show part of a DNA sequence for an unknown organism. This is the starting building block to work with.

DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid consists of two strands of what we call polynucleotides. In the case of DNA there are four bases: A (adenine), C (cytosine), G (guanine), and T (thymine) that are paired in two mutually exclusive ways[1]. That is, A always goes with T, while G always pairs with C. A sketch of this complementary base pairing – as depicted.

One possible explanation for the preferential pairing arrangement is the presence of multiple hydrogen bonds between bases. The arrangement itself is evidently crucial to the encoding of information. In this sense, the way the bases are arranged in DNA – forming various ‘messages’, is precisely analogous to the way this sentence encodes structured written information. Change the order of the letters in the words, the order of the words themselves – or both, and noise emerges.

On this basis DNA can be said to be an informational molecule. Also on this basis, as we shall see, if the information content alters – and can be replicated in its alteration, there is the possibility of molecular evolution. This is in fact the phase at which evolution commences, since it directly affects the instructions for protein synthesis.

In the case of Mycoplasma mycoides, more than one million letters of genetic instructions had to be parsed to obtain its genome.

Having this in hand, the real work could begin, entailing:

- deleting 4,000 letters, which removed the function of two genes

- Replacement of ten genes with ‘watermark’ sequences (each over 1,000 letters in length- which decoded disclose the names of people, famous quotes and a website url)

- All the DNA sequences were then partitioned into 1,100 separate pieces with each piece synthesized using 4 different bottles of the chemicals that comprise DNA.

- The synthesized sequences were designed so there was an 80-letter overlap, a precaution actually, that facilitated the assembly process.

- These overlapping DNA sequences for Mycoplasma mycoides were then added to fragments of yeast.

- Once embedded inside the yeast cell, the yeast automatically “recognized” the two DNA sequences with the same sequence and assembled them at the overlap regions.

- The new genome wasn’t assembled from all 1,100 pieces at once but in 3 stages of ascending couplings or merges: a) 1,000 letters to 10,000, b) 10,000 letters to 100,000 and c) 100,000 letters to complete the 1.08 million synthesized genome

The result marked the largest chemically synthesized genome ever assembled in the laboratory. Marvelously, on March 26 this year, the new “creature”, Mycoplasma mycoides JCV1-syn1.0 was “booted up” and became the first self-replicating cell created in a lab.

The authors noted (carefully) that the cytoplasm of the new cell is not synthetic, but rather the control mechanism – the controlling genome – is. This control is what provides the instructions for the new bacterium. The authors also point out, fairly and accurately, they did not “create life in a test tube” but rather transformed existing life into new life – albeit synthetic.

Now, here’s where skepticism enters: should humans even be playing around with the instructional genetics of bacteria? The authors, as usual for many genetic experiments (including those that seek to manufacture hybridomas, or mixed genetic life forms – like mice with human ears, or sheep with human eyes) justify it on the basis of some future possible benefits. In particular they cite (WSJ, May 26, p. A7) the increasing population and the lack of sufficient food, clean water etc.

But can a new synthetic bacteria solve such an immense problem? I seriously doubt it. What WILL solve it is the more widespread use of contraceptive technologies already available – like the pill, and diaphragm, as well as condoms. We need to employ any and every device to halt the unsustainable increase in human numbers beyond the carrying capacity – and adding to our global warming problems, as well as energy problems.

Beyond this, there is the risk, however small, that a new synthetic bacteria (or virus) can turn on its creators like a mini-Frankenstein. Could an innocuous bug like Mycoplasma mycoides then acquire vicious tendencies – like a new form of cholera? We don’t know, but do we want to find out? The specialists in genomics that put the synthetic bug together act and write as if they are privy to all the permutations and consequences of their monumental act, but are they? I argue we can never be certain – which is why ethical standards and regulations must be applied.

We don’t want to try to close the barn door after the cows escape if an unforeseen biological calamity emerges. Say along the lines of the horrific organism that decimated humans in the scfi film ‘Twelve Monkeys’!

[1] RNA has the same bases except for T (thymine) now replaced by U (uracil).

Conversation with an Eckankar Adept

Going to Barbados also meant being able to converse again with my sister-in-law, Krimhilde, an advanced follower of the spiritual philosophy of Eckankar – the religion of light and sound. Over two weeks we had many talks and the following content is distilled from those.

Q. Can you elaborate a bit on Eckankar and what it means?

K.:It is based on directly experiencing spiritual reality through the primary media of light and sound. In this case, certain words carry the vibrations of truth and sounding them brings one in direct and intimate contact with God. One doesn’t need to read bibles to do so, but to know what those magical words are, which also, evoke special qualities of light vibration.

Q. What is the importance of these light and sound vibrations?

K: The higher one goes on the spiritual frequency scale, the higher ordered one’s thoughts become and the closer one gets to the Godhood. By studying Eckankar we learn to know and use those special words (like “HU”) which interject the highest light and sound frequencies into our meditations, and positive purpose into our lives. This is what enables our rapid spiritual growth.

Q. Then according to this there are different frequency or vibration levels?

K: This is so. At the lowest frequency levels, we have the lowest vibrations and the lowest spiritual level. This is the realm of criminals, and those who seek to use and exploit others. Next up are the general low vibration levels that enable people to only seek at a base or humdrum level, say of the ordinary world religions. These low level vibration people have no knowledge of higher light and sound so confine their attention to bibles, or sacred works which they think will lead them to a salvation.

Q. But that’s wrong?

K. Yes, they will only lead them down a maze with more darkness. One can only escape this maze by invoking the special Eck words of sound and light which elevate the mind and consciousness beyond the animal level. Now, reading a bible is good, it’s better than nothing. But it can never be the whole story. One must enter the realm of higher vibration light and sound to enter a higher reality. Otherwise, you will be like some person who wants to see a movie at the cinema, but can’t get any farther than the lobby. I guess if you like popcorn you can be happy, but you’ll never see the film!

Q. If you don’t accept the normal notion of an afterlife, what do you believe?

K.: I believe and accept reincarnation. Having one life in which you must attain a good or salvation and if you don’t you go to Hell is stupid and crazy. There are too many impediments, improbables, intrusions and confluences to admit that. For example, if you are a backward peasant living in the nether regions of Nepal and have never heard of Jesus does that mean you must go to Hell? No. That is stupid. It isn’t the fault of the peasant of Nepal, as he has no control on where he’s born. The only justice system that makes sense therefore is karma (as you sow, so shall you reap) and reincarnation is part of it.

Q.: So if I am a bad man, then in my next incarnation I can expect a not so good life?

K: True. You may be born into horrible poverty in some backward nation in Africa like the Sudan, or in Haiti. Your life will be one of suffering to make up for all the suffering you cause in this life.

Q. Why is it certain Christians, like fundamentalists and so on, get so worked up about Hell, Satan and damnation? It’s like that’s the only note they know how to sound.

K: That’s because their psychic vibrations are operating at so low a frequency that only horrid, nasty things can be conceived of. “Satan” is the product of low vibrations, no higher spiritual person could conceive of such a being. It would be like an exalted master or saint thinking of ways to murder or rape. It’s outside their nature, and therefore impossible.

In Eckankar you can only give out what your baseline vibrations allow. If those vibrations are low or degraded you will emit degraded ideas and concepts.

Q. Yes, but they would say those things are in their bibles!

K,: Which is why they are unwise to follow or read them. Those books were written by low vibration people living thousands of years ago, for other low vibration people. We are now in a more enlightened era where we know more. Reading those books or bibles is like a college student groveling around in a nursery and still talking baby talk. Worse, the degraded level of the book writers, especially where they depict this “god” killing humans out of vengeance, is a reflection of their own base nature and desire for vengeance. Their degraded, low vibration souls hate so they write to make their god hate, like them. This bible god is no god of love.

Q. What will happen to these believers in lower order idioms if they refuse to elevate their minds?

K: They will be reincarnated in not very nice ways. For example, if they condemn a Hindu or Buddhist peasant to Hell for not following the bible, even if they don’t even know it exists, then they will be incarnated as poor Buddhist or Hindu peasants so they can see what that other (non-Christian) life is like.

Q. Let’s return again to these fundies, and why you think they believe everyone else is degenerate or immoral or “unsaved” but not them?

K: You must remember the Hebrew-Christian universe is one in which the anxiety to be right…..right, right, right….penetrates and suffuses everything. That’s why they clutch their bibles so closely. I believe they’d all have heart attacks if all their good books suddenly disappeared overnight. They wouldn’t know how to live, and their precious compass for living would be gone.

These people see God as the great Good against all that is bad. That’s why in their small or low vibration minds an atheist must appear as bad, because he will be seen to be against God, the Good. This is why these people are obsessed over being right concerning their beliefs. If not, they might end up…..who knows where? Imagine the terror just reading an atheist’s words can cause them! They must, after reading, immediately grab their bibles to cleanse their minds.

They don’t know any better because to be in the wrong for them arouses a deep metaphysical anxiety and sense of guilt. Worse, it brings into their minds the possibility of punishment of eternal damnation, totally disproportionate to any crime. And besides, for any normal person, how can unbelief be a crime worth eternal damnation? But to these low vibration minds, it is. What they need is a spiritual transfusion.

Q. What would you say to the typical fundamentalist to turn him toward the light?

K: There is nothing you can do to force him out of his low vibration ways. Sure, you can teach him the HU, but will he say it? No, because in his small frequency mental state he will think Satan is using it on him. That is how these people think. In fact, if you dare try it, they will accuse YOU of being Satan! (Laughs)

Q. Now I plan to put our conversation up in my blog, and as you know, a good many fundamentalists thorughout the world may see it and comment. What do you suppose they'd say?

K: Oh, they'll probably say I am owned by Satan or Satan is speaking through me or some such idiocy. But again, this is exactly what we expect low vibration humans to emit. You can’t obtain gold from grease, as we Germans like to say. You can obtain a gold ring from a gold source, or base, or from a gold mine. You can’t make it from grease. In the same sense, you can’t expect them to sound enlightened when they probably doesn’t even know what the HU is and will probably dismiss Eckankar as a cult.

Q: Is it?

K: No. A cult doesn’t allow people freedom of choice, and seeks to keep them in mental or physical bondage. This is not the situation for Eckanckar. It is more the situation for fundamentalist religion, since they condemn people to Hell if they dare to question him or try to leave. So, instead of beating or drugging people to make them stay, like happened in that 1980s Moonies cult, they use mental terror. It comes to the same thing. You rob people's minds of the ability to make a truly free choice.

Thanks for your insights, Krimhilde!

K: You’re most welcome!

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Conversation about Spirituality with John Phillips

Author & Spiritual Scholar, John Phillips:
"The King James Bible was written using only 8,000 different words total. This was deliberate, to make it the simplest medium available by which to convey spiritual truths. The problem is, at such an elementary level of language the truths can only be like cartoons. People at this level are like children in primary school and they need to work upwards to attain more genuine spiritual insight."
As earlier noted, John Phillips is an author (of Caribbean biology texts), an inventor, an expert on nutrition, and also a spiritual scholar who has spent more than 40 years researching the spiritual and factual basis of major world religions and their sources of revelation. It was therefore interesting to have a conversation with him on various aspects the day before I left Barbados.

On God:

John: One has to realize and acknowledge that there is a source of higher power in the universe, certainly greater than mere humans. I see the universe as a place or medium in which there are very prosaic and ordinary beings (like humans) and where one finds exalted beings. Perhaps the latter type can mold whole solar systems to their needs, or fashion stars to support their energy, or maybe they are just pure energy. To primitive humans, we'd be like gnats. Also to them, our obsessions like about "saving" ourselves for an afterlife would be like a gnat trying to communicate such to us.

Me: Could this simply be an advanced alien life form that might regard us like we look at ants or roaches.

John: Of course! So, to us, these advanced forms would be construed as Gods, or God. Early primitive Man would have no way of making any absolute distinctions especially if the alien technology permitted them to levitate, or appear to violate basic laws of matter and energy. To them, those violations would be ‘miracles’ and those doing them, Gods.

Could a real God exist, not just as a more advanced life form?

Possibly. My view is that one must keep this possibility open and not close it prematurely. The problem is to find out if it exists, what kind of entity it is. I don’t believe this can be done easily or automatically but must be worked at or through as one might work through the levels of academia to reach a point where understanding matches what one might believe – or approximately so.

On the Bible:

Question: Do any of the sacred works come close to describing real events or the works of a real God?

John: Probably the Hindu Upanishads come closest because they don’t name it, or anthropomorphize it. Once one does that he loses the basis for God. He enters the realm of a fabrication which is purely man-made, so we can set it in human terms. This is why so many of the eastern religions warn of trying to pin down or grasp the concept too precisely. It can’t be done and if one tries, he ends up with a caricature of God, not the real thing.

What about the King James Bible?

John: This is the simplest of all the bibles, because it was designed to be written with no more than 8,000 different words in total. (Obviously, it has more than a million words, but only 8,000 words are used repetitively to make up the one million- no more). Thereby, it became the simplest medium available to serve the largest population possible. But as we know, being popular doesn't make it correct, or possess absolute truth. As a matter of fact, with such low verbal density or use it would be comical to even suggest the King James bible (or any other) comes remotely close to truth. What it does, for the masses, is present a cartoon version of reality.

Just as young children may grasp certain basic laws and principles by watching Sesame Street or the occasional Disney cartoon, so also the mass of people can grasp certain basic spiritual laws and principles by being exposed to the King James. But because one can grasp a cartoon, say about sea evaporation and the hydrological cycle, doesn' t mean he actually understands the underlying principle in its entirety. He only understands an approximate cartoon version. Likewise the bible reader, though getting a start, has much further to go up the ladder of spirituality to even grasp the basics. Salvation is not a basic and only a distraction for lesser mortals. We're all saved because we're all part of the same energy system that can't destroy itself.

So one must allow for differences?

Yes! Of course! We're all at different levels, spiritually! At the lowest or primary school level you will have many hundreds of millions following the King James bible, or the Koran, or the Talmud. These are like children watching cartoons about spiritual reality. At a higher level you might have the meditators in every one of the major religions. And at an even higher level in the spiritual seeking hierarchy you may find the yogis or people that can actually master some basics of time and space, because they have a deeper understanding. These people are capable of performing siddhis, such as bilocation, levitation, or transmutation of substances.

So, would Jesus Christ be one of these?

Yes, in fact. And we know that he spent from the age of about 12 to 30 in India studying the esoteric arts with yogis and spiritual masters. After all, you find no mention, not one, of any of his actions in the bible - King James or any other- in those intervening years. So, what happened? Why is there no documentation of his life from 12 to 30? But there is indirect documentation in some Hindu and other works.

Could Jesus' miracles be atributed to special training which we also could master?

Yes, but we'd have to work up to being an exalted master and that ...again, would take many years, and much spiritual discipline.

What do you make of the Hell and damnation claim?

Again, it comes from a childish understanding of spiritual reality so you would expect a childish or cartoonish afterlife image. But no serious yogi or even Hindu or Buddhist would contemplate this because it is so childish. It is a childish way of saying "My daddy is bigger and tougher than yours!" only in this case the daddy punishes by tossing those who disobey him into hell. It would be funny if not so pathetic.

Is there any chance for an atheist in your spiritual universe?

Always, so long as you keep searching you will find the spirtual truth unique to you. And yes, even atheists can be spiritual! Conflicts only erupt because people believe that THEIR spiritual truth and the level at which they believe it, must apply to all. This is false.

Why the "Top Kill" won't work

When I worked for Pan American Oil Corporation in the late 1960s, one of the endless pastimes of the suits on the 4th floor was gaming worst case scenarios and how to deal with them: say if a salt dome ruptured, or a rogue gusher occurred. At the time, lots of new tracts were being developed in Plaqueminnes Parish, Louisiana, and the "big boys" were concerned about making some inroads, including into new offshore leases. One trouble -shooting problem that emerged confronted a well suddenly erupting on its own (say because of a gas or other explosion) and that couldn't be stopped. The remedy was a "top kill" - pumping mud or sediment into the well to halt the outward oil jets.

On another occasion, a guy named Denny, with a yen for futuristic scenarios (this way May, 1969) put this zinger forward: Imagine you're way offshore, drilling more than 15 miles out in the Gulf, and probing the sea floor one mile below the surface. You drill down more than 13,000' to tap a large reservoir. What do you do to prevent its rupture and polluting the whole damned Gulf?

None of the suits had an answer, and in fact, believed Denny mad, because in their view no such deep ocean drilling would ever occur, or if it did - ever be safe. One geophysicist who begged to solve Denny's conundrum - a guy named Dean Kring, laughed at first- then responded:

"You'd need back-up systems out the wazoo. You'd need at least three, maybe four levels and safety thresholds, and a final one to try to make sure some kind of 'dead man's switch' was activated. Something to shut the well down in the event of a blowout. I'd also make sure there's a reserve well tapped into the main, so if the worst happened, and the dead man's switch crapped out - at least the gushing oil could be siphoned off"

Dean's sketch solution is shown in the diagram. Needless to say, he was way way ahead of his time. The sort of basic reserve well he depicted is now common practice in nations like Norway, which also do deep water drilling. Yes, the cost is an extra bundle, but it provides an ultimate safety valve if say, the last trigger to activate the dead man switch (called an "acoustic trigger") decides to punk out.

Would anyone in that clique of oilmen have believed for one second that a "top kill" could stop a blown out deep water well, 1 mile down? No way in hell! The general consensus was that top kills were only useful for plugging rogue gushers on land, no one even considered it anyplace else.

At the depth of the Deep Horizon blowout, you're confronting pressures of 2,000 lbs. per square inch at every angle. If the aperture of the blown well hole is some 300 sq. inches, that means you are attempting to counter a pressure of at least 300,000 lbs. or 150 tons, per square foot. There is simply no material residue of the needed density - short of maybe cobalt - that could do the job and there is no known consistent force to apply it. If the mud is being injected at some 2000 gallons a minute, the maximum force supplied based on the volume of mud (assuming a density equal to silicon or maybe SiO2) is about ten thousand tons "positive" (given the water pressure as negative). More to the point, the differential pressure would be epxected to increase as one approached the actual blown hole.

To put it bluntly, there is no way the top kill will work - not in ten hours, and not in ten days. Even if by some magic a temporary stoppage is achieved this will not last, and will be followed (I predict within hours) by a mammoth new pressure blast and a much larger hole, possibly five to eight times the diameter of the existing one.

This means the only option is what ought to have been done ab initio - a reserve (relief) well, in fact probably two or more, drilled adacent to the Deep Horizon well hole to siphon off the gushing oil.

It's a pity that BP didn't learn or apply this reserve well until after the fact, which likely won't be before August.

What it does show, is that any deep water drilling in the future will absolutely have to have reserve wells in place before the main well is tapped. We cannot afford another Deep Horizon disaster.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Will Barbados Fall to the Sovereign Debt Crisis? (II)

Left: Along with a Colorado friend, I dig into fresh, grilled fish (dolphin -no not "Flipper"!) served with macaroni pie at the Oistins Fish Market. This was one place we beheld servers on their best behavior - perhaps because they must pay for their own overhead!
ABOVE: Tourists flock to a vendor's stall to buy fresh grilled deep sea fish and "fixins" at the Oistins Fish Market. It's always crowded, especially on weekend nights.

Bottom: British tourists crowd a white sandy beach on the west coast. The island needs to tend to its service standards or it will lose in the foreign exchange battle with other tourist-based states.

In the last instalment we saw that small nations around the world face a sovereign debt crisis as their bond ratings are lowered and loans are harder to come by. Meanwhile, many of them are not only living beyond their means, but not even earning half the foreign exchange needed to justify their existing circumstances.

In the case of the island state of Barbados, which I recently returned from, the foreign exchange problems are exacerbated by increasing petroleum use and auto purchases which are clogging the island's highways and creating immense traffic problems. At the same time, despite decades of attempting to be self-sufficient in agriculture, the island continues to import more food stuffs than it can grow or produce itself.

One main exception may be fish, especially flying fish (almost the island's trademark) and assorted deep sea fish which are popular at the local fish markets, where vendors set up stalls to sell their grilled catch plus "extras" (macaroni pie, cuccoo, potatoes, Banks beer) to hungry tourists looking for a change from franchise fare.

As the attached photos show, these fish markets, mainly around the south coast town of Oistins, are very popular.

The beaches are also immensely popular and this is where the island's main foreign exchange earner or tourism comes in. The white sand beaches remain largely pristine, and the sea is inviting. Tourists flock here for a chance to swim each day in clear water at or near 83F, and/or the opportunity to lie on a beautiful beach and just soak up rays.

At last estimate, tourism earned nearly $23 million in foreign exchange last year for the island. But can this keep it afloat? I'm not sure.

While the sea, Sun and sand can consistently deliver their quality, the service sector remains disturbingly untrained except in the most posh resorts like Sandy Lane or the Crane Beach Resort (newly refurbished).

My own experiences constitute cases in point, starting from my first day in town, when - after doing a lot of basic business (banking, shopping, post cards etc.) I stopped to get a cold drink - in fact two, while at Cave Shepherd Dept. store. In their Ideal Restaurant, I asked for an ice cold Diet Coke plus a cup of ice and a cup of water with ice. The server kind of glared balefully, looked at me then responded: "Yuh cyan' get both cups without paying 30 cents more!" I told her I had no problem with that, I just wanted two ice cold drinks.

I more or less didn't pay much attention until the following night when my wife, myself and a friend from Colorado ventured to a barbecue chicken barn to order two half chicken orders with fries and a local drink called Mauby. It was just past 7.15 p.m. and no other customers were around, and one lady tended the orders. We gave ours, and then had to watch her slow, painful gait to place them if we were monitoring a crippled zombie not long risen from its abode. Her face betrayed no hint of welcome, passion or emotion, and when she did present us with our orders, she could as well have been serving up cold mash.... or serving warrants.

But the most distressing experience came a week later when my wife and I treated our sister-in-law to a late night dessert at the new TGIFriday's in Worthing. After a longish (35 min .) wait for relatively simple desserts (and again, virtually no customers at 11.p. m.) we asked a nearby busboy to check on their status. Within five minutes our waitress returned with them and literally spun them each across the table to our respective locations without a who, boo or hello....or 'Here you are!'

As I pointed out to our guest, stateside such a surly display of attitude would be met with firing - on the spot. If one doesn't like a job, especially in a place with nearly 18% consistent unemployment, then one needs to look for another but in no case treat her customers with such disdain.

Do any of these forlorn service workers understand what is at stake? That they are the front line "soldiers" in a competitive and endless battle (with other island locations, like St. Martens, The Virgins etc.) for foreign exchange? That people can as easily pack up and fly off to any of them rather than Barbados? That if they Bajan service workers don't develop a healthy understanding of the distinction between service and servility the island might well become another Haiti?

The question remains open, but one hopes that The Barbados Tourism Board will more vigorously pursue a hospitality and training agenda to root out the negative players and n'er do wells. The alternative is too catastrophic to contemplate.

As it stands, building a vigorous tourism product is really Barbados' only way out of its own sovereign debt crisis, though I'd definitely also consider limiting the use of automobiles as well as rationing petrol - which is now nearly $4.70 a liter (about $9.40 U.S. a gallon). Right now, given the excess petrol use - even if Barbados could triple its tourism foreign exchange, its future would be unsustainable.

One last point is worth noting: The island's population has always been given as around 250,000 and tops, 260,000 - indicating that an emigration outflow existed to enable stable growth- without having to deal with a surplus population. However, the 2009 CIA World Factbook shows it as nearly 288,000. This is far too much population for an island state that was already one of the most densely populated in the world when I left there in 1992 (at 1596/ sq. mile). The island must go back to rigorously controlling human numbers and using contraception as it did when Clyde Gollop was head of the Barbados Family Planning Association in the 70s and 80s. I wouldn't want to return in the future to see a disastrous path towards becoming a second Haiti.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Barbadian Nutrition Guru offers his insights

Scientist, Spiritual Scholar and Nutrition Guru John Phillips.
It is only once or twice in a lifetime that one can truly aver having encountered a Renaissance Man, but that title surely fits John Phillips: Author, inventor (of pre-packaged cuccoo), expert nutritionist and spiritual scholar. For reference, John and I founded The Barbados Philosophical Society in 1974, and have been good friends since, despite my veering to atheism and John retaining an eclectic and open view on all spiritual systems. In a later blog, I will give the overview of a phone conversation I had with him re: spiritual issues, but for now want to focus on his nutritional practices and recommendations. These were given when he and his wife Mary visited my wife and myself at our seaside resort in Barbados.

Our nutritional discussion was wide ranging but I want to focus on some of the key points which I summarize below (John, if you're reading this and I have any of them wrong, feel free to reply).

1) Most of those now on kidney dialysis are there because of excess protein consumption. This causes the kidneys to have to work much harder, and this generates all manner of conditions because of the urea produced. None of us, as John noted, ought to be ingesting more than 1 gram of protein per 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) body weight. That would be 100 g (slightly less than a 1/4 pound burger) for a 220 lb. man per day. Though I interjected the kidney damage from high blood pressure hypothesis (based on U.S. studies), John averred that high BP was not as consistent or critical a factor as the excess protein consumed.

2) The best alternative for protein lovers who can't jump on the Vegan bandwagon is a soy spinoff called "Tempeh". It has the benefits of soy protein, but minus the phyto-estrogens of many "soy burgers" available in the stores. It is these phyto-estrogens that are causing much havoc in developing teens, and impeding natural hormone production. (For example, boys who consume too much of these phyto-estrogens in soy burgers may develop breasts because phyto-estrogens suppress testosterone production.)

3)People need to include omega 3 fatty acids in their diets, eating habits at least in a 1:6 ratio to the omega 6 fatty acids. Much of the lack of omega 3 fatty acids can be made up by eating fish at least two or three times a week, or taking a tablespoon of cod liver oil every other day.

4) Unsaturated fats (including margarines - even though they have no trans fats) are terrible to consume because when ingested they're oxidized generating cancer-causing free radicals. It is far better to eat straight, saturated fats like butter instead of the butter substitutes.

5) Magnesium (Mg) is too low in many Americans' diets, and may lead to increasing cases of bipolar disorder. (Where the person alternates between manic moods and depression). I also made the point to John that we know many evangelists (e.g. Jimmy Swaggart) have evinced bipolar behavior, so it is possible they were lacking in magnesium. Magnesium is also critical for calcium absorption and thus to prevent or slow osteoporosis. Taking calcium without also taking magnesium in appropriate amounts (e.g. at least 500 mg./day) is a recipe for bone loss and possible fractures.

6) Allergies: John's own experience and research has disclosed that taking at least 6,000 mg (6 g) of vitamin C each day can significantly mitigate allergies. However, he suggests starting at 1,000 -2,000 mg a day and working up - since some people may experience side effects (like diarrhea) if they consume too much at one time.

Is Mr. Phillips correct on any or all of these points? Let's put it this way: the man looks 15 years younger than his 63 years. So, I am not about to contest his claims, given he himself puts them to practice and is the best exhibit for their efficacy. To the extent he follows his own nutrititional prescriptions he's essentially his own best proof for the claims.

S.E. Cupp and the Case for Pseudo-Atheists

S.E. Cupp, self-proclaimed atheist and author of Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity, recently made an appearance on the May 14 Bill Maher show (which I thoughtfully DVR’d while away) and tried to make a case the big bad "libruls" in the media (like Rachel Maddow) are picking on the poor widdo religious. Maher essentially ripped her specious arguments to shreds and then some – but to gauge the woman’s reactions you’d never know she was remotely aware of being jackhammered by one of the best dialecticians around.

Her arguments, if one can call them that, were essentially supercilious and baseless. Using Maddow as an example of the “Liberal Media” is as benighted as Bernie Goldberg (former CBS reporter) and his earlier tracts-books lambasting the liberal media empire. One can at least sympathize with Bernie as it got him new gigs on FAUX News (especially on Bill O’Reilly’s nightly circus) and his CBS scene was played out – reduced to a few on the spot reports on 48 hours, but nothing major. Who wouldn’t want to confabulate a new shtick?

In fact, there is no such entity as THE “liberal media’. What one has are rather pockets or small voices crying in the near universal conservative Neanderthal desert, and trying to get heard. Maddow, who maybe garners about 900,000 viewers on a given night over MSNBC, is certainly not some unilateral representative voice (though she is one of the few intelligent and insightful ones). Her numbers also pale beside those of Bill O’Reilly who regularly gets three to four times more viewers, albeit maybe a correction can be made because Maddow’s viewers at least possess IQs in the triple digits.

Cupp’s reference to the Newsweek editor was also ripped by Maher, and rightly so. As Maher clearly showed using a pre-prepared montage image of assorted Newsweek and TIME covers – those Mc Magazines cover a religious issue on the average of once a month with cover image to match. Yet Cupp in her delusional state, attributes one or two pieces that seek to question certain aspects of Christianity as “attacks” by a monolithic liberal media system.

On concluding watching the segment and after Bill read out several examples from Cupp’s book, one is led to inquire exactly what kind of atheist she is. In fact, not so new. I have met her type before when I used to belong to the Mensa Ath-SIG. They fashionably invoke the name atheist, but haven’t a clue what it means to be one. They have no remote understanding that, despite numerous atheist differences – including on the political spectrum- there are certain principles held in common by all.

To fix ideas here, The Atheist Advocate was a special publication of the Mensa Special Interest Group, A-SIG, from about 1993 until it became defunct in 1995. Often chucked with incisive arguments, it ultimately met its demise with the SIG sometime in late August, 1995, after much internecine squabbling. Many of the issues, and arguments – I admit- were initiated by me, since I brought up the dichotomy of “real” atheists as opposed to pretender or poseur atheists. In the context of those Mensa debates, Cupp would be seen as a poseur atheist.

Cupp benefits even more than those poseur Mensan atheists, because by adopting a banner-affiliation she doesn’t really seriously embrace, she can easily enter the mainstream media world (which is to say the NEO-LIBERAL Media, governed by corporations and false balance, “objectivity”) and get appearances, gigs, and attention that no REAL atheist can. She can perform this trick by appearing to them as an innocuous atheist, prepared to sell her convictions down the stream, if she even had any to begin with. Just doing a simple Google search brings up numerous Cupp appearances on diverse networks and shows where her misperceptions are heard far more voluminously (and regularly) than Richard Dawkins, for example. In other words, by being a poseur atheist she gains acceptance and attention the rest of us must fight for, literally – say just to get a radio talk show gig (as I did while promoting my first book back in 2001).

Of course, it also helps that she looks like a hottie and this easiness on the eyes makes the media outlets more sympathetic to her – unlike how they grudgingly and only occasionally accepted Madalyn Murray-O’Hair or Jon Murray.

Back to atheist principles. Exactly what comprises these? I reproduce here a short list from my Atheist Advocate article (Issue 13, October, 1994, p. 4):

1) The absolute separation of Church and State- no compromises! (Including accepting no vouchers for public school kids to attend parochial schools)

2) A weltanschauung (world view) based on materialism/naturalism: e.g. evolution is the governing basis for natural development, and all explanations that can be made are natural in origin – using natural objects of inquiry (electromagnetic waves, atoms, genes, quarks etc. This also includes rejecting of all claims made without evidentiary support.

3) An Ethics or morality predicated on independence from supernatural agents, see e.g. Kai Neilsson’s: Ethics Without God for how a religious-free ethics can be forged.

4) The treatment of all “sacred texts” (e.g. bibles or other) as essentially corrupted, and thus fables or based on hearsay and fables with no import whatever for the modern, intelligent human living in the world of the 21st century.

Of course, we can agree that most people dislike being held to principles because wishy-washiness, and fuzziness is more appealing and less subject to contention and conflict. Being pinned down means also having the courage to OWN what you accept and what you don’t, as well as consistently defending your positions- and in my experience few people wish to do so. But that is exactly why wishy-washy labels were invented, like: agnostic theist, agnostic atheist, or freethinker, or Eupraxopher or HUMANIST.

My point is that Ms. Cupp has numerous other labels to choose from which evince her religious acceptance more aptly. She doesn’t have to invoke “atheist”. The term should therefore only be used by those prepared to stand behind and defend the aforementioned principles, as opposed to adopting it and then “squeegee-ing” out the core atheism to gain audiences one otherwise wouldn’t have. In other words, either accept the term atheist and the opprobrium that comes with it, or use a different term. Don’t attempt to become an impossible entity like a “Christian Atheist” or a Lion-Unicorn to exploit advantages you wouldn’t be offered otherwise.

This is a lesson Ms. Cupp has yet to apply – but hey – she’s getting books published without having to go the self-publishing route or via small, independent press (American Atheist Press) so why change when she’s on a roll? Simon and Schuster would offer me (a REAL atheist) a book opportunity probably the same day the Sun inflates to Red Giant stage and envelops the Earth. Meanwhile, for Ms. Cupp, their "review" gushes: "She’s an atheist. A non-believer. Which makes her the perfect impartial reporter from the trenches of a culture war dividing America and eroding the Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded"
Again, note the highlighted words: what the corporo-press-media empire has wet dreams over: "the perfect impartial reporter". They don't want to hear about REAL Atheism because real atheism is based on real principles not faux or expendable ones adopted for the convenience of being published by the mainstream vanilla book publishing clique.
We hope Ms. Cupp enjoys her run as an "atheist crossing the cultural war divide" - never mind it's phony as a $3 bill.

Will Barbados Fall to the Sovereign Debt Crisis? (I)

Having just returned from Barbados, it was interesting to see how that island nation has been coping with the economic maelstrom furiously whirling around it, with gusts higher than a metaphorical hurricane’s. On the surface (see photo taken from our seaside hotel) everything looks fine. But, as we know, in a global economy all nations are linked and one might say – “No nation is an island” - even if geographically it is!

First, let’s clear up some issues: the sovereign debt crisis 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. Normally, such securities would have attained triple A (AAA) bond ratings, but that only applied if the packages contained no sub-prime mortgages. In the case of the 2008 credit-subprime mortgage meltdown, they did contain such and didn’t merited AAA ratings –yet many were given these by rating agencies such as Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s. Thus, banks were misled into their bad purchases that led to the accumulation of more than $55 trillion in toxic assets. Hence, the need for bank bailouts.

Second,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). The most recent victim was Greece, which finally received a $140 billion (U.S.) bailout (in the form of loans mainly through the eurozone and IMF) but at horrific cost. The Greeks now face massive public cuts – with layoffs to their public sector and the slicing of public pensions along with increased retirement ages. Many public projects also stand to be cancelled, wages cut, and taxes raised. No wonder they’re rioting in the streets.

Like Barbados, Greece depends largely on tourism for its revenue and especially foreign exchange. It has few natural resources nor much of a manufacturing base to support it. Despite possessing barely 2% of the eurozone GDP, the Greeks owe everyone else literally: Britain: $15 billion, French banks $75 billion, Irish banks $8.5 billion, and Portuguese banks $9.7 billion.

Here’s the nexus of the problem: the nations that are owed money (as by Greece) also owe money in turn to their partners. Thus, the whole sovereign debt crisis is like one giant set of national dominoes about to collapse. Thus, Britain, which is owed $15 billion by Greece, $24 billion by Portugal, $114 billion by Spain and $188 billion by Ireland, in turn owes its own creditors – nearly $1 trillion.

The U.S. itself is caught up in this vortex, since American banks are currently exposed to nearly $1 trillion in European debt. At the same time, Chinese banks hold nearly $896 billion in U.S. debt, mainly in the form of treasurys. As the American congress soon goes to vote for another $30-40 billion for the war in Afghanistan- it will ultimately be depending on Chinese bankers to continue to support the increasing war debt, if the U.S. obstinately refuses to use "pay-go" rules to fund its military adventures. No wonder the stock market is in gyration! It can see the writing on the wall and it isn't pretty.

Now, back to little Barbados: it currently has debt in relation to GDP far in excess of Greece. While Greece had a debt of roughly 10% of GDP, Barbados is 53% of its GDP. As one Bajan (“Uri”) who follows the financial pages put it: “No wonder our Prime Minister is not doing so well and is in and out of hospital!” That same astute student of Bajan finance predicted a devaluation of the Barbados dollar within the next year – about the time the country has to cut its debt to GDP ratio by half if it wishes to not end up like Greece. He predicted devaluation to the level of the EC (Eastern Caribbean ) dollar which is currently pegged at 75% of the BDS $. The BDS $ in turn is in a ratio of $2 BDS to $1 U.S.

While the Barbados currency has the highest value of all in the Eastern Caribbean it may be unaffordable to sustain. Along with that higher value comes higher prices (of Bajan goods) to trading partners, and a slow accumulation of a balance of payments deficit. This may also be why so many Barbadian stocks (especially in the insurance sector) have been plummeting.

The other side of it is that the island is definitely living beyond its means, like Greece was, despite a very high VAT (value added tax). From what I beheld when I was there, the very largest foreign exchange outflow comes by way of the tens of thousands of vehicles using gasoline. I would make a wager, probably not too far off in terms of the typical Fermi problem (for which one knows generalities but few specifics, but still can solve it closely) that if Barbados eliminated half its automobiles overnight it would reduce its debt to GDP by at least 30% and probably more. That is how much it's losing by paying the petroleum nations (e.g. Trinidad, Venezuela) for the privilege to drive, as well as hold supercilious events that waste petrol –like “car rallies”.

Even cutting the “motorcars” in half would only reduce the vehicle density on the roads to about what it was when I left in January, 1992. As it is, I estimate with the rate of increase in vehicles there’ll be total gridlock on the island’s roads within four years, maybe less. The number of vehicles in Barbados simply cannot be supported by its near finite roads, which have perhaps only increased some 12% in miles around the island, while vehicles have doubled since 1992. As a result, just to get from Worthing (about five miles from Bridgetown) into town now takes the better part of an hour on a weekday morning, compared to 25 minutes in 1992. (Added to this problem is that to get from point A to B in Barbados often means taking one particular highway, e.g. Highway 7 along the South coast, and there are NO other options).

The other nasty part of the debt equation is the need to import foodstuffs from other islands or nations (like the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia) thereby losing foreign exchange to them. Barbados simply can’t produce enough chickens, or pork, to meet demand, far less vegetables and fruit. Not helping this situation is praedial larceny, by which crop thieves come into fields in the dead of night and steal whole crops just before they’re ready to harvest. This has been a blight on the island since 1990 or earlier, but no Bajan government seems to want to impose the rigid laws needed to stop it – given what’s at stake. I have often proposed allowing farmers to build 10’ high electrified fences to protect crops- but no one seriously wishes to see this implemented. Despite the fact that if all foreign food imports were suddenly cut off most of the population (now 288,000 according to The CIA World Fact Book:2009) would starve.

Something needs to be done, and soon.

In Part II: The Tourism Sector and How it May Save the Day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Book Sabbatical" - from May 7

The Book signing for my first book, published in 2000. The signing was held as part of the American Atheists annual Convention, this time in Orlando, Florida, over April 9-12, 2001.

Just about two thirds of the atheists in attendance bought my book, 'The Atheist's Handbook to Modern Materialism', which is still available at

As much as I know readers enjoy the diverse nature of this blog, it will be on a brief hiatus from tomorrow. The reason is basically what I call a "book sabbatical" - which means off-time to complete two books currently in draft form, and revise another for which the proof copy has been received. The latter book is a collection of all the math blogs previously done (working title: 'Mathematical Excursions in Brane Space') . The other two books deal, respectively with: 1) the JFK assassination ('Lancer Down: An Analysis of the JFK Assassination'), and 2) a compilation of selected blogs from Brane Space.

With full attention focussed on these assorted projects, each can then be completed more expeditiously, with fewer distractions.

Blogging every day is an energy-intensive committment, especially as one strives to keep the content as eclectic as it has been, and also in so far as possible - not to rush anything into print, but to do due justice to the topic at hand. (Even if that topic is responding to one's preacher brother for the fortieth time! )

So, the blog entries and articles should resume in about three weeks, around or near Memorial Day.

Until then, keep your minds open but also your inner skeptic in gear so it can cross-scrutinize what your open mind may otherwise accept indiscriminately!

Quantifying Reliability in Solar Compact Loops

One of the ongoing problems recurring in solar flare forecasting is how to narrow the windows for forecasting times, for specific flares and associated magnitudes. From about 1991, I have approached this from the perspective of employing an analog between the compact solar flare loop and a basic circuit in which one or more components fails. The failure then incepts a "short circuit" and the release of stored energy.

One such circuit analog is shown in the diagram for a line-tied arch(loop). By "line tied" I mean that the loop feet are firmly anchored in the photosphere at the level where the plasma beta approaches or exceeds 1. This can engender a "dynamo effect" whereby convective motions spawn electric currents which in turn create powerful magnetic fields in the loop. (The reader may refer here to Fig. 2 for a realistic portrayal of the loop.)

Assume the inductance (L) is distributed equally between two parallel branches of inductive magnitude (L/2) each, equivalent to lengths on either side of the loop apex. Then the dipole can be resolved into a 2-component (c1, c2) network. The associated monotonic structure function is:

(1) f (x1, x2) = 1 – (1 – x1)(1 – x2)

The implicit assumption in (1) is that the failure of two components is necessary to stop the current flow. That is, we require x1 = x2 = 0. The reliability function corresponding to (1) is written in terms of the separate component probabilities of failure(p1 for c1, and p2 for c2):

(2) H(p1, p2) = p1 + p2 – p1·p2

By way of example, for the line-tied loop, assume an effective (L=1) inductance for c1 and none for c2. Then:

f (x1, x2) = 1 – (1 – x1)(1 – x2) = 1 – (1 – 0)(1 – x2)
and f(x1,x2) = 1 – 1 – x2 = -x2

and: H(p1, p2) = p1 + p2 – p1·p2 = 0 + 1 – (0)(1) = 1

which leads to the interesting result that the monotonic structure function is (-x2) when the loop undergoes partial failure, and the probability is H = 1. In other words, only one polarity displays self-inductance.

A possible explanation for this may have to do with the sign of what is called the “magnetic helicity,” say incepted by a flow near one foot point that injects negative helicity near a neutral line[1].

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

H = INT_V A·B dV

where the integral (INT) is taken over the volume, V, B is the magnetic induction, and the vector potential A satisfies:

B = curl A

From Taylor’s hypothesis[2], the above integral is approximately invariant- so the minimum energy configuration is a “constant-alpha” (a) force free field, e.g. curl B = a B

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

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. For example it may be possible to resolve H(R) observationally into two components based on twist and writhe for “relative helicity” such that:

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

The sign of helicity will be positive or negative, depending on what is known as the “hemispheric helicity rule. That is, the force-free a characterizing each active region will have a tendency to be (+) in the southern solar hemisphere, and (-) in the northern solar hemisphere. Thus, in effect, in this case (-x2) -> a = (+ curl B_n / B_n), where B_n is the normal component of the field in the particular region.

Of key import(and an ongoing research issue) is how the actual curvilinear and cylindrical geometry affects all the properties posed above. Stay tuned!

[1] The neutral line or “magnetic inversion line” separate positive and negative polarities in a sunspot field or active region.

[2] J.B. Taylor: 1974, Phys. Rev. Letters, 33, 1139.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Leave Social Security & Medicare ALONE!

Well, eventually it had to come and it has. Even as the (much needed) $787 billion stimulus package passed last year, I worried the "chickens would come home to roost" and that it - along with other accumulated deficits (mainly from Bush Jr's 2001 tax cuts for the wealthiest, and 2 wars of choice) would leave a "deficit dragon" that hawks would feel the need to pare down. Now, it seems the target sights are set on Social Security and Medicare, the two biggest jewels in the "entitlement" crown.

Not long ago, Obama issued an executive order to form an 18-member commisson tasked with slashing the current deficit down to 3% of GDP over the next five years. That's a lot of slashing, though it may not seem so. Given that the Greek situation (over $140 billion bailout by eurozone members - with punishing cuts to come) is still in bond traders' eyes (as well as national leaders' heads) it makes sense that the two remaining leading candidate debt nations (the U.S. and U.K.) would be looking at programs of austerity.

My question is: Why does it seem the austerity always has to fall on the most vulnerable and weakest members of society? Why not the rich grubbers who've been awarded the equivalent of a new Lexus each year, thanks to Bush's tax cuts?

But no, it seems the main hotshots on Obama's commission are sharpening their knives to go after the programs most people need. (Especially after the 2008 credit-financial meltdown wrought havoc with their savings). Just days after his commission appointment, brash loudmouth and Co-Chair, Alan Simpson told CNBC:

"We're gonna stick with the big three. We're gonna stick with entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. This is the big three. This is what the President has suggested."

First, I seriously doubt that Obama "suggested" any such thing. If in fact he has, he's got political rocks in his head. A Democratic president enabling the slicing of the foremost programs (initiated by a Dem icon, FDR) would be tantamount to ultimate betrayal. The Dem faithful would never tolerate it, and Obama would pay dearly at the polls in 2012 (mainly by virtue of the faithful not being energized enough to turn out). So one hopes this is just Simpson shooting his fat yap off again.

Second, the entire supposition is preposterous, since neither Medicare nor Social Security caused today's historic deficits. One can rank the culprits in order from the time Bush Junior got shoehorned into office by the Treasonous Five on the (then) Supreme Court in 2000:

1) Bush's 2001 tax cuts ($1.7 trillion) and 2002 tax cuts (over $0.7 billion). The idiotic claims at the time surfaced the tax cuts would actually generate revenue via supply side hokum, but that never happened.

2) The launching of the pre-emptive "wars" (actually occupations) in Afghanistan and Iraq now add up to over $2 trillion with another $175 billion or so to be approved for operations in the next few months. Instead of raising taxes to pay for these expensive adventures, Bush just told people to "shop" and all will be well.

3) The 2003 Medicare law which was actually a thinly masked, backdoor privatization plan, with most of the money-benefits going to Big Pharma and insurance companies. Estimated add on to the deficit: $1 trillion. This "entitlement" was actually more for private companies than seniors- who are still being trapped in the odious "donut hole" because congress lacked the cojones to demand the government be allowed to bargain for lowest drug prices (like the VA) or that re-importation of much cheaper Canadian drugs be allowed. A total sellout to Big Pharma!

4) The 2008-2009 bank bailouts -stimulus package, together adding nearly $1.5 trillion to the deficit.

In NONE of these were Social Security or Medicare contributory factors. In (3) the private (Medicare Advantage) plans were the beneficiaries, since standard Medicare (sponsored by the government) was forced to cough up an additional $12 billion per year to fund the private plan. (The GAO estimated that Medicare itself would become "insolvent" much earlier because of this private parasite, blelding off excess funds)

Indeed, Social Security monies were raided each year from 2002 on to help pay for the military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, in order to disguise the magnitude of the deficit. Of course, this trick had been used since Ronald Reagan did it in 1983- 86.

And then blowhards like Alan Simpson have the absolute chutzpah to make ignorant remarks like:

"Where does this howling come from? These people (seniors) don't care a whit about their grandchildren, not a whit!"

Howling? HOWLING? Of course, if the former Senator from Wyoming could have briefly extracted his cranium from where the Sun doesn't shine, he'd have realized how asinine that statement is. It's precisely because the elderly have seen how critical those programs are to them, that they realize how critical they'll be to their grandchildren - who in an ongoing debt-leverage environment, with lower GDP and fewer jobs, will have even less.

It's convenient for fiscal demagogues and deficit hawks, however, to portray seniors as blood sucking parasites, feasting on the bones of their kids and grand kids. It plays to the ignorant masses, like tea-baggers, for whom the siren song is "Less Government! Less Government!" Righto, except for them!

Right now, those of us who belong to activist organizations (like the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare) , are ready to fight tooth and nail against any proposed cuts to those sacrosanct programs. In the meantime, I recommend to all fellow progressives that they mark who - which culprits- appear to be going along with this charade to cut SS and Medicare, and ensure they're voted out of office in the next election cycle.

Cut the deficits, sure, but not over the backs and vulnerable bones of seniors! You can start by not re- funding that stupid and ill-conceived occupation in Afghanistan. One epitomized by the punting and walking out of the Korengal Valley, leaving it to the Taliban.

Assessing Neandertal "Orthodontic" findings

Skeletons of Neanderthal Man (left) and modern Man. Note carefully the larger (wider) lower jaw size of the Neanderthal, compared to the narrower contour of the lower jaw of modern Man.

It's a never ending source of amusement to see the level of ignorance and miseducation that some will go to in an effort to try and find ballast and support for their ill-conceived, pet nonsense. That includes creationism, of course, which isn't even a valid science since it offers no tests for falsification.

Recently, Jack Cuozzo (a creationist orthodontist) has done some research into wisdom teeth, and concluded that those (expendable) teeth somehow point the way to establishing the validity of creationism- or at least that humanity had it much better in the past (which he identified with Neanderthals, despite the fact they were exterminated by Cro Magnon Man, our modern ancestor).

Cuozzo claimed to have performed a thorough study of the skulls of Neandertals and concluded that they were from a time when human beings had much longer life spans, developed and grew much slower, and were of superior strength, and possibly intelligence, if their larger brain capacities are an indication of this.

Wow! We have the blatherings of still my heart! actual orthodontist! Not an evolutionary biologist, mind you! Thus, we can expect a litany of errors such as the following:

- the claim that lifepans were much longer (actually, the oldest Neanderthals lived to only 45-50, which - while admittedly older in human history terms- can't compare to the 72-78 or so of modern Americans or Europeans)

- Superior intelligence? Nyet! (while their brain volumes were larger on average they lacked the increased convolutions of the neocortex surface peculiar to modern humans and Cro-Magnon Man. This, of course, may be one reason they lost out in the competitive race with modern humans - becoming extinct by 28,000 years ago)

Let's go on with more of the pastor's favorite fairy tales (and btw, if he is so enamored with Neandertals, does that mean he believes Adam and Eve were Neandertals? One wonders!)

Cuozzo infers that problems often caused by wisdom teeth are further evidence of "genetic" decline and degeneration in modern humans. Cuozzo insists the problems common with wisdom teeth in modern times may be a consequence of an increased consumption of growth hormones in foods, and due to the heavy emphasis on cooked foods that require less chewing.

Again, this is crackpot "academics". For example, while blustering about "evidence provided through genetic decline" - Cuozzo gives us nothing! Where? WHAT evidence of genetic decline? Was the telomeric fusion of the original chromosomes 2p and 2q (in Modern Man's primitive hominid ancestors) affected? What about the cytochrome -c? Did chromosome 17 differ (in Modern humans) by more than a pericentric inversion? In what specific genes did the overall"decline" transpire? How long did it take?

To even remotely believe that wisdom teeth contributed to entire species "degeneration" is straight from the outer reaches of la-la land. (But then anyone, i.e. creationist, who believes that a talking snake tempted Adam & Eve to initiate humanity's woes is already in la-la land!) Re: the claim that species "degeneration was attendant on wisdom teeth" - the evidence doesn't support it. And what we have here is a "hypothesis" (or more likely speculation) that must be tested to be accepted. In fact, even with their spectacular wisdom tooth health (to see Cuozzo's claims) the Neanderthals suffered from a wide range of ailments, including but not limited to: pneumonia, Rickets, parasite infections, malnutrition, and a disturbing tendency to bone fractures (see: Rethinking Neanderthals, Smithsonian, June, 2003, p. 83)

As for the problems related to wisdom teeth in modern times, this is no mystery. In many cases, these (expendable) teeth emerge far back in the rear of the buccal cavity and pose problems for many humans because the existing jaw size can't accommodate them. Even when they do seem to fit, they often erupt in positions such that there is a major bite offset, e.g. the bottom (or top) of wisdom teeth does not fully contact a mutual chewing surface in the opposing jaw. Further, the rear of wisdom teeth are difficult to clean and because of this there are recurring inflammations of the gums as bacteria thrive in hidden pockets, or recesses.

But Cuozzo skirts over the issue of the poor design of the human jaw (too small to accommodate the teeth he so admires) which would redound poorly on his "Designer God" - in favor of red herrings about hormones and good, chewable raw foods. In my own personal case, I experienced problems for many years (despite consuming large amounts of raw vegetables). I suffered from recurring gum infections in the vicinity of my wisdom teeth, until I had them removed four years ago. In addition, the teeth - since they had no opposing bite surfaces- were erupting to the extent they had to be 'sawed" down each year, lest they grow into the opposing gums! Since the extraction, I haven't had a single gum infection. (Which may also be why my cardiac profile is better - since recurrent infections impact badly on heart health, via higher levels of c-reactive protein, as research has shown).

But the epitome of his foolishness Cuozzo saves for last when he concludes:

"This shows that overcrowding in the mouth, and subsequent problems with wisdom teeth, is connected with the degeneracy of modern man. "

And that is total nonsense. In fact, the overcrowding in the mouth is plainly due to POOR DESIGN in terms of the teeth of modern humans being too many to be accomodated in the existing buccal cavity! In other words, the botched work of a flawed "designer"! Neandertals didn't exhibit these problems because the contour of their face and jaw was different. Given Neandertals probably evolved from Homo Erectus, this is understandable. Of course, if one has the sense and intelligence (not to mention education) to accept evolution it all fits (no pun intended!) Thus, the transition from the earlier hominid ancestor (to Cro Magnon) was so rapid that the jaw didn't develop concomitantly. Indeed, the evidence we have shows the jaw size was sacrificed to support a much larger cranial volume - while for the Neandertal, larger tooth number (including wisdom teeth) - was supported by having a protruding and wider jaw, something Cro Magnon lacked- refer to diagram).

What I'm saying is that given evolution is an algorithmic process, trying numerous blind leads and in trial and error fashion, it makes much more sense that evolution engendered the "small mouth" capacity problem of the Cro Magnon, not that humans were in a more superior stage at the time of the Neandertals (especially since these "more superior" humans (actually sub-humans) were very likely exterminated by their later arrivals. (Note here: another common creationist fallacy is that Neandertals were the progenitors of modern humans, but this is false. They actually represent two distinct lines of humans. The Cro Magnon in the end were the superior line and outbred and out-hunted their rivals into extinction. So much for the "Noble Savage" myth of the Neandertal). In any case, it passes strange that the creatonist ilk would now seem to be siding with evolution, in terms of Neandertals being our progenitors when their very skeletal structure was more primitive!!)

But, of course, the creationists and their cranks in residence always pick and choose what they want to examine, ignoring the rest. If they want to scratch their brains, and if the Neandertals' fall is beyond them, they might want to ask themselves (assuming they still go along with their Designer God):

- WHY did he invert the retina and give humans (but not the octopus) a "blind spot"?

- WHY, in making us upright, did he make us so susceptible to back problems?

- WHY did he bestow on us a vestigial tail (coccyx) if there is no real use for it?

- WHY, instead of just designing a uniform, superior brain to begin with, did he give us a brain cobbled from three parts: an ancient reptilian paleo-cortex, an ape mesocortex and the reasoning neocortex? (Which some have compared to a car design welding a Lamborghini to a Model T Ford chassis, with a 1957 Chevy engine to power the Lamborghini. If a human automotive desgin engineer conceived of such a hybrid beast, I guarantee he'd be pink-slipped on the spot)

- WHY did he give us an appendix which has no clear reason or purpose and often must be removed? (Sometimes in an emergency)

Of course, we may be sure the creatonists will never tackle these because to answer them honestly would require that they look with suspicion on their disreputable and ridiculous "theory". One they are unable to even test or falsify. (Mainly because they lack the ingenuity or perhaps conviction, to do so).

So, of one thing we may be certain: while Cuozzo offers a fascinating new take on Neandertals, and a novel effort to take down evolution, in the end he doesn't succeed.

But did any person who's studied evolution seriously believe he would?

Math Solutions

We look at the Matrix group problems first -

1. For the group PSL(2,z) show that the identity element (e) = s^4 = t^3.

The identity element e =

[1 0]

While s =

(0 1)
(-1 0)

And t =

(0 -1)
(1 -1)

One therefore simply needs to multiply s x s x s x s in order to obtain e (using the rules of matrix multiplication) and t x t x t, to find e in the same.

2. For the group sl(2) show that:(a) [h.f] = h*f - f*h = -2f
Again, using the elements h and f as defined in the blog, we multiply:

h*f - f*h =

(0 0)
(-2 0)

And since f =

(0 0)
(1 0)

It means that the relation: h*f - f*h = -2f

(b) The "Casimir element", C, of sl(2) is defined according to: h^2/ 2 + h + 2f*e, find the element

By matrix multiplication, we determine: h^2/ 2 =

(½ 0)
(0 ½)

And adding the matrix h yields:

(1½ 0)
(0 -½)

Now, adding 2fe =

(0 0)
(0 2) yields:

C =

(1½ 0)
(0 1½)

3. Show that the Klein Viergruppe, V4, is Abelian.

This is easily shown by matrix multiplication for which we will find:

a*b = b*a =

(-1 0)
(0 -1)

And: a*c = c*a =

(-1 0)
(0 1)

And finally, b*c = c*b =

(1 0)
(0 -1)

Now the odd solutions to the lines and planes problems are as follows:

(1) Find the equation of the plane perpendicular to the vector N at (-3, -2, 4), and passing through the point P= (2, pi, -5)

Using the given triples, we obtain the equation as: -3x – 2y + 4z = P*N

Whence: P*N = [(-3)(2) + (2)(pi) + 4(-5)] = -26 + 2pi = -2(13 + pi)

So: -3x -2y +4z = -2(13 + pi)

Or reduced to:

-3x/2 – y + 2z = 13 + pi

(3) Find the cosine of the angle between the planes: x + y + z = 1 and x – y – z = 5

The respective vectors we need, from the coefficients of the equations are:

A = (1, 1, 1) and B = (1, -1, -1)

Then: cos(theta) = A*B/ [A]{B] =

{(1*1) + (1*(-1)) + (1)*(-1)} / {[1^2 + 1^2 + 1^2] [1^2 + (-1)^2 +(-1)^2]}

Or cos (theta) = -1 / {(3)^1/2 (3)^1/2} = -1/ 3

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Analyzing Lines & Planes

Anyone who’s taken a course in analytic geometry knows how much fun it can be. However, one can explore aspects of simple lines and planes, equations of intersections etc. just by the use of some basic linear algebra – which we’ll use in this installment.

Basically, we are looking at how lines and planes relate in three dimensions. For example, a generic line and plan posed in 3-dimensions is shown in the diagram. The vector N here defines the direction of the normal of the plane, that is, the direction perpendicular to its plane. Note that Q is a point in the plane, and P is a point defined along the vector that links up with point P which is not in the plane but is along the vector normal to it. A kind of classic problem would ask to find the value of t such that a certain vector (not to be confused with the coordinate!): X = P + tN, also satisfies:
(X – Q)*N = 0

Now, question for those who’ve already done some vector analysis: why do we write: (X – Q)* N = 0? On what basis?

Well, it’s because we are looking at the vector dot product. For any two vectors, A and B, the dot product is defined:

A*B = AB cos(theta) where theta is the angle between them

Obviously if two vectors are perpendicular to each other then theta = 90 degrees, and cos(theta) = 0. Thus, in this case: (X – Q)*N = 0

Now both conditions can actually be integrated into one expression which must be satisfied, to find t:

(P + tN – Q)*N = 0 or

(P – Q)*N + tN*N = 0

So we can solve for t: t = (Q – P)*N/ N*N

Let’s look at some problem applications!

1) Find the equation of the line in (two-dimensional space) perpendicular to the point A(-5,4) and passing through the point (3,2)

This example shows that we can apply the preceding formulations for 2-space as well as 3-space. In this case, we can write: (x, y) = P + tA

Which yields: x = 3 – 5t and y = 2 + 4t

So we have the simultaneous equations:

x = 3 – 5t
y = 2 + 4t

Subtracting, to get: 4x + 5y = 22

Which is the equation of the line.

Example (2)

Show that the lines: 3x – 5y = 1 and 2x + 3y = 5 are not perpendicular

From the equations, the points in question are: A= (3, -5) and B = (2,3)

O be perpendicular (as we saw earlier as the requirement for the dot product to hold:

Cos(theta) = (A*B)/ [A][B] = 0

Where [A] = {(3)^2 + (-5)^2}^1/2 = (9 + 25)^1/.2 = (34)^1/2

And: [B] = {(2)^2 + (3)^2} = (4 + 9)^1/2 = (13)^1/2

And: A*B = {(3)*(2) + (-5)(3)} = {6 – 15) = -9

And cos(theta) = -9/ {(34)^1/2 x (13)^1/2} not equal 0

So the lines aren’t perpendicular

Example (3):

Find the equation of the plane perpendicular to the vector N at (1, -1,3), and passing through the point P= (4, 2, -1).

Here, we want:

(x, y, z) = P*N

Using the ordered triples in 3-space, we can write the requirement for the plane perpendicular to N and passing through P in a plane:

x – y + 3z = P*N

And: P*N = [(4*1) + (-1)*(2) + 2*(-1)] = -1

Therefore P*N = -1 and:

x – y + 3z = -1

Additional problems to work on your own:

(1) Find the equation of the plane perpendicular to the vector N at (-3, -2, 4), and passing through the point P= (2, pi, -5)

(2) Find a vector parallel to the line of interception of two planes:

2x – y + z = 1 and 3x + y + 2 = 2

(3)Find the cosine of the angle between the planes: x + y + z = 1 and x – y – z = 5

The solutions to these will be given in the next installment along with the solutions to the matrix groups problems!