Lighter than Air

'Oumuamua (1I2017 U1), artist's conceptionIn October 2017, astronomers using the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii discovered a small object passing relatively near the Earth (33 million km, 0.22 astronomical units (AU), or about 85 times farther away than the Moon).  Initial attempts to fit an orbit to its path, tracked by a series of observations failed.  It was realised that the object is on a strongly hyperbolic orbit and is not gravitationally bound to the Sun: dynamically, it is not a part of the solar system—it is an interstellar object, the first to be observed, just passing through.  It was first considered to be a comet, but extended observations by large telescopes failed to detect any of the emissions of dust and gas which one would expect from a comet, especially one making its first close approach to a star in many millennia, and perhaps ever.  It was then re-classified as an asteroid.  Finally, it was given the designation 1I/2017 U1 and the informal name `Oumuamua, which means “scout” or “messenger” in the Hawaiian language.

Further observations deepened the mystery: `Oumuamua was discovered after it had made its closest approach to the Sun on September 9th, 2017 at a distance of 0.25 AU (inside the orbit of Mercury), and as it receded from the Sun, careful tracking of its position indicated it was not following a trajectory as would be expected from Newton’s laws, but rather losing velocity slower than gravitation would account for (or, in other words, it had an outward acceleration added to the deceleration of gravity).  This is often the case for comets, whose emission of gas and dust released due to heating by the Sun acts like a rocket to propel the body away from the Sun.  But that conflicts with the failure to detect any such emissions from `Oumuamua by telescopes and instruments with more than adequate sensitivity to observe emissions which could account for the acceleration.... [Read More]

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Charting the Narrative

“White Privilege” in New York Times articlesIn a number of comments on various posts here over the last year or so, and asides in main posts, I have discussed my conclusion that there is an organised mechanism, akin to a public relations firm, which is generating the “narrative” that seems to occupy the minds of the legacy media and politicians associated with them at any given moment.  I have no concrete evidence to back up this belief, but the existence of JournoList between 2007 and 2010 (which was shut down after its public exposure) indicates that prominent media figures are interested in and willing to co-ordinate their efforts in favour of the causes they advocate.

My conviction that the narrative of the moment is actively manufactured, disseminated among top-level figures in the media and “progressive” politics, and then passed down through the ranks by a mechanism akin to an old-time “phone tree” (in which most of the ultimate recipients are unaware of the origin of the themes and specific phrases they parrot), is that the way each new obsession simultaneously appears within hours to days on the lips and in the printed works of hundreds of supposedly independent players simply doesn’t fit the model of the organic diffusion of information.  Further, when precisely the same phrases are used by widely-separated speakers, and a neatly packaged interpretation of an unexpected event is presented a day or two after it happens, that doesn’t look like a bottom-up process.  And finally, when you observe this phenomenon again and again, with precisely the same pattern, that reinforces the suspicion that something is going on to make it happen.  As Ian Fleming had his supervillain Auric Goldfinger say, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”... [Read More]

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Book Review: Coolidge

“Coolidge” by Amity ShlaesJohn Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was born in 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. His family were among the branch of the Coolidge clan who stayed in Vermont while others left its steep, rocky, and often bleak land for opportunity in the Wild West of Ohio and beyond when the Erie canal opened up these new territories to settlement. His father and namesake made his living by cutting wood, tapping trees for sugar, and small-scale farming on his modest plot of land. He diversified his income by operating a general store in town and selling insurance. There was a long tradition of public service in the family. Young Coolidge’s great-grandfather was an officer in the American Revolution and his grandfather was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives. His father was justice of the peace and tax collector in Plymouth Notch, and would later serve in the Vermont House of Representatives and Senate.

Although many in the cities would consider their rural life far from the nearest railroad terminal hard-scrabble, the family was sufficiently prosperous to pay for young Calvin (the name he went by from boyhood) to attend private schools, boarding with families in the towns where they were located and infrequently returning home. He followed a general college preparatory curriculum and, after failing the entrance examination the first time, was admitted on his second attempt to Amherst College as a freshman in 1891. A loner, and already with a reputation for being taciturn, he joined none of the fraternities to which his classmates belonged, nor did he participate in the athletics which were a part of college life. He quickly perceived that Amherst had a class system, where the scions of old money families from Boston who had supported the college were elevated above nobodies from the boonies like himself. He concentrated on his studies, mastering Greek and Latin, and immersing himself in the works of the great orators of those cultures.... [Read More]

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“The Nurse Will See You Now” (but you won’t know it’s a nurse!) – Internecine Warfare in Anesthesia

 

Introductory note on language: In the US, an anesthesiologist is a physician, an M.D. with 4 or more years specialty training in the field after completion of medical school; with rare exceptions, all are board certified by rigorous examination by the American Board of Anesthesiology. An anesthetist is a nurse, a C.R.N.A. (certified registered nurse anesthetist). New graduates have a BSN (bachelor of science nursing and a MSN (master of science nursing); a total of six years of schooling plus one year working in ICU,  for a total of 7 years. A significant number still practicing have neither degree, but are ‘grandfathered’ under the less rigorous former standard. Not so in the United Kingdom, where ‘anaesthetist’ generically  describes whoever is administering ‘anaesthesia.’ Until recently, as far as I know, anesthesia was administered only by physicians in the UK, but the “anesthesia care team” (more below, and likely the best) model has been introduced and is growing in prevalence in order to extend physician manpower.... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Skin in the Game

“Skin in the Game” by Nassim Nicholas TalebThis book is volume four in the author’s Incerto series, following Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile. In it, he continues to explore the topics of uncertainty, risk, decision making under such circumstances, and how both individuals and societies winnow out what works from what doesn’t in order to choose wisely among the myriad alternatives available.

The title, “Skin in the Game”, is an aphorism which refers to an individual’s sharing the risks and rewards of an undertaking in which they are involved. This is often applied to business and finance, but it is, as the author demonstrates, a very general and powerful concept. An airline pilot has skin in the game along with the passengers. If the plane crashes and kills everybody on board, the pilot will die along with them. This insures that the pilot shares the passengers’ desire for a safe, uneventful trip and inspires confidence among them. A government “expert” putting together a “food pyramid” to be vigorously promoted among the citizenry and enforced upon captive populations such as school children or members of the armed forces, has no skin in the game. If his or her recommendations create an epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, that probably won’t happen until after the “expert” has retired and, in any case, civil servants are not fired or demoted based upon the consequences of their recommendations.... [Read More]

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The Dog that Did Not Bark

Debt bombIn one of Heinlein’s stories (I forget which one, and the search engines haven’t helped on this odd query) a character awakes after having been in suspended animation for many years and catches up on what he’s missed by spending a few hours reading a history book, then remarks on how much time he would have wasted had he read a newspaper every day for all that time, reading about matters too ephemeral to make the history books.

If you do follow the news (I try to spend as little time as possible doing so), keep in mind that the most important thing may be what’s not in the daily news.  Many of the things that end up in the history books were complete surprises to those embedded in the “news cycle” and to the “experts” who feed it.  For example, check the newspapers for early October 1929, November 1941, October 1989, the latter half of 1990, or August 2001: you’ll find little or nothing about the imminent stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, fall of the Berlin Wall, collapse of the Soviet Union, or terrorist attacks in the U.S.  And yet, in retrospect, the circumstances which led to these “surprises” were in plain sight.  Thus, I’m always interested in the big story that none of the chattering classes are chattering about.  Which brings me to…... [Read More]

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Play Now Don’t Pay Later

I have been reading “Change.edu: rebooting for the new talent economy” by  Andrew S. Rosen. It is about the craziness of higher education. Students were able to go to four year resorts masquerading as colleges with student loans. They got to live in nice places with great food and wonderful recreational facilities but they couldn’t afford them. They couldn’t opt out of the frills to get just the education so they overpaid. The axis of evil of admissions departments, “will give a loan to anyone” government, and “can’t live in the real world” educators have brought back a form of slavery know as “indentured servitude”.  Sad.

Of course, the Democratic candidates have as their motto “When responsibility is needed make the innocent pay.” They want the people who didn’t go to college to pay the student loans of those who did. Giving away “free” is what they think is “fair”. For it is unfair for “Sally or Johnny” to ever face the cost of their actions. Maybe they can call the program “Planned Payback” or they can say they are “Pro-choice” which means not paying.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Island of Clouds

“Island of Clouds” by Gerald BrennanThis is the third book, and the first full-length novel, in the author’s “Altered Space” series of alternative histories of the cold war space race. Each stand-alone story explores a space mission which did not take place, but could have, given the technology and political circumstances at the time. The first, Zero Phase, asks what might have happened had Apollo 13’s service module oxygen tank waited to explode until after the lunar module had landed on the Moon. The present book describes a manned Venus fly-by mission performed in 1972 using modified Apollo hardware launched by a single Saturn V.

“But, wait…”, you exclaim, ”that’s crazy!” Why would you put a crew of three at risk for a mission lasting a full year for just a few minutes of close-range fly-by of a planet whose surface is completely obscured by thick clouds? Far from Earth, any failure of their life support systems, spacecraft systems, a medical emergency, or any number of other mishaps could kill them; they’d be racking up a radiation dose from cosmic rays and solar particle emissions every day in the mission; and the inexorable laws of orbital mechanics would provide them no option to come home early if something went wrong.... [Read More]

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Book Review: What Has Government Done to Our Money?

“What Has Government Done to Our Money” by Murray N. RothbardThis slim book (just 119 pages of main text in this edition) was originally published in 1963 when the almighty gold-backed United States dollar was beginning to crack up under the pressure of relentless deficit spending and money printing by the Federal Reserve. Two years later, as the crumbling of the edifice accelerated, amidst a miasma of bafflegab about fantasies such as a “silver shortage” by Keynesian economists and other charlatans, the Coinage Act of 1965 would eliminate sliver from most U.S. coins, replacing them with counterfeit slugs craftily designed to fool vending machines into accepting them. (The little-used half dollar had its silver content reduced from 90% to 40%, and would be silverless after 1970.) In 1968, the U.S. Treasury would default upon its obligation to redeem paper silver certificates in silver coin or bullion, breaking the link between the U.S. currency and precious metal entirely.

All of this was precisely foreseen in this clear-as-light exposition of monetary theory and forty centuries of government folly by libertarian thinker and Austrian School economist Murray Rothbard. He explains the origin of money as societies progress from barter to indirect exchange, why most (but not all) cultures have settled on precious metals such as gold and silver as a medium of intermediate exchange (they do not deteriorate over time, can be subdivided into arbitrarily small units, and are relatively easy to check for authenticity). He then describes the sorry progression by which those in authority seize control over this free money and use it to fleece their subjects. First, they establish a monopoly over the ability to coin money, banning private mints and the use of any money other than their own coins (usually adorned with a graven image of some tyrant or another). They give this coin and its subdivisions a name, such as “dollar”, “franc”, “mark” or some such, which is originally defined as a unit of mass of some precious metal (for example, the U.S. dollar, prior to its debasement, was defined as 23.2 grains [1.5033 grams, or about 1/20 troy ounce] of pure gold). (Rothbard, as an economist rather than a physicist, and one working in English customary units, confuses mass with weight throughout the book. They aren’t the same thing, and the quantity of gold in a coin doesn’t vary depending on whether you weigh it at the North Pole or the summit of Chimborazo.)... [Read More]

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Book Review: The Man in the High Castle

“The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. DickThe year is 1962. Following the victory of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, North America is divided into spheres of influence by the victors, with the west coast Pacific States of America controlled by Japan, the territory east of the Mississippi split north and south between what is still called the United States of America and the South, where slavery has been re-instituted, both puppet states of Germany. In between are the Rocky Mountain states, a buffer zone between the Japanese and German sectors with somewhat more freedom from domination by them.

The point of departure where this alternative history diverges from our timeline is in 1934, when Franklin D. Roosevelt is assassinated in Miami, Florida. (In our history, Roosevelt was uninjured in an assassination attempt in Miami in 1933 that killed the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak.) Roosevelt’s vice president, John Nance Garner, succeeds to the presidency and is re-elected in 1936. In 1940, the Republican party retakes the White House, with John W. Bricker elected president. Garner and Bricker pursue a policy of strict neutrality and isolation, which allows Germany, Japan, and Italy to divide up the most of the world and coerce other nations into becoming satellites or client states. Then, Japan and Germany mount simultaneous invasions of the east and west coasts of the U.S., resulting in a surrender in 1947 and the present division of the continent.... [Read More]

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A Bad Guy: Jeffrey Epstein

Where was everyone? Jeffrey Epstein manipulated and abused young girls for years. Maybe the number is in the hundreds. These girls were lured by the cash and high life.  Some I heard at the beginning got $300 for giving Epstein just a massage. He knew they were underage but continued.

It bothers me that I have heard of no parent coming forward talking about how they were aware of this predator at the time. How did they not know their daughters were getting this extra cash? Were they so derelict to be unaware of the dangers? Did they have stars in their eyes because he was a rich man?... [Read More]

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Book Review: Schild’s Ladder

“Schild's Ladder” by Greg EganGreg Egan is one of the most eminent contemporary authors in the genre of “hard” science fiction. By “hard”, one means not that it is necessarily difficult to read, but that the author has taken care to either follow the laws of known science or, if the story involves alternative laws (for example, a faster than light drive, anti-gravity, or time travel) to define those laws and then remain completely consistent with them. This needn’t involve tedious lectures—masters of science fiction, like Greg Egan, “show, don’t tell”—but the reader should be able to figure out the rules and the characters be constrained by them as the story unfolds. Egan is also a skilled practitioner of “world building” which takes hard science fiction to the next level by constructing entire worlds or universes in which an alternative set of conditions are worked out in a logical and consistent way.

Whenever a new large particle collider is proposed, fear-mongers prattle on about the risk of its unleashing some new physical phenomenon which might destroy the Earth or, for those who think big, the universe by, for example, causing it to collapse into a black hole or causing the quantum vacuum to tunnel to a lower energy state where the laws of physics are incompatible with the existence of condensed matter and life. This is, of course, completely absurd. We have observed cosmic rays, for example the Oh-My-God particle detected by an instrument in Utah in 1991, with energies more than twenty million times greater than those produced by the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle accelerator in existence today. These natural cosmic rays strike the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and everything else in the universe all the time and have been doing so for billions of years and, if you look around, you’ll see that the universe is still here. If a high energy particle was going to destroy it, it would have been gone long ago.... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Apollo 11 at 50 I: Apollo

Apollo 11 “everyone elsie” by Michael Collins, 1969-07-21, AS11-44-6643.On November 5, 1958, NASA, only four months old at the time, created the Space Task Group (STG) to manage its manned spaceflight programs. Although there had been earlier military studies of manned space concepts and many saw eventual manned orbital flights growing out of the rocket plane projects conducted by NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the U.S. Air Force, at the time of the STG’s formation the U.S. had no formal manned space program. The initial group numbered 45 in all, including eight secretaries and “computers”—operators of electromechanical desk calculators, staffed largely with people from the NACA’s Langley Research Center and initially headquartered there. There were no firm plans for manned spaceflight, no budget approved to pay for it, no spacecraft, no boosters, no launch facilities, no mission control centre, no astronauts, no plans to select and train them, and no experience either with human flight above the Earth’s atmosphere or with more than a few seconds of weightlessness. And yet this team, the core of an effort which would grow to include around 400,000 people at NASA and its 20,000 industry and academic contractors, would, just ten years and nine months later, on July 20th, 1969, land two people on the surface of the Moon and then return them safely to the Earth.

Ten years is not a long time when it comes to accomplishing a complicated technological project. Development of the Boeing 787, a mid-sized commercial airliner which flew no further, faster, or higher than its predecessors, and was designed and built using computer-aided design and manufacturing technologies, took eight years from project launch to entry into service, and the F-35 fighter plane only entered service and then only in small numbers of one model a full twenty-three years after the start of its development.... [Read More]

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