A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than three quarters of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:
markmarv2004@yahoo.com

Friday, July 4, 2014

MAKE A DIFFERENCE, ONE BALL AT A TIME

Just signed up to donate a soccer ball for kids to use anywhere.  What a great invention and idea.  Worth supporting. Make a real difference in the lives of kids with no playing fields.

http://www.oneworldfutbol.com/shop/one-world-futbol-give-one/

Saturday, June 28, 2014

MOYERS ON LAWRENCE OF ARABIA: YESTERDAY'S MESS REVISITED TODAY

The problems in the Middle East are not new.  The causes continue to be rooted in outside influences and interventions that have as their primary goal self-aggrantizement. Maybe the peoples of the area will now do violently for themselves what Lawrence tried to do peacefully almost 100 years ago.

This link leads to a < 5 minute explanation--with implications for all of us today.

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/24652-bill-moyers-essay-what-we-can-learn-from-lawrence-of-arabia

Friday, June 27, 2014

ABOUT TIME: A WORTHY INVENTION

I'm glad to see that some brainpower is being devoted to something other than video games and manufacturing artisanal booze.  Here's something that can really make a difference. Wonderful"feel good"presentation.

http://news.yahoo.com/katie-couric-one-world-futbol-223434918.html

Monday, June 23, 2014

THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ IS AMERICA"S TRAJEDY

This morning I read the following article by Chris Hedges.  I was almost brought to tears by the truth of what I read.  Hedges gave my perspective some clarity, unfortunately. Consider the implications of colonialism as a national policy…driven by individual and corporate greed and hubris. It is with sadness that  I share it with you.

Truthdig

The Ghoulish Face of Empire

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_ghoulish_face_of_empire_20140623/

Posted on Jun 22, 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014

PLUTOCRACY IN REAL LIFE; THE END OF DEMOCRACY?


























 On Thursday morning, the Wall Street Journal runs an op-ed by one of the best-known mega-donors, Charles Koch, who with his brother backs Americans for Prosperity, which spent $122 million leading up to the 2012 campaign and has already spent more than $30 million in the past six months attacking Obamacare and Democratic senators up for reelection this fall. In the op-ed, Koch explains his heavy spending by warning of the “collectivists” threatening to take over the country. “The fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation’s own government,” he writes.




* * * * * * * * * *



HMJ observes--

America appears to be transforming itself from a democracy to a plutocracy. Plutocracy, the dictionary
defines as, "a class or group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth.The most
recent ruling of the Supreme Court in expanding Citizens United with its newest decision in 
McCutcheon makes it possible for those with mega bucks to influence elections and national and state 
policy-making in ways the founding father would have never anticipated or thought possible. And these decisions are based on supporting Constitutional guarantees of free speech.  Use of money in contributing to a campaign has somehow come to equal speech just like the corporation now has come to have the same legal rights as a person. (Dartmouth, Citizens).

The Atlantic continues that:

"As the Court confidently declared, "We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." And for skeptics who thought otherwise, the Court provided this additional assurance: "The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy."  Oh dear. and I thought I was naive.

Most citizens are not surprised to learn that millionaires spend huge amounts of money to help candidates get elected because the donors expect a quid pro quo, something in return, to be rewarded by the winners in some way--a job, an appointment, favorable legislation, or elimination of regulations that limit exploitation of people or the environment, protection against immigrants or people whose views oppose or support certain "religiously based" ethical positions (abortion, capital punishment, welfare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act, early education,) etc., etc).

The following article from the  The Atlantic hits on attitudes and circumstances in America that I deplore. Maybe it's because I'm an old guy and feel increasingly helpless as to do anything about the situation. I am not encouraged when I look around me for solutions among the' best and the brightest' in the next generations who ought to have the time and energy to pursue the remediation of these abuses.  Many of them seem to me to be focused on other irrelevant (lightweight) or purely selfish pursuits: texting, or "gaming" or hacking one system or another, clubbing,  job-jumping, or trying "to do deals" that will help them to become part of (as movers and shakers) the very system that needs fixing.

I am coming to believe that Chris Hedges is more than a little right when he says that the American democratic and economic system--as it is--will not and cannot self-correct, and that real change will come about only when the abuses become so egregious that a full scale revolution will be the only answer. As the realities of their circumstances continue to pound on the 99%, Hedges' revolution may not be  too far in the future.


BREAKDOWNAPRIL 3, 2014

This Is What Life in a Plutocracy Looks Like

Here are six snapshots from this week in America:
1. On Sunday, billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson concludes the weekend summit at the Venetian in Las Vegas where four Republican presidential prospects for 2016 came to make their implicit pitch for financial support from the man who spentnearly $150 million during the 2012 campaign.
2. On Monday, a Senate subcommittee releases a report on the tax avoidance used by Caterpillar, the giant Peoria, Ill.-based heavy equipment manufacturer, which cut its tax bill by $2.4 billion over the past 13 years by allotting $8 billion in revenues from its parts division to a subsidiary in Switzerland, where only 65 of the division’s 8,500 employees work. In an email exchange about whether this was appropriate, a managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was paid $55 million to concoct this arrangement, said: “What the heck, we’ll all be retired when this audit comes up on audit…Baby boomers have their fun, and leave it to the kids to pay for it.”
3. On Tuesday, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan releases the latest version of the famous Ryan budget. To make up for tax reductions for the wealthy, the budget calls for very deep cuts in spending on Medicaid, food stamps and discretionary spending, which includes research and development, transportation and infrastructure. Amtrak would lose its $1 billion in already-meager annual subsidies and have to rely entirely on fare-box revenue.
4. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court releases a 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, eliminating caps on how much total money ultra-rich donors can give to candidates, parties and PACs in a given election cycle. Where donors had previously been limited to giving $123,200 to candidates and parties in a given cycle, they can now give as much as $3.6 million. Chief Justice John Roberts writes: “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption.” Celebrating the ruling, House Speaker John Boehnersays, “I’m all for freedom, congratulations.”
5. On Thursday morning, the Wall Street Journal runs an op-ed by one of the best-known mega-donors, Charles Koch, who with his brother backs Americans for Prosperity, which spent $122 million leading up to the 2012 campaign and has already spent more than $30 million in the past six months attacking Obamacare and Democratic senators up for reelection this fall. In the op-ed, Koch explains his heavy spending by warning of the “collectivists” threatening to take over the country. “The fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation’s own government,” he writes.
6. Later on Thursday morning, between 9 and 10 a.m., part of the overhead electric line that powers the Acela train comes down onto the tracks near Bowie, Maryland, between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Virtually all train traffic between Baltimore and Washington shuts down for hours as undermanned crews struggle to repair the line, thereby severely hampering traffic in the Washington to Boston Northeast corridor that carries 750,000 passengers on 2,000 trains per day and also spelling panic for the Thursday afternoon rail commuters heading north out of Washington.
A southbound commuter train from Baltimore to Washington on Thursday morning that was caught just behind the downed lines and a stalled Acela takes four hours and 20 minutes to make the 40 mile journey, one that normally takes an hour. German tourists on the train sit bewildered about what could possibly be happening. Passengers have the consolation of listening to several proudly Republican lawyer/lobbyists on board loudly voicing their opinions on the delay. One declares it is the fault of President Obama, who is “in way over his head.” Another declares that the lack of credible information from the conductor is “just like Benghazi.”
One passenger is left thinking that this country could use some more spending on infrastructure, transportation and the general commonweal. Yes, that risks being “collectivist” and would be opposed by a casino magnate with vast holdings in Macau and would leave less for top-bracket tax cuts in the Ryan budget. But heck, it would also mean some more business for Caterpillar, which might even be prevailed upon to keep some of its income stateside, thus helping pay for said investment in the future of the greatest nation on earth.

Jen Sorensen by Jen Sorensen




Monday, March 17, 2014

HUMBLED ONCE AGAIN BY THE UNIVERSE

Photo
Alan Guth was one of the first physicists to hypothesize the existence of inflation, which explains how the universe expanded so uniformly and so quickly in the instant after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.CreditRick Friedman for The New York Times
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — One night late in 1979, an itinerant young physicist named Alan Guth, with a new son and a year’s appointment at Stanford, stayed up late with his notebook and equations, venturing far beyond the world of known physics.
He was trying to understand why there was no trace of some exotic particles that should have been created in the Big Bang. Instead he discovered what might have made the universe bang to begin with. A potential hitch in the presumed course of cosmic evolution could have infused space itself with a special energy that exerted a repulsive force, causing the universe to swell faster than the speed of light for a prodigiously violent instant.
If true, the rapid engorgement would solve paradoxes like why the heavens look uniform from pole to pole and not like a jagged, warped mess. The enormous ballooning would iron out all the wrinkles and irregularities. Those particles were not missing, but would be diluted beyond detection, like spit in the ocean.
“SPECTACULAR REALIZATION,” Dr. Guth wrote across the top of the page and drew a double box around it.
On Monday, Dr. Guth’s starship came in. Radio astronomers reported that they had seen the beginning of the Big Bang, and that his hypothesis, known undramatically as inflation, looked right.
Reaching back across 13.8 billion years to the first sliver of cosmic time with telescopes at the South Pole, a team of astronomers led by John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detected ripples in the fabric of space-time — so-called gravitational waves — the signature of a universe being wrenched violently apart when it was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old. They are the long-sought smoking-gun evidence of inflation, proof, Dr. Kovac and his colleagues say, that Dr. Guth was correct.
Inflation has been the workhorse of cosmology for 35 years, though many, including Dr. Guth, wondered whether it could ever be proved.
If corroborated, Dr. Kovac’s work will stand as a landmark in science comparable to the recent discovery of dark energy pushing the universe apart, or of the Big Bang itself. It would open vast realms of time and space and energy to science and speculation.
Continue reading the main story

The Theory of Inflation

Astronomers have found evidence to support the theory of inflation, which explains how the universe expanded so uniformly and so quickly in the instant after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.
THE UNIVERSE  is just under 14 billion years old. From our position in the Milky Way galaxy, we can observe a sphere — the visible universe — extending 14 billion light-years in every direction. But there's a mystery. Wherever we look, the universe has an even temperature.
NOT ENOUGH TIME  The universe isn't old enough for light to travel the 28 billion light-years from one side of the universe to the other, and there hasn’t been enough time for scattered patches of hot and cold to mix into an even temperature.
DISTANT COFFEE  At a smaller scale, imagine using a telescope to look a mile in one direction. You see a coffee cup, and from the amount of steam you can estimate its temperature and how much it has cooled.
COFFEE EVERYWHERE  Now turn around and look a mile in the other direction. You see the same coffee cup, at exactly the same temperature. Coincidence? Maybe. But if you see the same cup in every direction, you might want to look for another explanation.
STILL NOT ENOUGH TIME  There hasn't been enough time to carry coffee cups a mile in all directions before they get cold. But if all the coffee cups were somehow filled from a single coffee pot, all at the same time, that might explain their even temperature.
INFLATION  solves this problem. The theory proposes that, less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe expanded faster than the speed of light. Tiny ripples in the violently expanding mass eventually grew into the large-scale structures of the universe.
FLUCTUATION  Astronomers have now detected evidence of these ancient fluctuations in swirls of polarized light in the cosmic background radiation, which is energy left over from the early universe. These are gravitational waves predicted by Einstein.
EXPANSION  Returning to our coffee, imagine a single, central pot expanding faster than light and cooling to an even temperature as it expands. That's something like inflation. And the structure of the universe mirrors the froth and foam of the original pot.
Confirming inflation would mean that the universe we see, extending 14 billion light-years in space with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is only an infinitesimal patch in a larger cosmos whose extent, architecture and fate are unknowable. Moreover, beyond our own universe there might be an endless number of other universes bubbling into frothy eternity, like a pot of pasta water boiling over.
In our own universe, it would serve as a window into the forces operating at energies forever beyond the reach of particle accelerators on Earth and yield new insights into gravity itself. Dr. Kovac’s ripples would be the first direct observation of gravitational waves, which, according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, should ruffle space-time.
According to inflation theory, the waves are the hypothetical quantum particles, known as gravitons, that carry gravity, magnified by the expansion of the universe to extragalactic size.
“You can see how the sky is being distorted by gravitational waves,” said Andrei Linde, a prominent inflation theorist at Stanford. “We are using our universe as a big microscope. The sky is a photographic plate.”
Marc Kamionkowski of Johns Hopkins University, an early-universe expert who was not part of the team, said, “This is huge, as big as it gets.”
“Although I might not fully understand it,” Dr. Kamionkowski said, “this is a signal from the very earliest universe, sending a telegram encoded in gravitational waves."
The ripples manifested themselves as faint spiral patterns in a bath of microwave radiation that permeates space and preserves a picture of the universe when it was 380,000 years old and as hot as the surface of the Sun.
Dr. Kovac and his collaborators, working in an experiment known as Bicep, for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization, reported their results in a scientific briefing at the Center for Astrophysics here on Monday and in a set of papers submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.
Dr. Kovac said the chance that the results were a fluke was only one in 3.5 million — a gold standard of discovery called five-sigma.
Dr. Guth pronounced himself “bowled over,” saying he had not expected such a definite confirmation in his lifetime.
“With nature, you have to be lucky,” he said. “Apparently we have been lucky.”
The results are the closely guarded distillation of three years’ worth of observations and analysis. Eschewing email for fear of a leak, Dr. Kovac personally delivered drafts of his work to a select few, meeting with Dr. Guth, who is now a professor at M.I.T. (as is his son, Larry, who was sleeping that night in 1979), in his office last week.
“It was a very special moment, and one we took very seriously as scientists,” said Dr. Kovac, who chooses his words as carefully as he tends his radio telescopes.
Dr. Linde, who first described the most popular variant of inflation, known as chaotic inflation, in 1983, was about to go on vacation in the Caribbean last week when Chao-Lin Kuo, a Stanford colleague and a member of Dr. Kovac’s team, knocked on his door with a bottle of Champagne to tell him the news.
Confused, Dr. Linde called out to his wife, asking if she had ordered Champagne.
“And then I told him that in the beginning we thought that this was a delivery but we did not think that we ordered anything, but I simply forgot that actually I did order it, 30 years ago,” Dr. Linde wrote in an email.
Calling from Bonaire, the Dutch Caribbean island, Dr. Linde said he was still hyperventilating. “Having news like this is the best way of spoiling a vacation,” he said.
By last weekend, as social media was buzzing with rumors that inflation had been seen and news spread, astrophysicists responded with a mixture of jubilation and caution.
Abraham Loeb, a Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer who was not part of the team, said: “It looks like inflation really took place. Since 1980, this was really speculative physics.”
Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at M.I.T., wrote in an email, “I think that if this stays true, it will go down as one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science.” He added, “It’s a sensational breakthrough involving not only our cosmic origins, but also the nature of space.”
Michael S. Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, hailed it as the kind of discovery that could lead eventually to resolving riddles like dark matter and dark energy, writing in an email, “I am starting to feel like a 20-something-year-old postdoc!”
Lawrence M. Krauss of Arizona State and others also emphasized the need for confirmation, noting that the new results exceeded earlier estimates based on temperature maps of the cosmic background by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite and other assumptions about the universe.
“So we will need to wait and see before we jump up and down,” Dr. Krauss said.
Corroboration might not be long in coming. The Planck spacecraft, which has been making exquisite measurements of the Big Bang microwaves, will be reporting its own findings this year. At least a dozen other teams are attempting similar measurements from balloons, mountaintops and space.
Photo
The Bicep2 telescope, in the foreground, was used to detect the faint spiraling gravity patterns — the signature of a universe being wrenched violently apart at its birth. CreditSteffen Richter/Associated Press
SPIRALS IN THE SKY
Gravity waves are the latest and deepest secret yet pried out of the cosmic microwaves, which were discovered accidentally by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, both then at Bell Labs, 50 years ago. They got the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Kovac has spent his whole career trying to read the secrets of these waves. He is one of four leaders of Bicep, which has operated a series of increasingly sensitive radio telescopes at the South Pole, where the air — thin, cold and dry — creates ideal observing conditions. The others are Clement Pryke of the University of Minnesota, Jamie Bock of the California Institute of Technology and Dr. Kuo of Stanford.
“The South Pole is the closest you can get to space and still be on the ground,” Dr. Kovac said. He has been there 23 times, he said, wintering over in 1994. “I’ve been hooked ever since,” he said.
In 2002, he was part of a team that discovered that the microwave radiation was polarized, meaning the light waves had a slight preference to vibrate in one direction rather than another.
This was a step toward the ultimate goal of detecting the gravitational waves from inflation. Such waves, squeezing space in one direction and stretching it in another as they go by, would twist the direction of polarization of the microwaves, theorists said. As a result, maps of the polarization in the sky should have little arrows going in spirals.
Detecting those spirals required measuring infinitesimally small differences in the temperature of the microwaves. The group’s telescope, Bicep2, is basically a giant superconducting thermometer.
“We had no expectations what we would see,” Dr. Kovac said. The earlier Planck study had concluded that a parameter r, which is a measure of the swirliness of the polarization, could not be higher than 0.11, which would have knocked many popular versions of inflation. But it was not a direct measurement, as the Bicep team was attempting.
The Bicep measurement of r clocked in at nearly twice that, 0.20, putting the most favored models back into contention.
The strength of the signal surprised the researchers, and they spent a year burning up time on a Harvard supercomputer, making sure they had things right and worrying that competitors might beat them to the breakthrough.
A SPECIAL TIME
The data traced the onset of inflation to a time in cosmic history that physicists like Dr. Guth, staying up late in his Palo Alto house 35 years ago, suspected was a special break point in the evolution of the universe.
Physicists recognize four forces at work in the world today: gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. But they have long suspected that those are simply different manifestations of a single unified force that ruled the universe in its earliest, hottest moments.
As the universe cooled, according to this theory, there was a fall from grace, not unlike some old folk mythology of gods or brothers falling out with each other. The laws of physics evolved, with one force after another “freezing out,” or splitting away.
That was where Dr. Guth came in.
Under some circumstances, a glass of water can stay liquid as the temperature falls below 32 degrees, until it is disturbed, at which point it will rapidly freeze, releasing latent heat in the process.
Similarly, the universe could “supercool” and stay in a unified state too long. In that case, space itself would become temporarily imbued with a mysterious kind of latent heat, or energy.
Inserted into Einstein’s equations, the latent energy would act as a kind of antigravity, and the universe would blow itself up. Since it was space itself supplying the repulsive force, the more space was created, the harder it pushed apart. In a runaway explosion, what would become our observable universe mushroomed in size at least a trillion trillionfold — from a submicroscopic speck of primordial energy to the size of a grapefruit — in less than a cosmic eye-blink.
Almost as quickly, this energy would decay into ordinary particles and radiation that were already in sync, despite how far apart they wound up, because they had all sprung from such a tiny primordial point, as if the galaxies had gotten together in the locker room to make a plan before going out. All of normal cosmic history was still ahead, resulting in today’s observable universe, a patch of sky and stars 14 billion light-years across.
“It’s often said that there is no such thing as a free lunch,” Dr. Guth likes to say, “but the universe might be the ultimate free lunch.”
Make that free lunches. Most of the hundred or so models that have been spawned by Dr. Guth’s original vision suggest that inflation, once started, is eternal. Even as our own universe settled down to a comfortable homey expansion with atoms, stars and planets, the rest of the cosmos will continue blowing up, spinning off other bubbles here and there endlessly, a concept known as the multiverse.
The Bicep data does not reveal what this magical-sounding inflating energy is. Antigravity might sound crazy, but it was Einstein who first raised the possibility of its permeating space in the form of a fudge factor called the cosmological constant, which he later abandoned as a blunder. It was revived with the discovery 15 years ago that something called dark energy is giving a boost to the expansion of the universe, albeit far more gently than inflation did.
So the future of the cosmos is perhaps bright and fecund, but do not bother asking about going any deeper into the past.
As Dr. Guth will be the first to say, we might never know what happened before inflation, at the very beginning, because inflation erases everything that came before it. All the chaos and randomness of the primordial moment are swept away, forever out of our view.
“If you trace your cosmic roots,” Dr. Loeb said, “you wind up at inflation.”

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