Einstein Was Right – Again

Sagittarius A* (it’s unclear to me if the asterisk is an official part of its name, or is just there to indicate a strike-shortened season) is a Super Massive Black Hole (SMBH) at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy (the one you’re sitting in right now.) Scientists have observed at least three stars orbiting it, as depicted in this courtroom artists’ sketch:

Artist’s impression of the orbits of three of the stars very close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. – Image Credit: ESO/M. Parsa/L. Calçada

By going through years of photos taken by several telescopes, scientists were able to confirm Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity regarding planetary motion around a very heavy object.

Marzieh Parsa – a PhD student at the University of Cologne, Germany and lead author of the paper – was understandably excited with these results. As she stated in an ESO press statement:

“The Galactic Center really is the best laboratory to study the motion of stars in a relativistic environment. I was amazed how well we could apply the methods we developed with simulated stars to the high-precision data for the innermost high-velocity stars close to the supermassive black hole.”

There. You learned something new today. What else have you been hearing about? Tell us all about it.

The Watering Hole, Monday, May 8, 2017: Preserve Net Neutrality

The new FCC Commissioner, whoever he is, doesn’t believe in protecting net neutrality. And why not? He used to be a lawyer for Verizon. (The president who appointed him doesn’t even understand the concept of net neutrality, so there’s no help there.) On last night’s “Last Week Tonight”, John Oliver explained why ISPs were now able to be governed by the FCC. In short, ISPs were re-classified as businesses that could be governed under Title II of the Communications Act, instead of under Title I where the Supreme Court said the FCC lacked that authority. This new commissioner doesn’t seem to understand why it was necessary to do that, and thinks it’s really bad and should be changed. You must tell them No. In addition to contacting your Members of Congress, you can leave a comment on the FCC’s Comments page, if you can find it. Since it was changed from the much simpler comment system from three years ago, one has a right to assume they deliberately want to make it harder for you to complain and then say later, “Well, nobody used the comment system to complain.” This was how Fox News Channel defended their star host, Bill O’Reilly, from claims of sexual harassment – that nobody used the internal complaint system to complain, so they have a hard time believing any of it happened. John Oliver explained the tedious process of what you would now have to go through just to get to the FCC’s comments page. He and his great staff wanted to make it easier for you to get there, so they created this website:

go fcc yourself dot com

It skips through the confusing pages and inconveniently located links to get to where you can leave a comment to tell them to preserve net neutrality and Title II. If it works. I tried it and it seemed to go to a mostly blank page except for a little blue circle with a person’s outline in it. Maybe he crashed the FCC’s commenting system just like he did three years ago. Well, his viewers did.

Now, please go there and tell them to what to do, and then enjoy today’s open thread.

The Weekend Hole, Sat-Sun, Nov 12-13, 2016: Super Beaver Moon

null

Sometime between Sunday night and Monday night, the Moon will be closer to the Earth than it’s been since 1948, and won’t this be this close again until 2034. I’m not making plans to see that one. The orbit of the Moon is elliptical, so its distance from the Earth varies rather than staying at a steady, constant distance. Sometimes the moon is new and barely visible, and sometimes it is full or close to it. So there are always full moons that are closer than the others. These are often dubbed Supermoons, because they appear larger and brighter in the sky. And a full moon in November is called a Beaver Moon. Hence the title.

The Moon reaches its fullest at 8:52 AM EST, past moonset for most of the US. It will reach its closest point to Earth at 6:21 AM (or 6:22, depending on which article you read.) But the Moon will still be big and bright both Sunday and Monday nights, so if it happens to be cloudy one night, you might get lucky the next. This phenomenon of the Moon appearing bigger has nothing to do with a rising full moon looking bigger. So get out and enjoy your Super Beaver Moon, or Moon your Super Beaver, while it’s still a free country.

This is our open thread. Feel free to discuss Moons you like, Super or not, or even beavers.

The Weekend Hole – Sat-Sun Nov 5-6: The Fall Back Position

Tonight Daylight Savings Time ends. For now. We move to the Fall Back position. If you live in a part of the United States that, oh, what’s the right word, “celebrates”? “participates”? “recognizes”? maybe it’s “observes”, Daylight Savings Time, you should set your clocks back one hour before going to bed. If you don’t, you may end up attending Sunday Morning Worship Services an hour ahead of everybody you know from your usual service. Who knows? Maybe it’s worth a try. And on the bright side, you’ll be back in time to watch “PoliticsNation” with the Reverend Al Sharpton, who should be good and awake what with having an extra hour to sleep. And if you live in a part of the United States that does not observe DST (as the cool kids call it), life will be unchanged for you. Congratulations, the Chinese envy you.

But why do we do this? What’s the point? Well, the idea was, in not so many words, to save daylight. (You can read about the history of Daylight Savings Time to varying degrees here, here, and here.) It was believed by its proponents in recent years to save about 10,000 barrels of oil per day. The thinking is that as we shift our daily activities by an hour, businesses will use less energy. Not everyone agrees. But we do it, and our reward is to get an extra hour of sleep once a year, in exchange for our sacrifice of one hour’s sleep once a year.

Funny story. When I was in the Air Force in 1987, I was stationed at Ramstein AB, West Germany. In September of that year, I took a month’s leave to attend a friend’s wedding and to see my then-girlfriend, Jane. My leave ended after the first weekend of October, so I was here in the United States when Europe took their Fall Back position. I returned to West Germany afterwards, so I was in Europe when folks in the United States took their Fall Back position on the last weekend in October. So I missed the chance to get my extra hour of sleep that year. And while I understand why, intellectually, it’s wrong, I have always felt that for the last 29 years, the Universe has owed me an extra hour of sleep. 🙂

Okay, I promise. The 30th anniversary of that lost hour will be the last time I tell that story.

Personally, I prefer not to turn the clocks back until I wake up whenever on Sunday morning. I have no place I have to be at any set time, so if I realize it’s still real early I can just go back to bed. A fun thing you can do right before 2 AM ET is to right-click on your computer’s clock to adjust the date and time. You’re not going to adjust the date and time, you just want to see the clock face go from 1:59:59 AM to 1:00:00 AM. After it does just cancel out your “changes.” The real fun is changing the times on the wall clocks, the ovens, the coffee maker, the microwave oven, and the car dashboard. Oh, and getting the cats adjusted to your new schedule. It’s 7:00 AM to you, but it’s now 8:00 AM to them, and they wanted to go out an hour ago. Enjoy!

This is our Weekend Open Thread. Feel free to discuss any topic you wish. Have a great weekend, and enjoy your extra hour of time.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, June 4th, 2016: (R)s vs “Modern Technology”

Is there something about Republican politicians’ brains that makes them forget that modern-day recording technology exists? And when I say “modern-day recording technology”, I mean everything from plain video cameras to audio tape recordings to “smart” phones that record audio/video unobtrusively.

Over the last decade and more, Republican politicians and pundits have continually denied saying or doing certain things, when video and/or audio recording of their words or actions proves that they did.  How can they continue to deny, deny, deny, and often continue to deny even when confronted with the actual evidence?  Perhaps they are so against any kind of progress that they can’t even admit to the existence of even such ‘ancient’ technological breakthroughs as video cameras?  Psst…(R)s…they DO exist–have you ever seen a “movie”?

Sometimes the Republicans’ unfamiliarity and discomfort with technology can have humorous results – remember “it’s a series of tubes!”, and Strom Thurmond asking a hearing witness to “speak into the macheeeeene”?  And no one used video evidence directly contradicting someone’s lies better than Jon Stewart, whose “roll 212” meme was comedic gold, particularly in the infamous Jim Cramer interview.

These days, with The Donald and his Trumpets (or Trumpettes, if they’re female) lying then denying on a daily basis, it’s more important than ever to remind the liars of their lying lies. And, while I’m still not a Hillary Clinton devotee, I have to admire the fact that her campaign put together a handy reference guide in advance of her “foreign policy” speech the other day, providing the exact Trump quotes on which she based her comments in the speech. A few examples:

[Clinton] “He has said that he would order our military to carry out torture…”

TRUMP: “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works… Waterboarding is fine, but it’s not nearly tough enough, ok?”

and

[Clinton] “He says he doesn’t have to listen to our generals or ambassadors, because he has – quote – “a very good brain.”

TRUMP: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things…my primary consultant is myself”

and

[Clinton] “He says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia.”

TRUMP: “I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event.”

It would be nice if the “news media” and “journalists” would remember, and remind their audiences, that actual reality-based non-partisan proof exists that puts the lie to what any candidate for the U.S. Presidency claims, but particularly in the case of such a delusional arrogant professional liar like Trump.  It is vital to our nation’s future that Trump and his ilk be thwarted, and that their bigoted, bullying, ignorant “philosophy” (yes, I know, “philosophy” is too cerebral a word to use in this case, but…) be relegated back to the fringes of our culture where it belongs.

 

This is our daily Open Thread–what’s on your mind this weekend?

The Watering Hole, Monday, May 16th, 2016: Wrong, As Always

Recent opinion pieces at The Christian Post website demonstrate that the “Christian” right – and these aren’t all what I would consider to be real RWNJs – continues to steadfastly ignore reality.

On Earth Day, Dr. Richard D. Land posted “Earth Day: How Environmentalists Hurt the Environment”. Some excerpts:

Many advocates for drastic measures to combat climate change (i.e., global warming) assert that human caused global warming is now “settled science.”

And yet, recently published data from the Department of Energy reveals that the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions for the past fifteen years by more than 10%, more than almost the entire rest of the world combined. How did America accomplish such a feat? The answer is hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which involves releasing fossil fuel (oil and natural gas) trapped in rock formations by injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals into the formations.

As a result of widespread usage of this controversial technology, the U.S. has become the world’s No. 1 oil and natural gas producer. As a direct consequence of fracking, the price of natural gas is one-fourth what it was a decade ago, and since America has a virtually inexhaustible natural gas supplies, people keep using more and more of this environmentally clean and very inexpensive fossil fuel. [Will someone please explain to me why anyone would want to literally undermine the land to access what is, by definition, a limited energy source?]

EPA studies declaring fracking can be done safely and cleanly moved U.S.A. Today to declare that “to help the environment and economy, keep on fracking” (4/19/16). U.S.A. Today also observed in the same article that fracking “has spurred a remarkable U.S. energy boom and . . . this boom has created jobs, boosted manufacturing and brought the USA closer to energy independence.”

Still, environmental activists on the left continue to oppose fracking, as well as the only clean energy “technology with an established track record of generating electricity at scale while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases: nuclear power.” In fact, in a “Pew poll of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 65 percent of scientists want more nuclear power” (Eduardo Porter, NY Times 4/19/16).

Apparently Dr. Land is completely ignorant of WHY environmentalists – and any humans with a fairly basic knowledge of science and some critical-thinking skills – are against fracking and nuclear energy. Has he not heard about the earthquakes being caused by fracking? Is he somehow privy to exactly which chemicals are being used in fracking? The “EPA studies” that declared “fracking can be done safely and cleanly” did not say that fracking IS BEING DONE “safely and cleanly”, more simply that it “can” be done. (Here’s the Christian Science Monitor’s take on this.)

And “nuclear”?! Does “Fukushima” ring a bell? Sorry, but Indian Point is way too close for me to want any part of nuclear power. Not to mention disposal of nuclear waste, which has already been an environmental problem for decades. Or that nuclear facilities make lovely targets for terrorism. Where the hell has Dr. Land been?

Then there’s Ken Blackwell’s ridiculous drivel, “Trump is Bad But Not Worse Than Hillary”

[The blurb says “Ken Blackwell is the Senior Fellow for Family Empowerment at the Family Research Council. He serves on the board of directors of the Club for Growth and the National Taxpayers Union. He is also a member of the public affairs committee of the NRA. Mr. Blackwell is also the former Mayor of Cincinnati and a former Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.” As Blackwell says in a different context below, “What more needs to be said?”]

“…no one should doubt Hillary Clinton’s determination to expand the state at every turn.
Trump the businessman has experience in confronting bureaucracy, and the Democrats are prolific regulators. President Barack Obama has imposed costly new rules at a rapid pace. Clinton likely would set new records.

Then there’s the judiciary. Antonin Scalia’s death has upset the delicate balance on the Supreme Court. Turning those appointments over to a liberal Democrat would lose the court for a generation, undermining any future conservative political victories.

America’s international security and standing also are at stake. Clinton had a disastrous hand in her husband’s presidency, noteworthy for the debacle in Somalia, unnecessary war in the Balkans, and broken agreement with North Korea. Then she was the first term Secretary of State for President Obama. What more needs to be said?”

1) What exactly has Hillary Clinton said or done to indicate a “determination to expand the state at every turn”? What is your definition of “expand”, and the vague phrase “at every turn”?
2) Trump the con-man has minions, er, “people” – the “BEST” people – to “confront bureaucracy” for him. And those minions don’t always win, either: it’s probably not a good idea to mention “Scotland”, “golf course” or “windmills” in front of The Donald.
3) Hillary Clinton is not a “liberal” Democrat.
4) WTF did First Lady Hillary have to do with Somalia, the Balkans, and North Korea? How does being “the first term Secretary of State for President Obama” disqualify her? And finally,
5) “What more needs to be said?” A whole hell of a lot more!

Donald Trump’s expected nomination comes as a disappointment for many Republicans. However, by every standard Clinton is worse. Conservatives might reluctantly vote for Trump. But, they should consider a vote
for him nevertheless, if he becomes a standard bearer of our platform. A platform that has made us the majority party in the United States.

Is Trump smart enough to do the right thing and are we smart enough to beat Hillary?

Politics is the art of the possible. That doesn’t mean abandoning principle. But if the good is unavailable, it means preferring the politically unattractive to the politically ugly. Too much is at stake for conservatives to treat the presidential election like a kamikaze mission or for Trump to be dumb.”

Two pieces about “Christian” megachurch pastor and devout Trump supporter Robert Jeffress demonstrate the extremely hypocritical and morally reprehensible “values” of religious conservatives. In one piece, Jeffress defends Trump’s childish tweet in response to criticism of Trump by another Evangelical, Russell Moore, with the equally childish (and un-Christ-like) argument that “Moore had it coming because he provoked Trump.” In the second piece, Jeffress calls Christians who won’t vote for Trump “fools”:

“Pastor Robert Jeffress, leader of the influential 12,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, declared Wednesday that Republicans who have vowed never to support Donald Trump if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee are “fools.”
“It is absolutely foolish to do anything that would allow Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States … at least Donald Trump has voiced a belief in a pro-life movement, he has at least talked about religious liberty as he did last Friday, you don’t hear either things coming from the lips of Hillary Clinton,” he continued.
“I believe any Christian who would sit at home and not vote for the Republican nominee … that person is being motivated by pride rather than principle and I think it would be a shame for people to allow Hillary Clinton four or eight years in the White House,” he said.

So much for ‘separation of Church and State’ – I’d like to see the IRS have a little talk with ‘Pastor’ Jeffress.

This is our daily Open Thread–talk about whatever you want.

The Watering Hole, Monday, May 9th, 2016: Are We There Yet?

Here’s two (well, sort of – you’ll see what I mean) predictions about frightening futures, which we seem to be fulfilling here in the largest superpower on the planet.

First, an interesting article entitled “Neil Postman Predicted Trumpocalypse 30 Years Ago”, by Dr. Richard D. Land at the Christian Post. Dr. Land discusses a 1985 book by Neil Postman called Amusing Ourselves to Death. Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. An excerpt:

Postman started off his book by contrasting the two most dystopian visions of modern civilization’s future, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932).
Postman’s contrast of the two dystopian visions of the future is chilling:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies . . .”

The Internet has changed the basic DNA of our culture, including our social and personal relationships and our information access. It has radically democratized communication, while at the same time condemning any effective editorial or verifying filter as the unwelcome control of a hated elite. Consequently, we are being engulfed not only in a sea of moral relativism, but information relativism as well. The immersion of our culture in Internet speak has brought us perilously close to a denial, if not a revocation of the late, great, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s statement that “you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Now, opinions too often masquerade as facts, and fewer and fewer know the difference and increasingly fewer care.

As Postman pointed out, Huxley was trying to warn the future “that what afflicted people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now a more pithy prediction in a similar vein, from Carl Sagan’s 1996 “The Demon-Haunted World”:
sagan hauntedHave we arrived at any – or all of – these future visions?

This is our daily Open Thread – you know what to do.