Singular Restriction

I have blogged previously on John W. Campbell’s The Moon is Hell. In addition to being grand lord editor of Analog, he also wrote other works, many of them excellent. One of these, The Black Star Passes, [Link] has, as I recall, to do with the passage of the remains of a deceased star, a body that emits very little light but still has considerable mass and hence gravitational potential.

In the period Campbell wrote these the idea of a gravitational singularity, commonly known as a “black hole”, was around, [Link] but the nature of such had not been elaborated or diffused to the point that science fiction authors could readily use the notion. Thus, we may only speculate whether Campbell would use his original dead star or the gravitational singularity if he were writing today. Of course, he wouldn’t be writing such today since the nature of protagonists and the role of scientists has changed in literature since then. Perhaps that’s why some enjoy the old fiction. Certainly Kimball Kinnison pales Luke Skywalker, and Richard Ballenger Seaton dwarfs Dr. Who and Louis Woo outpaces Indiana Jones.

Nonetheless, one of the questions that has wandered about has to do with the collisions of galaxies (Kinnison’s universe courtesy of E. E. Smith [Link]) and what happens to the gravitational singularities that reside at the center of galaxies (the ring world universe courtesy of Larry Niven [Link]). One theory advanced that when two galaxies collided their central gravitational singularities might/should merge but because that merger would almost certainly be asymmetric (if they are rotating) then they should emit bursts of gravitational energy and receive a thrust.

Hence the idea that the merged singularity might be ejected from the merged galaxy. Hence we might one day experience the passage of a merged and nomadic gravitational singularity.

The only problem with this is that these bursts of gravitational radiation have not been observed. Now new theory has been advanced that as the two singularities spiral into one their spins align so that the burst of gravitational radiation does not occur and lo! the merged singularity remains in the merged galaxy.[Link] [Link]

This is all rather like two chocolate covered cherries smashing into each other and resulting in a combined candy with two cherries in the center covered with chocolate. Dark, of course, for health’s sake.

But a better analogy may be the three different ways a book spins. If you spin a book – use a hardbound you don’t care about – along each of its three natural axes, you’ll find that two are stable and one isn’t.

Maybe that’s the joy of science fiction and science? The way they aren’t the same.

Health and Welfare

It seems that researchers at City U of New Yawk have induced the growth of new memory and learning brain cells in mice. [Link] While the treatment has been used on folks suffering from a variety of brain aliments, it offers potential benefits for more than those with what are usually though of as brain maladies.

A recent Gallup poll indicates that 0.31 of Americans hold the Bible to be “absolutely accurate and should be taken literally word for word,” 0.47 hold the Bible to be “the inspired word of God,” and 0.19 hold it to be “a book of ancient fables, history and “moral precepts” recorded by man.” [Link] These numbers are pretty much in line with an earlier survey on “belief” in evolution. [Link]

Meanwhile, there is an article in the Chicago Tribune considering the emergence (not in a complexity sense) of a third political party. [Link] My suspicion is that its more likely for things to remain the same or for several additional “parties” to emerge. The problem, I suspect, comes down to partial alienation.

If you look at the two political parties platforms, you find a whole bunch of topics, most of which they agree on. But at core, there are about a half dozen that they disagree on. And this is at root what is amazing.

Let’s take a survey of Americans on these half dozen topics and give them some yes-no choices. That means there are 2^6 possible combinations of answers – 64. But here’s what’s amazing. We only have two parties, and herein lies the nature of the beast.

Not everyone rates each of these topics equally, some are more important than others, so they will support the party whose platform is most congruent with their druthers and priorities. So in this way the parties attract more than the ~0.015 of the population that one would expect.

Or at least they have. The issue now is that more and more people are becoming alienated from compromise and as a result are becoming more and more dissatisfied with the two parties. But at the same time at least some of them have the sense to recognize that splintering can result in either Balkanization or Polish veto. Hence the speculation that things will stumble on until they fail or the whole political scene may disintegrate into some number of parties, maybe even 64?

And the thing that hamstrung the emergence of these new parties in the past like geography aren’t as much of a factor with the internet. No wonder the Yankee government is so ambiguous on network neutrality!

Finally, researchers at U British Columbia have done research that indicates coffee consumption reduces the likelihood of contracting gout. [Link] This is indeed good news. Indeed coupled with earlier news of the benefits of wine and beer, we may imbibe and feel better.

American Thought Pyre

I read that Tom Wayne, unable to cull his collection of used books constructively by passing on to other through used book shops or the like, is resorting to fire.[Link]

“This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today,”

I fear that Mr. Wayne is not too far off the mark. I have tried a couple of times to prune my own collection and have consistently been told by the used book shops that they won’t take the books, even gratis, because “no one wants nerd books.” Evidently the marketplace is limited to cookbooks, bosom rippers, and similar high works of literature.

I even tried to give some to the friends of the local library to sell in their salvage shop. They politely asked me not to because only a few nerds like me bought such and they cluttered the shelves stealing space from works of bygone popular fiction and sensationalism that do sell. I acceded, not wishing to damage an already frail good cause.

Given that Alibam is several inches down on rainfall however, I am going to refrain from combustion. Since most of them are printed on rough paper they may have some merit as toilet paper and I am told the ink is a sovereign antiseptic.

But I do have to disagree with Mr. Wayne. There is thought in America. It is just that it has nothing to do with what is in books. Rather, it is primarily concerned with consumerism and similar counter survival matters.

The good news however is Louis Lessig, Creative Commons, and e-publishing. But even that is bitter sweet.


Over the years of working for the Yankee government, the organization that has given me the second greatest exasperation – first is the Yankee army – is NASA. Whereas the army bureaucracy is noted for consistently treating the civilian work force as if they had the intelligence of pond scum and had some form of toxic body odor, their management is often better than that of other agencies in all bot one area.

That area is denying responsibility by finding scapegoats to take blame and accept punishment. The recent Walter Reed debacle is one excellent example. In that case, everyone of middle rank who had been associated with the organization got sacked despite the fact that all they were doing was obeying orders and making things the best they could in an environment of inadequate resources and apathy. No one of upper rank was touched and the army skillfully avoided admitting any wrongdoing or negligence. And while there have been changes at Walter Reed, they all seem to be cosmetic and transitory.

But NASA has always been characterized by an execrable management structure. It is entirely too big. Indeed, NASA has the highest management to worker ratio of all federal organizations, which is why they consistently have massive morale problems. Or, at least partly why.

And whereas the army has a deathly fear, phobia even, of any embarrassment, NASA management has a deathly fear of any adverse publicity. It is therefore interesting that I note this morning in the Register [Link] that NASA ha sacked Bill Oefelein and sent him back to regular Naval duties, probably ruining his career thereby.

It may be recalled that Oefelein was the male component of the unfortunate debacle caused by Lisa Nowak. One has to wonder what he has done since there has been no indication in any legal proceedings that he has display improper behavior. One suspects under the circumstances that he has been dismissed because of his association with Nowak and not for any wrong doing.

And we wonder why our space program is in such bad shape? Dick Feynman may be chuckling in his grave.

And I wonder why I had to read this news in an English feed? It surely can’t be because the newspapers in the Yankee republic didn’t want to embarrass the fellow. Perhaps NASA did something to seal their journalistic lips?


From time to time, one gets reminded that the majority of humanity is neither educated in matters of science and engineering, nor thinks as such. Less often the distinctions among the technical disciplines is brought home to us.

This weekend I “Stumbled Upon” a website [Link] that dis so. This website is apparently the text of an e-mail that one suspects is supposed to be humorous but illustrates the differences among humans.

The subject of the e-mail is:

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road: Experts Answer

and the body of the e-mail are the supposed answers of notable individuals. The answers are supposed to display some humor but they seem to display more about human nature.

What might be considered “normal” folks’ answers are typically:

Machiavelli: The point is that the chicken crossed the road. Who cares why? The ends of crossing the road justify whatever motive there was.

Thomas de Torquemada: Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I’ll find out.

Timothy Leary: Because that’s the only kind of trip the Establishment would let it take.

At least these strike me as being about as meaningful – that is, full of meaning – as what I hear from most of the citizenry when they say something.

A slightly more insightful and understandable answer is:

Darwin: Chickens, over great periods of time, have been naturally
selected in such a way that they are now genetically dispositioned
to cross roads.

but the only one that makes crystal clear sense is:

Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road
crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.

from which I am immediately reminded that it is scientists who are in the minority.

But it still makes the most sense.

Military Dilemma

I see that the Yankee army has revamped its basic training to include more intensive combat medical treatment coverage.[Link] This immediately brings us to mind of two sets of counter-actions.

The first of these is that over time, but especially since the start of the Industrial Revolution, weapons have steadily gotten more effective, more “lethal”. This is explained fairly well by Trevor Dupuy in both Numbers, Predictions, and War, and The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare.

Despite this increase, casualties in warfare have generally decreased over time. There are a couple of reasons for this. The technological one has been better field hygiene and medical care, but the primary reason has been the decrease in density of forces. In Archer Jones terms (The Art of War in the Western World,) the force-to-space ratio has consistently decreased and faster that the lethal range of weapons has increased.

Unfortunately, this somewhat falls apart when we go into the current campaigns (occupations?) in Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a very mountainous environment where actual and statistical dispersion are radically different. One may have fifty soldiers in a one square kilometer area, but only 0.1 of that area may be militarily (humanly) usable, so on paper the density looks like 5E-5 soldiers per square meter but the actual functional density is 5E-4.

In Iraq, much of the action is occurring in cities and villages where the combination of buildings and streets has much the same effect as the tight terrain of Afghanistan. As a result, given modern weapons and high force-to-space ratio, casualties are higher than previous experience of the last century or so.

The aspect of at least one of these “countries” being engaged in a “civil war” is also contributory. I blogged yesterday about how Gettysburg might not be the nation’s bloodiest battle. Now let me drop another bomb. One of the things one notes in looking at American Civil War battles as part of a larger context of battles is that relatively speaking, those civil war battles were less bloody than the universal norm. What made the American Civil War the bloodiest in American history, aside from both sides being Americans, was the sheer number of battles. What we see of civil wars, and to a certain extent guerrilla wars, is many small battles, none of which are very bloody individually. “Normal” wars are characterized by fewer battles that are considerably bloodier.

In this case what we have is occupation forces being exposed to these frequent, small battles as interested onlookers.

The other counter-action has to do with battlefield injury and medical care. A somewhat rough military taxonomy of battlefield wounds is: wounds that can be treated in situ and the soldier returned to combat; wounds that incapacitate the soldier; and wounds that kill instantly or near instantly. From a mission minded perspective, the first and third types are more desirable than the second. The reason for this is that caring for soldiers who are incapacitated detracts resources from the fight, it compromises mission.

When one has an army of impressed or purchased soldiers, who obey mindlessly and fear their officers more than death, then one may leave the wounded where they lie and worry about medical care after the mission is performed. In a democratic governance and a volunteer army, keeping the wounded alive and on the path to recovery becomes critical to the strategic mission. Hence the improved training.

No Drafted Druids

The growing activity of purchasing offsets has been fundamentally troubling to me. Perhaps this is because it smacks entirely too much of simony, but from watching the universe and trying to grasp some modicum of of reality understanding, I have some appreciation of the inherent difficulty of any human balancing activity. Further, there is the little matter of aeconomic activity, which I have blogged on previously, but will note in passing has almost exclusively been directed at the natural resources of Tellus.

Now I get to read that my subconscious concerns may be valid.[Link] A new study released by the Transnational Institute, who I must admit ignorance of, but since they are covered in PHYSORG they have to at least served the reporter beer, says

“The sale of offset indulgences is a dead-end detour off the path of action required in the face of climate change”

Naturally, the folks who sell the indulgences protest “not so.” Some of these protests have that hollow slick ring of corporate hogwash, which reinforces our perception of simony. Others have the rough righteous tone of the ecological zealot which only makes us wonder if they are accurate or merely evangelical.

I fear that I am cynical as well as crotchety on the matter. My experience with tree growing is not encouraging; I seem to have something on order of an 0.1 efficiency. Indeed, my friends claim that as a botanist the only thing I can grow is “green on bread”.

Further, I rather continually associate this with those charities that advertise for one to “adopt” a starving child in some third world nation. Investigation usually reveals that less than 0.5 of the funds you subscribe, and in some extremes, 0.1, actually benefit the child. One wonders how much goes to providing wages to the staff and how much ends up in egregious retirement accounts in anonymous bank accounts?

One may add to this the personal difficulty of reaching agreement with FD SCP on what trees to plant and getting someone to do the work. But that is not a universal problem, or is it?

So if this be simony, one doubts that this study’s publication is the door of the Wittenberg church, but perhaps it will be a precursor.