Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christina's World

For those who are interested, the title, “Jake’s World” is a reference to realist painter Andrew Wyeth’s famous 1948 painting “Christina’s World.” In that painting a woman lays on a yellow field looking at a house in the distance. I always found this painting to be haunting and full of longing. A viewer must ask, what is in that house that Christina is looking at, why is she lying on that field? Is she tired of traveling and just spying her destination? Or is she trying to run away and the contents of the home, be they family, husband, kids, etc. keep drawing her back. There’s a very real sense of drama in that painting and mystery. I love it. In the same way my character Jake is longing for something distant and past. Something that never was, a happy childhood with his mother in their quaint upstate home.

See the painting in more detail here.

Find out about the house in the Wyeth painting.

The painting is in the Museum of Modern Art Collection.

There is even a book about woman in the painting Christina Olson was a real person.

Here is a brief summary of the book from alibris:

About this title: Recollections from people who knew Christina Olson give us an unusual portrait of an obscure Maine woman whose image became, somewhat ironically, one of the most recognized, loved, and misunderstood in all of American painting. In Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World, she is the woman in the pink dress, half-reclining in a vast, open field, leaning toward the dark mass of a farmhouse. Almost everyone recognizes that image, and many mistakenly assume that it shows a young woman resting pensively in the golden autumn grass. The real Christina Olson spent her entire life in that house. When Wyeth met her, she was in late middle age and unable to walk upright at all. By then her world was defined by the distance she could crawl. But she was a woman of keen intelligence and dry humor, as this unusual biography makes clear. Jean Brooks, Christina's niece, knew for years that she must create this book: "So many untruths have been written about my Aunt Christina, " she says. "She should be remembered most for her...personality, her independent nature, and her dignity."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Barbara Vance from the SETI institute emailed me her comments to my site. I had some other professional comments that I will post here in a nother of my shameless self promotional posts:

Hi Lon,

Sorry to take so long to get back to you. It's been rather busy! I checked out your blog, and it looks great! I can't pretend that I'm any expert, but I like your styling and your content very much. Thanks for including us in your list of podcasts. We wouldn't mind if you added either the radio show or the SETI Institute home pages to your list of links ;)

We are in the process of making some changes to the show - for the better, we think. We'll be leaving commercial live radio and moving to another outlet. The shows will be slightly longer without the need for as many commercial breaks, and the production quality should also be improving. We've created a sound studio here at the Institute for conducting the show. Not being locked into being live on Sunday nights will also assist in scheduling scientists and other science-related guests. As part of a NASA grant to support the show, we'll also be doing frequent pieces on what's happening with the NAI (NASA Astrobiology Institute) projects dealing with all the aspects of life in space.

And don't worry - we'll still be posting the shows on our website as well as podcasting them, so you won't miss an episode!

Thank you again for your kind words about the show, and keep up the bloggin' work!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Paper Clips

As long as I’m on the subject of HBO, I just watched a documentary that was featured on HBO on Demand under the Documentaries section. It was a fascinating look at a small school in Whitwell, Tennessee that takes a look at what the children of the mostly white, protestant children were learning about diversity, mainly nothing. The principle of the school decides that the best way to teach diversity in this small isolated town is to teach them about the Holocaust. During the class, one of the children mentions that he doesn’t know what six million looks like, the number of Jews murdered. They decide that they will try to collect six million paperclips to memorialize the deaths and to bring the sheer magnitude of that number to reality.

Things go very slow at first but then when they attract the attention of some journalists who publicize their endeavor, the paperclips start coming in by the thousands. Many famous people send them paperclips including Tom Bosley who send one. Some people sent boxes of thousands other sent a few to memorialize relatives and friends who had died during the holocaust. In one very touching instance, a group of German children sent an old suitcase with paperclips attached to the inside, each one with a note written in German. There were translations on them and each little note and paperclip was an apology to Ann Frank. Most of them started, “Dear Ann.”

Though extremely moving, the most inspirational and tear invoking moment is when a group of holocaust survivors comes to the small town to tell their stories. I will not repeat them here because the pure emotion cannot be translated by me. You have to hear it from the people themselves as they tell of relatives lost. It is clear that the children of this town found inspiration in project as well as the teachers and some of the parents and relatives of the students. All became involved as more and more paperclips poured through the local Post Office that became so overwhelmed that the school administrators had to make special trips to pick up the ever-increasing deliveries. In all, they collected 30 million paperclips! More importantly they counted every one of them.

Why paper clips? I thought the same thing. At first it seemed a logical choice because 6 million of anything would prove to be too big to hold. There is another reason though and the reason is almost as touching as anything else in the story. During World War Two Norwegians wore paper clips on their collars to show their solidarity to the Jewish plight. Any overt form of protest would result in arrest so they chose this small gesture. Who knew that many years later the paper clips would again come to represent a small community’s effort to identify with the Jewish people’s horror.

I would recommend this film to anyone wanting to see a touching story that will not only explore more of the Holocaust’s effects and helps to break down prejudice against Jews but in a very real way (and this is pointed out in the film) helps to destroy the stereotype of Southerners. Another irony that was pointed out in the film by a Washington Post reporter who researched the story was that the town of Whitwell was very close to where the “Scopes Monkey Trial” took place and close to the place where the KKK was formed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Still working on the post for the second force of the universe, Electromagnetism. Lots of great stuff about EM on the way but been a little busy lately. One of the things that's kept me from writing, besides work, kids and other writing is watching TV. The best channel around is HBO. They stink at running movies because I never watch movies on the HBO just like I don't watch Music Videos on MTV anymore. But where HBO shines is its original programming. It just kicks buttotie on that. There isn't a station around that matches HBO for its writing, production, acting and originality in programming. I mean it. Nothing. I'm hooked on The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Deadwood and my newest addition, Rome.

By Jupiter this show rocks! It's just too good to describe in one post but it's probably better than anything I've seen on TV in many years. The characters were all fully fleshed out, the story was full of action and intrigue, there was a lot of great sex and of course violence. The writers did not pull any punches here. People behave badly in this show, they abuse each other, betray each other for their own gains and act, well, human. Production-wise, this show is also top-notch. The scenery and costuming was fantastic, colorful and seemed authentic. To my eyes, which are not well trained in Roman antiquity, they looked like the real thing.

Also, there was the acting. The acting. I can't believe how great everyone of these guys was. Except for Brutus, who came off as a little unbelievably in his motivation. He lacked depth and he was too easily manipulated into killing Caesar by his mother after the man brought him back into his embrace. I also thought he seemed a little whinny when Caesar proposed he go into exile for a while because there were rumors that Brutus was going to kill him. If I were emperor and there were drawings all over the city of my close friend, who was once a betrayer, stabbing me in the back, I'd get a little nervous too. Caesar was simply asking Brutus for some penance. Brutus was very unsympathetic but I guess that's the way he was supposed to be.

Caesar a strong character who moved the story along by pushing it all out in front of him. He knew exactly what he was doing the entire time, except that he trusted people too easily. While everyone conspired around him, he crowned himself emperor and remade Rome into his own vision. His flaw was not hubris as so many in those Roman stories find is their downfall but trust. He never thought that the Senators had the balls to turn against him. He also did not predict the vengeance of those same Senators as he tried to make his Rome at least seem more Democratic by inviting the Gauls and the low men into the chamber of the Senate. Those Senators who plotted his death were afraid of their own power becoming diluted by Ceasar's actions. They cast Caesar as a self-proclaimed king while they worked to preserve their own high-born stranglehold on Rome.

Pullo and Lucious were such a great display of common bond and brotherhood throughout. Though they came to bump heads many times they each had their place within their own low caste. Pullo the servant to Lucious. The problems of soldiers assimilating after years at war reflects the inherent problems of Roman society. Everyone has their place in Roman culture and there is little room. Slaves, Soldiers, Citizens and even Senators have a place and they cannot cross lines. That is shown in Pullo and Lucious. Caesar tries to expand the system and move his pieces around but that liberal idealism leads to his untimely end.

In an epic fashion that spanned years and many countries the story threads and braids all the characters in such a flawless plot that I found myself looking for plot holes that did not exist or were so small as to be virtually meaningless. And even though they seemed to have brought the season to a close there is too much left open to let it go. I look forward to Season 2 with great enthusiasm.

If you have HBO on Demand and haven't watched the show yet go and rewatch the show in its entirety. It's worth it.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

My post for today…

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Please remember those American soldiers around the world who can’t be with their families and those in New Orleans who can’t be in their homes this holiday season.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


During the next week I will be composing my Part 2 to the Four Forces of the Universe post (Sounds a lot like the Justice League of America!) but there were some housekeeping issues I wanted to get out of the way first! I will be interupting the Science Posts once in a while to interject these smaller ones between because the science posts take longer to write and I am trying to submit this work to professional markets and work full time and write my fiction stories and novel as well. Whew!

Happy Thanksgiving.

I’m a sucker for the holidays so below is a link to a very funny Thanksgiving song that has been going around the internet. Check it out:

Turkey Day Song!


Next, I wanted to promote some of the podcasts that I listen to on politics, general interest, science & science fiction. If you have an iPod (which I recommend) or any MP3 player you can listen to these at work, on the road or anytime. Great stuff.

Washington Week

From the show’s about page: For 38 years, Washington Week has delivered the most interesting conversation of the week. Washington Week is the longest-running public affairs program on PBS. The show first aired locally on WETA on February 23, 1967. A few months later it began broadcasting over Eastern Educational Network, a group of 14 stations located between Washington, D.C. and Maine. In January 1969, it became the first local program to air on the new Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Washington Week features a group of journalists participating in roundtable discussion of major news events.


From the show’s about page: Slate will offer regular weekday podcasts of one or more of our articles read aloud (mostly by me, Slate's resident radio guy). Think of this as books on tape—only without the books and without the tape.

On The Media

How do you keep the Washington press corps honest?
Why do we both love and hate the Hollywood blockbuster film?
Is television coarsening our culture?
Who can turn the world on with a smile?
Those are the kinds of questions the On the Media staff handles every week. As you might imagine, not just any staff can handle that kind of material.

Slacker Astronomy

Funny & informative astronomy. From the show’s about page: Pamela Gay and Travis Searle are the golden disembodied voices that sing you to sleep every week. Pamela has a PhD in Astronomy and works at the Harvard Science Center. Travis as a BA in Broadcast Journalism and works at the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). They both are certifiably nuts. The show was created by Aaron Price, the Director and head writer. He has a Masters in Astronomy and is working on a Doctorate. He works with Travis at the AAVSO, where he has been for 7 cool years. Prior to that he was a dotcom burnout.

Universe Today

From show’s info page: Are you interested in the space and astronomy news but feel like there's just too much going on to stay on top of it all? Universe Today is different from your regular news website. Instead of writing in-depth articles, we just provide an overview, and links to sites where you can get more detail - from where the news first breaks to all the media coverage, and even related resources. We find all the stories, even the really obscure ones, and gather them together in one fast, easy-to-read newsletter (free of technical jargon). You only need to spend 10 minutes a day, and you'll be completely up-to-date on all the breaking news in the space industry.

The Naked Scientists

From about page on website: The Naked Scientists are a media-savvy group of physicians and researchers from Cambridge University who use radio, live lectures, and the Internet to strip science down to its bare essentials, and promote it to the general public. Their award winning BBC weekly radio programme, The Naked Scientists, reaches a potential audience of 6 million listeners across the east of England, and also has an international following on the web.

Are We Alone?

From the show's about page: As astronomers find planets whirling about other suns, and hi-tech rovers scour the sands of Mars in search of ancient lakes, scientists are asking fundamental new questions about the origins of life on this planet and the prevalence of life in the cosmos. This is the exciting science of astrobiology - and we cover it every week on Are We Alone?

Winging It', Slice Of Sci-Fi & Cover To Cover

Two guys, Michael and Evo, and their side-kicks, The Kiss-Ass Mystic Ninjas, who produce three separate podcasts about science fiction including one where they drink beer and talk about anything, one which covers sci-fi on the Tube & the Big Screen and another that is strictly an interview show with authors. Good and funny!

I Should Be Writing

I Should Be Writing, the podcast. A podcast by a wanna-be writer named Mur for wanna-be writers. Great voice, good advice.

A Little About Why I Really, Really, Really Like Podcasts Because I Listen To Them On My Commute To Work And They're Free And Easy And Informative And Addictive As Hell And It's A Nice Close-Knit Community And I Am Thinking Of Starting One Myself.

Umm.... what he said.

Also, I like podcasts because:

  1. It updates automatically by subscribing to the feed through iTunes.

  2. I can keep up to date on stuff I’m interested in without having to sit down and read everything on the web, which I don’t have time to do.

  3. And most importantly: It’s free! You have to buy an MP3 player like an iPod and something that will transmit your iPod to your radio like an iTrip but after spending $400 or so on that set-up, it’s free.


Blogs are a little harder to keep up on because I have to read them regularly and if you read this one you know what that’s like. But here are a few I enjoy because they are very well done and most importantly, are not just daily diaries of what people do in their lives everyday which is very boring to me. (Sorry.)


The Phoenix! My Number One read! He works in some sort of super secret quasi government agency that allows him access to cool info that he then frames in a funny, creative way. You will find out stuff in his blog that was not meant for public consumption, which is why I love it so. Go, Go Phoenix!!

TPM Cafe

From the blog’s about page: TPMCafe is a public meeting place to read about and discuss politics, culture and public life in the United States. The site hosts both blogs and public discussion areas. It is owned and operated by TPM Media LLC, edited by Joshua Micah Marshall, and powered by the collaborative media application, Scoop.

A Medieval Moment

From the about this blog: Was life in the Medieval era really what you imagine it to be? Each post will take you back in time and show you the truth.

Citizen Of The Month

From his Technorati profile: Neil Kramer is a writer and web producer living in Los Angeles who writes about the humor of personal relationships and pop culture.

Small Town Press

From the web page’s title bar: Observations of a small town hick. A conservative who’s had it up to here with the “conservative right.”

Exclamation Mark's B-Movie Reviews

A fan of reviewing sci-fi/horror B-movies and cult films of yesteryear. Films of the 1950s a specialty.

Teh Blog Father

Funny blog reviews and blog promotion. He is truly Teh Blog Father. If you have a blog and want it reviewed by the best, go here.

Bad Astronomy

His name is Phil Plait and the crazy thing is that he promotes Good Astronomy and debunks the Bad so maybe his website should be called Good Astronomy but that doesn't sell as many Books! Both the web page and the blog are world famous and rightfully so. From the site's intro page: As an astronomer, teacher, lecturer and all-around science junkie, I am exposed to all sorts of people and their ideas about what goes on in the sky around them. I have been delighted to find that most people are very curious about the night (and day!) sky, but unfortunately a lot of misinformation is spread about astronomy. I feel obliged to right these wrongs when I can. The Bad Astronomy web pages are devoted to airing out myths and misconceptions in astronomy and related topics.

OK. I think that’s it for now.

Read my post below on Gravity below which is where a post on gravity should be, below, I mean...


Thursday, November 17, 2005

The First Force. Gravity!

All the forces in the universe stem from four basic forces. These forces dictate just about every interaction that is undergone in the universe from the largest to the smallest scale in some way. Once we describe the four forces, we can look at how and why there is a question as to the Theory of Everything. It really boils down to one basic problem that, although exceedingly simple, pretty much avoids any solution we have dreamed up so far, at least experimentally.


Everything in the universe attracts everything else with a force that is a proportional to the products of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. That generally means that the more massive they are, the more they attract each other, at a force that depends on their distance away from each other. More simply, Mass and distance determine the force of gravity. Or even more simply, things attract each other but the further they go away from each other, the less they attract to each other. I can put it more simply, but do I really have to? Here’s something to think about: You attract the earth a little, tiny, bit to yourself. Yep. That’s right. When you jump up in the air you are attracted back to the earth by the force of gravity but a teensy, weensy, bit, you are attracting the earth up toward you. Like I said, everything in the universe attracts everything else with a force… You get the point.

Isaac Newton is the father of the modern theory of gravity. He realized that gravity on earth was the same force that dictated the motion of planets. Every piece of matter attracts every other. In Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica he explained his theories of celestial and terrestrial mechanics using older geometric methods despite having figured them out using the Calculus. It was like using longhand, I guess. Among his other contributions to science were the Laws of Gravity and Motion, beginning work in the Calculus and amazing enough, he discovered that white light is actually a composite of many colors and that light was made of tiny units of corpuscles. Later his theory of corpuscular light was thrown out in favor of the wave theory of light but then it was recombined when Quantum Theory was put forth. Newton is considered one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. He was also quoted to have said the famous phrase, “If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” Additionally, he held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge, the same Chair that Stephen Hawking holds today, a great honor.

Back to Gravity. An object responds to a force by accelerating in the direction of the force by an amount that is inversely proportional to the mass of the object. So you are not only attracted to the earth but the earth’s attraction makes you fall to the earth at a speed that increases in proportion to your mass. You can also say that in a miniscule amount the earth accelerates toward you. We see this a little better when we look at the planets.

Johannes Kepler lived from 1571 to 1630. He was a great Mathematician and he was an Astrologer, like a Renaissance Jean Dixon. In Kepler’s time Astrology was as important as weather forecasting today and probably a little more accurate. To supplement their income most Astronomers were also in the business of Astrology, although Kepler pretty much disdained the types of Astrologers who made predictions solely based on fashion to appeal to kings and people in power instead of basing their predictions on "fact." Kepler’s interest in figuring out how heavenly bodies affected earthy concerns was the inspiration for his scientific study. See, although he would never engage in the Psychic Network type of forecasting popular today, he was a firm believer in the Astrology of his time and wanted to improve it.

When Tycho Brahe invited Kepler to his observatory to become his assistant and study from his vast collection of observational data, Kepler used that data to develop his three laws of planetary motion. It should be pointed out that Tycho Brahe, for all his faults, built and maintained the most sensitive observational equipment of his time. It was providence that brought together the foremost observational astronomer and the genius of Kepler’s analytical mind in both location and time; an observation that Einstein himself would call fortunate given the pliability of the space-time continuum, or perhaps it is the anthropic quality of the universe that these serendipitous occasions occur. In any event, after Tycho’s death—resulting from holding his pee too long at a dinner party—Kepler was left to study the data at last in peace. He developed his three laws of planetary motion:

1. Kepler's elliptical orbit law: The planets orbit the sun in elliptical orbits with the sun at one focus. An Ellipse is a foreshortened circle. In other words, take a circle, put on its edge on the floor and sit on it. It becomes slightly flattened on the top and bottom and rounder on the sides.

2. Kepler's equal-area law: The line connecting a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in equal amounts of time. Put simply, it goes something like in this diagram. Here is a direct quote I found on Wikipedia regarding this image and Kepler’s Second Planetary Law: “Kepler's equal area law. If the time interval taken by the planet to move from P to Q is equal to the time interval from R to S, then according to Kepler's equal area law, the two shaded areas are equal. The reason it speeds up, as later found by Newton, is that the planet is moving faster during interval RS than it did during PQ, because as it approached the sun along QR, the Sun's gravity accelerated it." I think that pretty much sums it up, don’t you?

3. Kepler's law of periods: The time required for a planet to orbit the sun, called its period, is proportional to the long axis of the ellipse raised to the 3/2 power. The constant of proportionality is the same for all the planets. That means that the further the planet is away from the sun, the slower it rotates.

All this from studying the observational data of Tycho Brahe! Tycho kept some tight records, that boy did. I forgot to mention that Tycho Brahe had his nose cut off in a duel and usually wore a copper prosthetic in it’s place. What does this have to do with Gravity? Well the sun keeps the planets in place by its gravitational pull. What does Tycho's nose have to do with gravity? It fell off didn't it? I think we've already established that the earth was forever changed by the gravity of a part of Tycho. Literally.

Galileo Galilei is credited with formulating the concept of inertia and experimenting with it. He said that anything that is in motion should continue with that motion unless another force acts upon it to change that motion. So if you roll a ball it should never stop rolling unless there are other forces acting upon it. It should roll forever, that way! But we know that’s not true. There are many forces including friction, gravity and so forth acting on every object on earth. But what about in space?

Think of centrifugal force. Think about it. As a matter of fact go and get a ball and attach a string to it. Then swing it around your head. While you’re doing that I’ll explain to everyone else what’s happening. See how the ball goes around and around. That’s similar to the force that controls the motion of planets around the sun. Here’s how it works. Inertial forces make the planet (or the ball) want to keep going in a straight line that is tangent to the circumference of the circular orbit. But the force of gravity (here represented by the string) pulls the planet toward the sun. The combination of forces makes the ball (or the planet) go around the sun which is the object exerting the force at the center of the orbit. So the inertial force makes the ball want to escape the orbit in a straight line but the gravitational force holds the ball in place. Combined, the two forces produce an orbit, which is the simplest way to explain why the planet earth doesn’t shoot off into space.

So what is gravity? This other guy, named Albert Einstein once wondered such things but he did it in German while working at a Swiss Patent office. He formulated the Special Theory of Relativity. It was a grand theory that among other things postulated that the Speed of Light was constant no matter what the motion of the observer relative to the source of light.

This is what he meant: If you are traveling on a train and walking toward another traveler holding a flashlight, and there is a person outside the train as it passes by, the speed of the light will be measured as the same by all observers. There is an aspect of light, because it's a wave that does change according to the observer, that's the red-shift. If a light source is moving away from you the wavelength of the light moves toward the longer, redder spectrum. If a light source is moving toward you, then the light wave is compressed toward the shorter, bluer end of the light spectrum. This is called the Doppler Effect and is similar to how a siren whines higher pitched when it's approaching and longer and lower when it's moving away from you. In this way, Hubble, deduced that the light of galaxies, shifted to the red spectrum, is moving away from us. The red shift was evidence that the universe was expanding. This odd quirk of the law of the Speed of Light in the universe also poses other problems.

Einstein also postulated that the physical laws of the universe should be the same to any observer moving at a constant speed. Because of this, and the nature of the speed of light Einstein came up with some of the wildest discoveries in his theory. Time and length relative to an outside observer’s frame of reference changes as something speeds up. For instance, the clock of a subject moving at a high but constant speed ticks slower than the clock of an observer not moving relative to the moving subject's clock. It’s complicated because both clocks are moving relative to an observer standing off the earth accounting for the rotation and orbit of the earth. Also, when measuring an object moving very fast the length of the object will seem to get shorter as it speeds up. These are called length and time dilations. Of course if you are the object going at the high rate of speed, everything around you seems to move at a normal pace. You experience time and length as normally.

Additionally, as an object speeds up its mass increases. This is why it is impossible to go the Speed of Light, because, as anyone knows the more massive an object the more energy it takes to move it and at some point when you reach the Speed of Light, mass becomes infinite so the energy needed becomes infinite. Photons, the particles of light, are massless, their entire mass is kinetic energy and since Energy equals Matter times the square of the Speed of Light, its mass is all energy.

In actuality there is no such thing as a definite stationary observer and that is one of the fantastic things about the Theory. You can only be stationary relative to an enclosed space where everything is moving at constant acceleration. You see this phenomena everyday because everything on the earth is moving relative to each other and the rotation of the earth. Because it is so large and we are so small we do not feel this movement. The few reference points that will tell you that you are moving are the celestial objects and they are large and far away too so they provide a very small point to measure against. Any observer will realize with enough time that the earth is not stagnant and that it moves in relation to the stars, sun and moon. (Except the Catholic Church.)

The Special Theory of Relativity has been proven to a fine degree. A jogger or a race car driver is not going to experience time much different than you are because the difference is miniscule and can be all but ignored on our scale. You can't live longer by running fast all the time although it is an interesting idea. We’re talking very fast. Like almost light speed (which as we know is just about impossible).

What does this have to do with gravity? That’s exactly what Einstein thought. “What does this have to do with gravity?” In German. Instead of sitting there scratching his head like you are, he developed the General Theory of Relativity to include Gravity into the mix. Einstein wondered what a person would feel if he fell off a roof. Fun right? I think he meant before the person landed. He postulated that in mid-air the person would feel weightless. Like a person in a free falling elevator, that person would not feel his own weight, until he crashed. Then, ho-boy look out, I mean, like, GRAVITY!! Comin' at ya'.

This moment, Einstein said later, was the happiest moment of his life because he realized that he could now link Gravity to his Special Theory of Relativity. In the Special Theory of Relativity it was impossible to distinguish an experiment in a uniformly accelerating frame of reference from one done in a non-accelerating reference frame in an equivalent gravitational field. That means that in a small space, accelerating at a constant speed where all the laboratory equipment in the room is accelerating at exactly the same speed and there is no other reference point to measure against, then the experiment should yield the exact same results in any laboratory on earth in a gravity field. This theory is very complicated and has many other factors, but this is the most basic explanation.

There are other variations that need to take into account the fact that a strong gravity field is not near the accelerating laboratory and there are no tidal forces affecting the space. This would distort the pure effects of the reference frame. A tidal force is when a gravity field pulls you in one direction stronger than another at the same time or at different times. The moons of Jupiter feel tidal forces as they revolve around the planet stretching the structure of the moon heating it up. The tidal forces stretching and pulling the moon keep lava flowing and the surface and core hotter than they would be normally so far from the sun’s rays. The energy of the Gravity causes friction and heat. An interesting effect of gravity.

On a more dramatic scale, the immensely strong gravitational pull of a black hole would stretch your feet out first and then your body and head as you fell in past the event horizon. Digressing even further into the zaniness of the force of gravity is a black hole itself. Interestingly, the French originally distained the term "black hole" because it sounded so risqué! Imagine that! This from the people who invented tongue kissing! They caved when it was pointed out that a black hole was just that, an area of blackness that nothing, not even light can escape. Cooler heads prevailed, and then we sent them Jerry Lewis.

What makes a sun burn is fusion, forming complex particles by combining hydrogen atoms. What prevents a sun, a very massive object, from collapsing on itself, is nuclear forces, basically propping up the weight of the sun from collapsing on itself. When a sun’s energy is burned out it does collapse on itself and one of a few things can happen.

1. It becomes a white dwarf and continues to burn slightly and then burns out.
2. A heavier star will collapse and then explode into a supernova.
3. An even heavier star will collapse into a neutron star.
4. Even further, a very heavy star will continue to collapse under its own weight and become a singularity.

A singularity is an odd result of physics where the gravity and size of the object becomes infinite. An area around the black hole is a sort of point of no return called an event horizon where gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape. Escape velocity is the velocity an object needs to reach to escape a gravitational field. Rocket scientists know this quite well because it is the speed a rocket ship must reach to escape the earth’s atmosphere and reach space. The escape velocity of a black hole is that of the speed of light. Nothing goes faster than the speed of light hence, black hole. Nothing escapes.

If you have ever seen the movie, The Black Hole, then you might think that a black hole is a swirling hole like a whirlpool. Not true exactly. A black hole is a point of intense gravity like a sphere because the sun that collapsed to cause a Black Hole was a sphere of sorts. Black holes “catching” matter in its gravity causes an accretion disk to surround the event horizon. Much like a solar system surrounds the sun but even more crowded and full of energy. The energy is produced as the matter speeds up and heats. This is said to reduce the energy of the black hole, slowing its rotation a bit. Quantum effects also are said to produce an effect that causes the black hole to shrink over an extremely long time.

This brings us back to General Relativity. Einstein, by expanding Special Relativity to include gravity, opened up the idea that light, because of E=MC2, has mass and even a photon, whose mass is entirely inertial energy, will be affected by the force of gravity. As well, the force of gravity on light escaping a gravitational field will be stretched or red shifted. Because light is theorized to be affected by gravity it opens up all kinds of strange and wonderful physical effects in the universe, like black holes, as discussed. Originally Black Holes were theoretical but science has now found evidence that a Black Hole may be at the heart of just about every galaxy.

What is the nature of the force of gravity? Einstein said that the universe is made of four dimensions: The three usual directional dimensions and time as a fourth dimension, described as space-time. A massive object, like the sun, actually bends space-time around it in much the same way a bowling ball stretches a smooth mattress toward it when placed on a bed. The surface of the bed is like space and the bowling ball is the sun. Now when any smaller object is placed on the bed in the vicinity of the bowling ball that smaller object is drawn toward the bowling ball because the bed is bent toward the center of the ball. Think of this on three dimensions, and time because of the pliable nature of time in a constantly accelerating reference frame, and a gravitational field, since according to Einstein both are indistinguishable. In a very strong gravitational field, like a black hole, time will slow to a stop, presenting a paradox not able to be resolved by physics as yet in a singularity. Gravity is the bending of space-time! The structure of the universe is actually bending under the mass of a very large object.

Gravitational lensing is another example to the strange nature of gravity in the Einsteinian universe. A star’s light can be redirected and intensified by an intervening massive object. The gravity of the massive object bends the light of the distant star around it and focuses it, if we happen to be looking in a direct line of the refracted light. This effect can cause a light source to be bent around a massive object like a galaxy and be refracted around it on two or more sides. This way we see a duplicate of the star on either side of the massive object. Astronomers have found evidence of gravitational lensing and use it to observe distant objects. The space around a massive object is bend thereby making the light follow a bent path through real space called a geodesic. An idea has been put forth to use the sun as a sort of lens to increase the light of distant stars in far future telescopic observations. This would require instruments to be sent far out into space to produce the effect, effectively.

Quantum Physics. Even though Einstein’s formulas helped create this whole wonderful and mysterious field of science called quantum physics, it became a monkey on his back. Up to the day he died, Einstein tried to merge the ideas of Quantum Physics with Relativity although I think he only concerned himself with combining electromagnetism and gravity. The reason for this problem is that on a Quantum scale, which is of the very minute, smaller than microscopic, atomic scale, gravity has negligible effect. How does one resolve gravity with the three other forces of the universe that have such strong effects? Why is gravity such a non-factor in Quantum Mechanics? Also, how do we combine a theory of three of the four major forces that depend on particle fields, quanta, to describe their effects? Electromagnetism is carried by photons, the W and Z Bosons carry Weak Nuclear Force and the Strong Nuclear Force is carried by Gluons. What particle carries the force of gravity? According to Relativity, nothing! Gravity is the result of space bending to the shape of massive objects. According to Quantum Mechanics, an as yet undiscovered particle called a Graviton carries the force of Gravity.

In some calculations, a graviton is needed because Quantum Mechanics requires a static time background to Quantum interactions and Relativity predicts a pliable space-time background.

You can see how this can’t be resolved easily. This is one of the most pressing problems in physics now. There are competing theories and ideas that will find the answer to Quantum Gravity and produce the holy grail of physics, the Theory Of Everything (T.O.E.).

Next Electromagnetism!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Democrat Rant

Again this was a comment on another blog that I have converted into a post on my own blog.

I guess like most Democrats today we are all over the map. That's the unfortunate side effect of trying to encompass everyone who is not ultra-conservative these days. We have a scattering of ideology. That's the major sin of Democrats. We can't get to those few issues we can all pretty much agree on because we don't want to seem as stiff and dogmatic as the GOP. Every time we do the GOP seems to be able to splinter us apart and we end up with Democrats all over saying to reporters "Well, yes I support the president because people die in Iraq when I don't." They backtrack too much and this was never more evident than during the last Election.

This administration laid out the rhetoric that contrary opinion causes death in Iraq. They said because we don't 100% support this war that we allow young men to die or even worse want them to be unprotected. Where was it written that people who opposed the Vietnam War wanted a weak America? I beg to differ. Sending young men to die in a war that most Americans don't even understand the basic principles of does not strengthen a country.

Bush said we have to support the Iraq War because if we don't we look weak to terrorists. By what logic does sending Americans to fight against a regime that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks end that form of terrorism. In that case Bush should have send troops to Saudi Arabia since they were the ones with a large representation of nationalities in the terrorist attacks. Plus Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind, was Saudi. Osama turned to us because he was too afraid to fight his own country. He turned to us to make a point. He made us strong for a few moments but because of the weak leadership we fell apart. He proved to the world what he was saying. That America responds with force against the weakest scapegoat we can find.

By this administration’s own admission we should be attacking North Korea right now. Bush included them in the axis of evil including Iran. North Korea was very flagrant about their nuclear policy. Iraq never announced to the world they would begin researching nuclear power like Iran has done. What have we gained in Iraq? Even if the mission is 100% successful in instilling a legitimate democratically elected government what have we done to make the world safer from terrorism? Nothing. How has this Iraq War broken the backs of Al Qaeda?

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Warning: The following post has some adult content. So if you are easily offended, my mother or anyone else who should not be reading this, I warned you!

Setting: A bank; where I work as a mortgage broker, no less. My life is Glengarry Glen Ross, without the irony. For some reason I am playing the straight man to someone else’s jokester. Somewhere in Chicago is a guy playing Costello to my Abbot. He’s the Hardy to my Laurel, the Madison to my Unger… You get the point.

As a Loan Officer (or LO in the vernacular of the Mortgage biz) I must be on top of just about every deal everyday while going out and generating new business. It’s kind of like riding a unicycle and spinning plates on a stick at the same time. Everything needs my full attention all the time. It’s a delicate balance.

So when I come into work and I get a message on my email from my manager that says I’m not taking care of a particular problem on a particular loan and the email says something to the effect of “A little urgency is needed here!” I tend to get a little frustrated to say the least. By frustrated I mean like when I was a kid and I played Dungeons and Dragons.

I walk into his office and unsheathe my double-handed broad sword and split his head right in half. Inside the cavity is a thousand squirming little worms and rotten piece of meat. Just as I suspected! He’s one of the undead. Probably a zombie brought to the world of the living by my arch nemesis, a dark and shadowy figure hell-bent on my utter mediocrity.

I blame my nemesis for everything that goes wrong. Case in point:

When I was twenty this is where I thought I’d be at this point in my life:

  1. Million dollars in the bank

  2. Apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park.

  3. Career in the arts, probably famous painter or something like that.

Here’s what I got:

  1. A million dollars of debt looming between the mortgage and the potential on my kids’ college education.

  2. McMansion on Long Island

  3. Career in banking, loan officer. (Waht, Wahhhh –to the sound of a very low trumpet signaling gloom.)

I blame it on the evil figure looming just out of sight, around the corner, wringing his hands, laughing maniacally. “Why, oh why does he torture me so. What crime must I have committed in a former life that he tracks me across multiple planes of existence to ensure my utter defeat.” Not that I don’t have a great wife and kids, I do.

Since my family (and by my family I mean my wife) decided to move from our current home to upgrade our school district and square footage we’ve been in a packing frenzy. We are Biggie Sizing the McMansion and I got a call from my wife at the office.

“Hi honey, what’s in this box labeled perfect pecker?”

Hello, what’s this?

A friend of mine works as the manager of an adult shop. By the way, the manager of an Adult Shop makes more than a Loan Officer, just so you know. Oh and as a Post Script to that, neither job requires a college education. When said friend heard we were moving, he was more than happy to provide boxes to help us pack. When you hear about porn coming to your house it usually comes with the image of a discreet, sort of generic looking, brown paper wrapped package. We were assaulted with boxes with labels screaming such lovely and appropriate phrases like Dildos, Perfect Pecker and Flesh Colored Butt Plugs. (Whatever those are they sound painful.)

“What about Translucent Butterfly or Hollow Bees? Do those sound dirty?”
It was getting downright esoteric.

“I’m not sure honey,” I said trying not to sound amused.

“Well you know these terms better than I do.”

“You know that if there’s any security on this line I’m already fired.”

She sounded surprised that her very casual conversation about sexual products not fit for man nor beast would make me uncomfortable or get me canned.

“You’re right,” she said. “Sorry. I’ll just cross them all out.”

“Better yet, cover them with duct tape.”

“Thanks. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

It was a combination of words that I never thought I’d hear from my recently converted to Judaism, former Irish Catholic wife.

I once heard that the worst type of Jewish Wife was a Shiksa. When I heard that, I laughed. I’m not laughing anymore. She blends the best and worst from both. My existence ping-pongs between her guilt and my guilt. Why, oh Lord, is guilt so entwined with both of the major religions on the planet earth. Couldn’t they be more like Zen Buddhism? I never heard about a guilty Buddha.

As an American Jew brought up in a very liberal and religiously lax household, I attended Hebrew School but we also celebrated Christmas. It never occurred to me that this was odd. I once asked my Mother why we were Jewish but celebrated both Chanukah and Christmas. She said we celebrated Christmas as an “American” Holiday. It made sense to me. Through the years I’ve met Catholics and Christians who couldn’t fathom it. I think my wife was the only one who didn’t find this odd. So I married her. Even before she converted people pegged her for a Jew so I guess she made it official. We joined a Reform Temple, attend Friday services, have weekly Shabbat dinners, celebrate the holidays, we know the Hebrew names for our children and my kids go to Hebrew School.

The other day I was driving home from picking up my son from Hebrew school when he announced that the candy we were eating was made in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Also, he added. “Coke is made in Atlanta, Hostess was made in Iowa by the Mississippi River. It’s my new thing to know where food is produced.”

I wondered about the serendipity of that information. Was it trivial? Was it educational? It’s been just amusing enough for me to deem it educational and I encouraged his quest to uncover this knowledge. I added a few products to the list for his research project.
The juxtaposition of my wife’s phone call earlier that day and this conversation with my son put me on another track. Why was my wife worried so much what the moving men would think seeing the dirty writing on the boxes and not my son’s reaction? I decided that I’d ask her about it when I got home.

Much like so many other things that enter my mind that flew out into the universe as soon as I stepped in the front door. It’s the mind-numbing ray that the shadowy figure has permanently fixed on my head.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Aliens Among Us... (Part 6)

The types of jobs that these people take are generally filled by Americans who would not enter the workforce with certified training or skill. For the most part their skills are learned on the job. A strong back and muscles are more important than finesse. Also the ability to withstand extremes in weather and still keep a somewhat even pace. Those are skills that are not learned. People don’t go through years of training and then find that their job has been taken away by someone who is not American like often happens in the computer field. Also, given the choice when economics doesn’t come into play at such a disadvantage I think most contractors would choose a citizen over an illegal when the choice is presented. I worked in many shops where there were plenty of Americans to work and not an illegal worker in sight. But when the work got stretched and there was no one else to hire (at least on a temporary basis) we’d go pick up some workers for the day to help out. It is a simple concept of supply and demand, more than anything else.

The real problem is that for too many years we looked the other way and now we have this swell of illegal immigrants coming here to work and now we are crying foul. There are those who claim that the immigrants overwhelm our communities by overcrowding our schools when they don’t pay taxes and use our healthcare systems like our hospitals. For so long they filled a niche, gladly I might add. No one complained when cheap labor helped in keeping prices down. And it seems to me that people still do not want to give that up. The general consensus is that it’s fine, as long as it’s not in “my backyard.”


The End.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Aliens Among Us... (Part 5)

Too much has been made of the problem and nothing has been done to produce a solution. We have propositions on Long Island to build safe shelters with bathroom services for these workers to gather but others say it condones their illegal activity. President Bush in a rare show of clarity suggested we give many of the illegal immigrants legal status.

“Out of common sense and fairness, our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and fill jobs that Americans are not filling,” President Bush said in 2004. (Although this has been considered by some his election year pandering to the Latino vote.)

Nevertheless, this statement shows how deep the immigrant problem has become ingrained into the national consciousness. We recognize two problems that even President Bush can see. The first problem is that we have millions of undocumented workers already here in the United States and the other is that they are providing a vital service in our economy by filling jobs American’s are not willing to do.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, in 2004, there was an average of  5.5% unemployment rate with 8.1 million people unemployed. According to the American Immigrant Law Foundation (AILF) there are an estimated 8 to 10 million undocumented workers in the United States right now with about 58% of them from Mexico, 20% from Central America and the other 20% or so from other countries. In 1996 the average unemployment rate was 5.6% and 7.2 million workers were unemployed. In that year it was estimated that there were about 5 million undocumented workers. Over the last ten years the immigration problem has done nothing but increase and become more volatile while the unemployment rate in America has not changed much at all.

According to a study by Dr. Donald Huddle, a Rice University economics professor, in 1996 the estimated net cost to American tax payers for illegal aliens was about $20 billion dollars annually. Since the population has roughly doubled since then, the costs can have said to go up by twice that amount. Of course in a study produced by the Center For American Progress the cost over five years to deport the current population of illegal immigrants effectively would be about $206 Billion. That exceeds the current budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) broken down annually. ($41 Billion annually for the deportation initiative verses $34.2 Billion annually for the DHS)

In 1985, the year I took on my first construction job and befriended a new culture, the average unemployment rate was at 7.2% and 8.3 million workers were unemployed. The best estimates for undocumented workers in the United States in that year (1985) is about 3 million persons, 55% being from Mexico, according to U.S. Census reports which did not specifically count illegal aliens. In the past twenty years, the total civilian labor force (employed and unemployed) went from 115.5 million in 1985 to 147.4 million in 2004.

Since 1986 we’ve lowered the unemployment rate for Americans, increased the civilian workforce, and taken on more illegal immigrants to do our labor jobs. In that respect the immigrants are not necessarily taking away jobs from Americans. So that’s not the root of the problem. In our effort to stem the tide of illegal aliens the number of Boarder Patrol officers maintaining the U.S.-Mexican border has tripled in the years between 1986 and 2002.

(To Be Continued)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Aliens Among Us... (Part 4)

With the establishing of this class of workers many areas succumb to the slum landlord approach. Fit as many workers in one house as possible to maximize rent. More and more of these workers need to live close to the suburban middle class that they service. Especially on Long Island where the sprawl has reached all the way out to the eastern tips. In the wealthy and well-known town of Southampton has a population of Hispanics that gather in their 7-11 parking lot and live in their own neighborhood tracts. The East End of Long Island cannot support its growth and sustenance on its own. Even the once exclusive Hamptons have surrendered to a very middle class problem.

The problem is the old saw of America being the land of opportunity. For a new class of immigrants who come here in waves, this country presents a place where there is work to be done and money to be made for a better life. Some can establish themselves and become integral parts of this society. Other are transient, migrating back and forth over the border as much as they can. Others are squatters, coming here once and never leaving, disappearing into the United States to escape from the real oppression, which is their home. It seems simple osmosis causes this border problem. If there is a reason for the illegal immigrants to risk life and limb to get here then they will come over. Where there is too much crowding and not enough work in their own countries there are wide-open spaces and ample work. They can’t help but be drawn here. It’s a simple scientific principle.

There is an even more tragic side to all this. According to the U.S. Boarder Patrol, about 2,000 people dies between 1998 and 2004 trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican boarder. The Sonora Desert that stretches from Mexico to Arizona is a corridor that is said to be the deadliest passage. The people of the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation in Arizona that is on this pathway of death find many Mexicans dead there every season. Often the immigrants die of thirst and heat exhaustion hours from the border on a trek that takes many days to make.

There are also opportunists among those seeking opportunity. In a recent tragedy a tractor-trailer full of Mexicans crossing the border was found at a truck stop in Texas. Inside nineteen had died of the heat exhaustion while being locked in the trailer on their journey across the border. Apparently the driver noticed a taillight was out and stopped his truck to inspect it. When he saw the condition of the people inside he got nervous, unhitched the trailer and abandoned it. This is the type of risk many are willing to take to cross into America to work and build a better life. It’s a really old story. Other immigrants have died crossing the border on foot, unprepared for the intense desert heat. More have died in railway cars trying the same trick as the tractor-trailer victims. I envision the dying poor who took the berth section on ships crossing the Atlantic. Those who made it across were lucky but the risks were great and the promise of reward even greater. There are few Americans who can imagine the desperation it takes to stow away in a dangerous, dark and hot trailer for a journey to an unknown country where you do not know the language on the hint of a whisper of a chance for a better life.

(To Be Continued)

Aliens Among Us... (Part 3)

At the time I didn’t know how the whole thing worked but they explained it to me. Those guys worked hard all season and saved all their money. In the winter when there was no work they went back to their countries and lived mostly off the money they made. They were living comparatively well to their neighbors who didn’t dare make the trek up to American every year to do the hard labor. It was a reward for those who chanced it. Little did we know at the time that economics and opportunity were coming together and that in the next twenty years a political storm would build.

Over the years I encountered many of the silent class. They tried to stay under the radar but when a thing such as this gets this big it’s too hard to ignore. It got too good for both us and them. We got used to the fact that we didn’t have to do the laborious jobs. Our children didn’t have to go out and mow lawns, carry buckets or haul wood every summer day to make money. They could do other things while the illegal immigrants were more than happy to make untaxed cash for a day’s work. No matter what, they work hard. You have to respect the ethic that created this problem. We have too much of a good thing and we want it to go back underground so we don’t have to look at it everyday.

America’s skin, its boarder, is full of open wounds. The seeping illegals are bleeding through and coagulating on our street corners. But like a cut or scrape its danger is in the wound worsening and infecting the rest of the body. In its most dangerous form the illegals are not Spanish immigrants but Fundamentalist terrorists looking to harm us not leech from us. In the cities where the children of those who came here do not find the education or health benefits of other American children, there is a danger that what was once relatively harmless becomes a national crisis of guns, drugs and crime.

For the most part the crimes have been committed against the community of Hispanics. There are many Americans who do not want these people around in their shops, their neighborhoods. That’s understandable. But some, disillusioned, turn to violence. In a case on Long Island, a couple of young men lured a Mexican worker to a basement on the pretense of a day’s work and beat him. In another, a young American man burned down a house that had Hispanic Workers living in it. I won’t say our streets have become a battleground but that can easily happen as the numbers swell and the workers impose more on our residential neighborhoods. Parts of towns on Long Island have been ghettoized as places that “they” live. Some, interestingly very close to our wealthiest neighborhoods.

It seems that the working class who support the wealthy with gardeners and maids and cooks and nurses aides need a place to live and they like to live within commuting distance of their jobs. I remember well a family who had employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny. She lived miles away in the borough of Brooklyn and worked on Long Island. The woman left her own husband and children to come and spend weekdays and nights taking care of another family. It was so sad to me as a kid. I saw that as almost unfair that someone should loose their time with their own children to take care of someone else’s. The concept gave me my first look into the separation of class and the sacrifice that the underclass needs to make. Was it fair? Probably not. But was it inherently immoral? Not at all. The woman had to work and this was the work she knew how to do. At least her children were clothed and fed.

(To Be Continued)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Aliens Among Us... (Part 2)

The upside is that some of these people make it here in America. They are as industrious and smart as everyone else in the world. Just because some are uneducated laborers that doesn’t mean every one of them is too. There are those who see opportunity in the work they do. When I worked as a fence installer, a rival company was owned and run by former day laborers who learned the trade and then bought their own equipment and went out on their own. Landscaping is another trade where this phenomenon happens. Painters, framers and roofers all have turned from illegal unskilled laborers to business owners in a few years. These guys are the success stories and their businesses are generally documented and pay taxes. Sadly, an overwhelming percentage of the laborers never make it above their station.

So why is there this problem in the first place? I don’t have the official socio-economic answers. All I have is my observations and experience. When I was about fifteen I worked my first construction job at a commercial landscaping company. The paving company my mother worked at as an office manager did business with them. Little did I know at the time but when the guy who owned the company asked my mother how hard she wanted him to work me, she replied, “Hard enough that he wants to go to college.” Needless to say that a man’s perverse side takes over in a situation like that and he gladly agreed. His foreman was a tyrant (no doubt tipped off by my mother’s comment) and I was glad when I was on jobs that kept me far from him. Being that I was very young I had no real skills and had to do what anyone else in that situation would do. I worked as unskilled labor. That meant lots of raking of dirt preparing it for seed and moving rubbish around like heavy logs and stones to clear medians and vast roadside areas for the county.

My coworkers were almost all Mexican and Central American. I didn’t understand them. I couldn’t speak their language but somehow we communicated. By gestures and simple words we understood what the other was saying. I felt like the minority then. Even though the employers were of my race and language I was “forced” because of my youth and circumstance to work with those who others saw as necessary evils. Like most contractors at the time in the mid-eighties my company hired a group of Hispanics who mostly returned day after day and season after season for regular work. It was also the twenty years ago so I think the problem, although growing was not out of control yet. A couple of the guys took to me and they helped and taught me the job. Some of the senior guys covered for me when I was too weak to lift or too tired to keep up.

I remember one time falling asleep in the cab of the work truck we were packed into on the way home from a particularly rough and hard job. When we got back to the shop this one big guy I’d worked with all day woke me up gently saying something in Spanish. The only word I understood was “Junior.” He and the rest of the Spanish crew called me “Junior” after that. To these guys I was just some kid, stuck there by the boss to do some work and not to be treated too roughly, by them at least. They understood. They showed mercy when the foreman didn’t. My mother’s little plan almost backfired. I loved the job. The harshness of the dirt and the sun only added to my concept of bonding and brotherhood between myself and those alien people. Despite the fact that I was supposed to not like being “stuck” working with the Spanish guys. I really loved it and I learned that you can bond and respect with those who you don’t understand. They embraced me and I have had an affinity for these Hispanic day laborers ever since. When others bitched and complained I tried, although weakly, to defend their position based on economic necessity.

(To Be Continued)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Aliens Among Us... (Part 1)

When I drive by the group of Hispanics gathered by the road, it looks to me like a depression era snapshot come to life. A working class, invisible, undocumented and ingrained, mill about waiting for scraps of work. I live near an infamous town on Long Island where the gathering of illegal workers (mostly Mexican, but 100% Hispanic) causes tension in the community. They loiter in parking lots, usually convenience stores like 7-11, and people are afraid of them because they look menacing. I’ve worked construction jobs off and on for more than 20 years and to be honest they look intimidating to me too. That’s not to say that it is because of their race. Not true. Anytime you have a large gathering of men dressed in dirty jeans and t-shirts looking tanned, gristly and strong, it’s intimidating, especially for families with children. They are deterred from shopping at those convenience stores because of the crowd.

Granted, the workers must spend enough money in the 7-11’s they gather around to make it worth it or the owners of those establishments would have made them move years ago. So it’s not the loss of business to the establishment that bothers people. It is the perceived danger. Locally, I have not heard of one story in the newspaper or otherwise where the illegal aliens harmed anyone, even each other. There seem to be no fights, they are generally peaceful and stay to themselves. Of course these groups are huge. They swarm the construction vehicles that pull into the parking lot looking for a day’s work. I worked with a friend of mine installing fences for a while. The shop was down the road from two of these 7-11s in either direction. When we didn’t need to pick up helpers for the day we avoided those particular 7-11s because they would bother us and crowd us. Even though it was convenient to go to one of those two places on the way out to the jobs to pick up our coffee and cigarettes we went out of our way to avoid them.

There is also the problem with housing. These people are generally men who come here for the construction season (which because of the booming housing market has been lasting almost all year) and send money back home to their relatives south of the border. They try to save money when here by packing themselves into rental houses. There will be tens of men living in one small house. While this is technically illegal there has been little crackdown. The residential areas around these towns have gone downhill because of this. The perception (rightly so) is that it is a low income, low class area. Again, not because of the nationality of the men but because of the conditions they live in. Generally the houses are unkempt and in disrepair. There are many strange people milling about and they change renters frequently. Sometimes there are women and children are living in these cramped conditions as well. Lately I heard of a few cases where landlords are charged for housing more unrelated people in a house than is allowed by the town. Essays in local newspapers show these crowded conditions where many families or 20 or more men are living in one small house. This is an attempt by the town to solve the problem indirectly.

(To Be Continued)

Friday, November 04, 2005


So when scientists say that their data supports a certain finding, a whole slew of un-skeptical people who lend those scientists Ethos just believe it's true. When a former high-ranking general who has been trustworthy in the past says that there are definitely weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we tend to believe him. Why would he lie? He must know what he's saying. He’s got the charts and the prospect of letting the situation continue unabated is frightening. If you surround yourself with enough people of supposedly high rank or trust and have them establish arguments, the public has a hard time (as a whole not individuals) believing that they could actually lie to us, especially if they are emotionally charged arguments that gets to our basic fears of safety for ourselves, our way of life and our children.

See you must question motivation behind what people say. Are they being paid? Are they supporting their own or somebody else's agenda? Etc. This is especially true on the Internet. There are all kinds of people trying to part you from your money or to spread their own agenda on an unsuspecting public. People who fall for scams aren’t stupid it’s just that the scammer has made a convincing argument that to the person duped looked convincing at the time. For the most part, a person who was scammed will in hindsight say that if they took some more time to thing about it the scammer didn’t make any sense. That’s because in addition to seeming trustworthy and informative the scammer made the pitch based on emotional response. When faced with an argument, look at all the data being offered. Take a few minutes to ask, why am I feeling scared, happy etc… when I hear this. Make decisions for yourselves. Of course we can’t go through life all the time questioning everything. We must give some ethos to people but we have to be very careful with that. We could end up in a very bad situation.


Pathos is an appeal based on emotion. Fear is a good motivator in Pathos as well as Sympathy. Any kind of emotional appeal will work. This is probably the strongest argument. When you appeal to a person’s emotions they tend to forget to ask the basic questions. Why is this statement making me feel this why and what is the motivation behind the person who is inciting these emotions? That is not to say that Pathos is a negative argument. It may be used to manipulate people but in other cases it can stir people to action that they may not take when presented with cold, hard facts. We have all been the subject of emotional appeal. Everyday advertisers try to get us to buy their products based on our perception of how they will make us “feel.”

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Logos is the authority we give to a statement based on Logic. Generally, scholarly papers are Logos driven. They appeal to reason. We all see this in advertising as well. If A+B=C and we have proven A and B then we generally agree that C is true. This allows the person who reads the article or paper to come up with his own conclusion of truth based on known facts and information. Of course this information is not always conclusive or true in the first place. If we have given you false initial data then the conclusion can be false. All data can be skewed. You must trust the source of the data, which requires a certain amount of Ethos. Relying on quotations, facts and equations are all forms of the logical argument or Logos.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Ethos is the power and trust that we automatically give to someone because of the authority we perceive they have. The character of the speaker, his believability and appeal drive his Ethos. We generally accept that what an authority figure says is true because we can't imagine that they are lying or wrong. It is important to establish Ethos immediately and can be very easily done by mentioning the credentials of the speaker or the long-term relationship consumers have with a certain company. To further break down this concept Aristotle says that to have Ethos you must establish wisdom, virtue and good sense. This is the sincerest form of Ethos but in the practical sense, Ethos is granted freely by the public, especially when one identifies himself with a respected organization, like the Church (Priests, Rabbis, or Reverends); the Education System (Professors, and Research Scientists.) or the speaker establishes that the consumers have trusted the organization pitching the claim for many years.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ethos, Logos & Pathos

I took a great class in college called Human Communication. It was about all the ways we communicate with each other. From scientists, to marketers and advertisers to politicians. My teacher said never to trust statistics from advertisers. He proved to us (and I wish I could remember how) that 4 out of 5 dentists agree that NOT brushing your teeth was good for you. It was fascinating. He also taught us about the elements of an argument.

In Aristotle’s Rhetorica he put forth the basic canons of artistic rhetoric. Artistic refers to arguments that are invented or researched by the speaker. This does not mean the topic the speaker wishes to put forth is created, but the argument or angle that the speaker takes is researched and thought up by the person who wished to convince someone else of his or her position. The sisters of Ethos, Logos and Pathos are all important parts of rhetoric. You can see how many types of professions rely on the concepts of Aristotle’s Rhetorica like lawyers, advertisers and politicians.

Monday, October 31, 2005


I feel silly. Back to Physics, Religion, Art and/or Politics later...

I did an online personality test. You answer a bunch of questions and then it tells you what movie you are like. Since the result was sorta scary I decided to post this one today.

If you check out The Phoenix's website he has some great scary stories, one that was contributed by me called "A Good Soul with a Dark Past." I am the second story down from the one Phoenix wrote about The Lemp Mansion

Ummm... Kinda true, in a freaky sort of way. Scary.

Remember to check out The Phoenix for scary Halloween fun!


Friday, October 28, 2005

Like I mentioned before, I emailed many people and invited them to comment on my ID post. I've been getting some very interesting responses and I am going to try to post as many of the good ones as I can. Colin Purrington, Associate Professor at Swarthmore College answered the call with the following comment. I took it from the comments page because I like his position of early intervention.

Colin Purrington said...

Teaching "intelligent design creationism" (IDC) in science class is a bad idea, but there are several contexts that make it more or less bad.

In the worst case scenario, a teacher with creationist leanings is the science teacher. He or she will be, of course, _delighted_ to teach IDC, and will presumably sell it to students as if IDC were actually a scientific concept, which it is not. How common is this scenario, however? In the United States, it would be very, very common. Belief in the supernatural, and belief in biblical truth, is very high even among teachers hired to teach science. Teacher suspicion of evolution tends to increase if they don't have a higher degree in science, too, so that means anti-evolution teaching is likely to be higher among the lesser-qualitified elementary school teachers and middle school teachers.

Another scenario is a teacher who thinks that evolution is a completely well-supported theory and that IDC is just intellectual garbage, formulated my mushy-brained, pro-religion zealots. Given an opportunity to bash IDC in front of his or her students, he or she will. As for the above scenario, this means that one particular religion (Christianity) will be discussed to the exclusion of all other religions. In one case it will be praised, and in the other, laughed at. But for both cases it will be, essentially, illegal because it establishes one particular religion over another.

The final scenario that is likely to exist is in classes where the teacher could really care less about promoting/bashing supernatural explanations for natural phenomenon. He or she is just worried about teaching the academic standards, and getting the students to perform well on standardized tests. Diluting real science with IDC or other fad anti-science will have an immediate, and negative, impact on such scores, and the teacher will probably just skip over the IDC altogether. But he or she lives in the United States, and students (overwhelmingly anti-evolution due to indoctrination during elementary school years) will bring the topic up in class over and over again. It would not be pretty.

There are other scenarios, too, but all of them end up with U.S. public school graduates becoming dumb and dumberer. From a realists point of view, I think they only way to teach American's about evolution is to teach it to kids when they are in elementary school. Children of this age are being told at home that evolution is silly if not satanic, and are being told that everything we see has been created (rather recently!) by God. Therefore, instruction that counters these parental "facts" should be delivered via the school system...and delivered at the age when it might actually do some pedagogical good. If high school graduates in the United States still believed in Santa Claus, I'd bet good money that we'd have massively-expensive "interventions" in kindergarten, just to ensure that our citizens didn't have strange, unrealistic expectations about gifts during adulthood.

For Christmas, I want IDC to go to another, even more backward country. And, yes, I've been very, very good this year.

Thanks Colin!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

ID Response

Why I think it is wrong to think that ID is a valid scientific theory:

There were many times in our scientific history where we could have stopped and said this is where G-d begins and science ends. If that was the case, Newton would never have discovered the laws of gravity and motion, Einstein would never have looked at the world in a different way and developed his theories of relativity, we may never have pushed that theory to the limit and theorized then subsequently discovered black holes. More importantly, we never would have found out about viruses, DNA, molecules and atoms had we never pushed a little beyond what we understood. There is an interesting theory of the G-d of the gaps. That is whatever we don't understand in science we attribute to G-d. The gaps we fill in with G-d.

This is dangerous not only for science but for religion. If we keep pushing G-d father and further away and limiting Him to the gaps then as we discover more of the universe G-d shrinks in his place. If that happens the significance of G-d become less and less important because we always attribute him to the latest thing in the universe that we don’t understand. As for the danger in science, if we say that this is where science stops and G-d begins then that prevents up from ever pushing the boundaries of human understanding. Remember in history when there was a recession in art and science? The church took a prominent position during that time, establishing itself as the authority on all human intellectual undertakings. This a time when astronomers were not allowed to say that the planets orbited the sun because it supposedly went against church doctrine. (Exactly what passage that states that the planets specifically revolve around the sun in the bible I am not too sure, but that was the interpretation at the time.) We lovingly call that time the Dark Ages and it’s not because of the weather.

I believe that Galileo was forced into house arrest for his beliefs along those lines. Luckily for us there were brave scientists who stood up for the principles of truth in their calculations and observations. Slowly but surely scientific truth won out over centuries of dogma. In 1981, the Pope John Paul II finally opened up an investigation into the persecution of Galileo. I think that the whole Galileo thing was more a personal thing between Pope Urban VIII than dogmatic response to the obvious truth that Copernicus was right. In 1990, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said, “At the time of Galileo the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The process against Galileo was reasonable and just” Of course to put it in context he was saying that the Inquisitors were simply defending the Church because Galileo was such a loudmouth, spreading his anti-church rhetoric like let’s see, ummm, the Earth revolves around the sun…? Yeah, bad idea.

Now who am I to tell billions of human beings that they’re wrong? I think that religion has some really great qualities. But like anything else, take in moderation. Every time the church tries to put G-d into the equation they end up retracting that idea and moving Him a little further out, like a giant board game. I imagine the church’s pieces of G-d like silhouetted cardboard pieces looking like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel version of G-d with his big beard pointing at another cut out piece of Galileo. More science pieces get put on the board as G-d is painted into a corner surrounded by little cardboard Einsteins and Stephen Hawkings. Of course in the religious game bard G-d rules and scientists are relegated to a small corner of the board and no spinner or dice. Silly ain’t it?

I’ve been told that ID and Creationism are not the same thing. One, ID, is a scientific theory and the other, Creationism, is a religious idea. I don’t think that’s true. Any scientists I know or have read about have not considered ID a scientific theory. For the most part, I think ID is Creationism parading around as a genuine theory. It’s a way to infuse religion into science and make it palatable to the masses. It has failed. There is no way without verifiable and reproducible observation or experiment to consider ID a theory. Just because it “looks” like the world was created with intent by a supreme intelligent being doesn’t mean that it was. Philosophically, you can say that but scientifically you cannot. I am willing to agree with religious leaders who argue that the world was designed by a creator, or a first cause on purely philosophical levels. I am also willing to look at the very fine-tuned universe and evolutionary gaps that seem to point toward ID and say that perhaps that it is true. But as for empirical evidence, ID offers little. Creationism offers none. I’ve mentioned it too many times before and I am starting to sound repetitive but my argument is that G-d and religion require pure belief. There is not evidence of G-d’s existence besides our faith in the books we read and the prayers we say. Our collective faith and gathering together to celebrate that faith is enough for the proof of the existence of G-d. Anyone to trying to pin the existence of G-d on a scientific theory is engaged in futile endeavor. It will not happen. Science is not belief; it is fact. It is testable and reproducible. Evidence must be empirical and not ethereal. You can’t say that G-d exists because the scientific facts make it seem to be that way.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Discussion Topic: Intelligent Design

I posed this question as a topic over at The Contrarians Website but since they haven't touched it yet I thought that I'd pose it here and let my readers comment. I'll reply to anyone who wants to comment. Think of this as my version of the Sunday New York Times Op Ed Page. I sent out some emails to various people in science, skeptical thought and politics to comment on this topic. I got some very well thought out editorial comments that I will post below the topic. I thank everyone who answered my email; it is much appreciated. Some Congressman that I queried responded with a format email response that said they couldn’t address any of my concerns, as I did not live in their district. I thought that was interesting. I wonder if a Senator or Representative thinks that when she is interviewed by a news program?


Some on the political right think that we should be teaching “Intelligent Design” in the classroom as an alternative to Evolution. Is this wise since it is not even considered a valid theory by most scientists? Intelligent Design seems like a Theological issue not a Scientific one. Does the government have the right to dictate what our science teachers can teach? Also, do you think that if Intelligent Design is a valid theory or alternative to Evolution then wouldn’t a mandatory section of World Religions be just as valid a subject in Social Studies class to give students a sense of what other religious ideas are available and practiced? As long as we are on the subject of alternatives, shouldn't we be teaching the basic concepts of Buddhism, Hindu and Native American Creation Stories too?


Below see some comments collected from various people I posed this question to. Mr. Michael Shermer, Publisher of the Skeptic Magazine answered first before the bell went off. Thak you Mr. Shermer.

Opinion Editorial, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, August 7, 2005

“Why God’s in a Class by Himself.”

By Michael Shermer

Intelligent Design (ID) creationism has resurfaced in the news again after President George W. Bush’s remarks were (mis)taken by IDers to be a solid endorsement by the president for the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms. (Bush’s science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, said in a telephone interview that “evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology” and “intelligent design is not a scientific concept.”)
There was considerable media hype over the story, and I did a number of interviews, including a query from a reporter who asked for my opinion about whether one can believe in God and the theory of evolution. I replied that, empirically speaking, yes you can, the proof being that 40 percent of American scientists profess belief in God and also accept the theory of evolution, not to mention the fact that most of the world’s one billion Catholics believe in God and accept the theory of evolution. But then this reporter wanted to know is if it is logically consistent to believe in God and the theory of evolution. That is, does the theory of evolution—if carried out to its logical conclusion—preclude belief in God? This is a different question. Here is my answer.

You can believe in God and evolution as long as you keep the two in separate logic-tight compartments. Belief in God depends on religious faith. Belief in evolution depends on empirical evidence. This is the fundamental difference between religion and science. If you attempt to reconcile religion and science on questions about nature and the universe, and if you push the science to its logical conclusion, you will end up naturalizing the deity because for any question about nature—the origins of the universe, life, humans, whatever—if your answer is “God did it,” a scientist will ask, “How did God do it?, What forces did God use? What forms of matter and energy were employed in the creation process?” and so forth. The end result of this inquiry can only be natural explanations for all natural phenomena. What place, then, for God?

One could argue that God is the laws and forces of nature, which is logically acceptable, but this is pantheism and not the type of personal God to which most people profess belief. One could also argue that God created the universe and life using the laws and forces of nature as his creation tools, which is also logically fine, but it leaves us with additional scientific questions: which laws and forces were used to create specific natural phenomena, and in what matter were they used? how did God create the laws and forces of nature? A scientist would be curious to know God’s recipe for, say, gravity, or for a universe or a cell. For that matter, it is a legitimate scientific question to ask: what made God, and how was God created? How do you make an omniscient and omnipotent being? Finally, one could argue that God is outside of nature—super nature, or supernatural—and therefore needs no explanation. This is also logically consistent, but by definition it means that the God question is outside of science and therefore religion and science are separate and incompatible.

Bottom line: teach science in science classes, teach religion in religion classes.

Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine (, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and the author of How We Believe, The Science of Good and Evil, and Science Friction (Henry Holt/Times Books).

Here is a very well put counterpoint to my Topic by Rich Deem over at God And Science Website. I wanted to hear from people who would be opposed to my argument as well as people who agree. Thanks for contributing Rich. Just as a note, when Rich checked my website the post wasn't up yet because I had some trouble getting the post published to the site.


Intelligent design has nothing to do with creation stories and does not posit a specific means by which the designer accomplished design. Like many other writers, you don't seem to understand the nature of ID, but assume it is religion in disguise. ID is not inherently religious (in fact, it is theoretically possible that some non-supernatural intelligent species designed life on earth sometime in the past). I am a creationist and am not part of the ID movement, although I recognize that ID may provide evidence that is of interest to me

As it stands now, there is a fair amount of data supporting intelligent design in cosmology, with several cosmologists already having published studies in this discipline.

In my opinion, there is not enough rigorous evidence for intelligent design in biology to justify its teaching in the classroom. Such evidence would consist of the genetic design of irreducibly complex systems whose components were genetically unrelated without functional predecessors among related organisms. The ability to detect such systems will probably be possible within the next decade and might even be possible today, given the sequencing of a number of complete genomes. However, it is unlikely that such research would be supported by federal granting agencies because of a preconceived bias against even the possibility that intelligent design exists.

As a Christian, I am perfectly content exercising my first amendment rights by publishing how the scientific evidence supports the Christian worldview and creation model. A religious view that cannot be supported in the free marketplace of ideas is not worthy of faith. I do not support the establishment of any particular religious interpretation by the government schools, since it is possible that the one established might not be Christian.

I did not see any blog on this topic at your link and hope you will consider this e-mail before making the same foolish claims that so many make regarding ID and the religious connection.

Rich Deem