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Fifth-Column Fascists...

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Existentialism, Fascism, Human Rights, Propaganda

Note: I will be attending the funeral of my brother-in-law. I will take a blog break to mourn.

[A] fifth column, clandestine group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation’s solidarity by any means at their disposal. The term is conventionally credited to Emilio Mola Vidal, a Nationalist general during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). As four of his army columns moved on Madrid, the general referred to his militant supporters within the capital as his “fifth column,” intent on undermining the loyalist government from within.

A cardinal technique of the fifth column is the infiltration of sympathizers into the entire fabric of the nation under attack and, particularly, into positions of policy decision and national defense. From such key posts, fifth-column activists exploit the fears of a people by spreading rumors and misinformation, as well as by employing the more standard techniques of espionage and sabotage. Source: Britannica.com

When I saw this, it was usually on a UHF channel after school. The subtle racist trope against Japan happens at the 2:42 mark, tarnishing its brilliance. (In light of our current appeal to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I'm preparing you for the shock.) The cartoon was produced in 1943, and the stated Axis powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan. Inclusivity wasn't the point: rage to continue the fight, then, and now, delivers a potent message. The cartoon served as a simple illustration of what a fifth column infiltrator, or in this case, internal grey-colored collaborator mouse, A.K.A. Tucker Carlson, looks like.

Tucker Carlson again questions why the US would side with Ukraine over Russia, Sinéad Baker, Insider.com

"My office is now getting calls from folks who say they watch Tucker Carlson and are upset that we're not siding with Russia in its threats to invade Ukraine, and who want me to support Russia's 'reasonable' positions," Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) said in a tweet on Monday afternoon.

Democrat says Tucker Carlson viewers telling his office the US should side with Russia, Dominick Mastrangelo, TheHill.com

Do you know whose parents immigrated from Ukraine? Leonard Nimoy, who gave us the "live long and prosper" Mr. Spock salute from his Jewish synagogue traditions.

Public-opinion polling shows that Trump’s low opinion of American elections has practically become Republican Party orthodoxy. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, Republicans have an “unprecedented” level of “concern and mistrust in the system.” Roughly 70 percent of Republican voters believe that if Hillary Clinton wins the election, it’ll be due to fraud. In both this poll and an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, only half of Republicans say they’d accept a Clinton victory. (In the latter poll, by contrast, 82 percent of Democrats said they would accept a Trump victory.)

This suspicious Republican electorate is joined by growing ranks of conservative politicians, pundits, and intellectuals. They’re all increasingly willing to say that the existing American political system is hopelessly flawed and needs to be rolled back to the days before blacks and women could vote. On the most obvious level, this can be seen in moves by Republican governors all over America to make voting more difficult, through stringent voting ID laws, new hurdles to registration, and the curtailment of early-voting options. Equally significant has been the gutting of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act by conservative Supreme Court justices in the 2013 Shelby Country v. Holder ruling.

The Right Is Giving Up on Democracy, Jeet Heer, The New Republic, October 24, 2016

Speaking of mice: Tennessee is blocking the graphic novel, Maus (I ordered it). 1/27/2022 yesterday was the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones is being referred to BY name and blocked. Reich Wing governments in red states are blocking Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" and "Beloved." "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee can hurt fragile feelings, this sentiment from people who mocked the left, and wore t-shirts to tell us: "F Your Feelings." Yeah.

On Wednesday, the Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. appeared on Oprah Winfrey's celebratory post-election special. After learning the news, Gates says, "we jumped up, we wept, we hooped and hollered." It is hard to overestimate the historical significance of the election of the first black U.S. President. For many blacks, and certainly, for much of the country and world, Obama's victory is an extraordinary step toward the redemption of America's original 400-year-old sin. It is astonishing not least for its quickness, coming just 145 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation effectively ending slavery and four decades after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. And it is even more astonishing for its decisiveness — Obama carried Virginia, once the home of the Confederacy, a place whose laws just five decades ago would have made the interracial union of his parents illegal. (See pictures of Barack Obama's family tree.)

What Obama's Election Really Means to Black America, Steven Gray, TIME, November 6, 2008

What Obama's election meant to White America was the eruption of racist tropes in the form of Obama-as-Hitler, Obama-as-Medicine-Man-Voodoo-Mystic, Obama-hung-in-effigy. The right-Reich-wing echo chamber kicked into high gear on television, podcasts, the Internet, and AM talk radio. White America was telling Black America precisely what they thought of having a black president. We weren't in "post-racial America," and the years of detente between the cultures was a smokescreen, a strong delusion.

Despite the fact that the 46th president has appointed more judges than any other president, despite the fact that the economy has grown faster than my senior year in college as an undergrad (1984), the Orwellian programming has his numbers in the statistical toilet. My theory is because 1. he's competent, 2. he's boring, which is largely what he promised after four years of 140-character COVFEFE-misspelled rage tweeting and genuflecting to Vladimir Putin from his megalomaniacal predecessor. What matters in our entertainment-first-news-later fourth estate of "journalism" is rage viewing, ratings, and clicks. We have forgotten what "normal" looks like if we ever knew.

We are ignoring the fifth column among us. They are armed. They want to "take their country back," as Glenn Beck (unvaccinated, caught covid TWO times) led chants at the Lincoln Memorial on August 27, 2010. "In 2012, a Fairleigh Dickinson University survey reported that Fox News viewers were less informed about current events than people who didn't follow the news at all." (This is FORBES! Read that again at the link.) The fifth column is pissed that they have to now share with "others": African Americans, Asian Americans, First Nation Peoples, Hispanics, Immigrants, LGBT, women, and haven't shared well since kindergarten. Sharing power is what happens when a democracy diversifies, and they have shown - from their electorate, their elected officials, their contrived laws to block votes, their propaganda outlets, and their brown shirts, to have little interest in doing that.

Watch what you're watching

Fox keeps feeding us toxins

Stop sleepingStart thinking outside of the box

And unplug from the Matrix doctrine

But watch what you say,

Big Brother is watching

Watch what you're watching

Fox keeps feeding us toxins
Stop sleeping
Start thinking outside of the box
And unplug from the Matrix doctrine
But watch what you say,

Fox Five is watching

"Sly Fox," by Nas, Genius Lyrics, and YouTube

We are whistling in the dark on the road to fascism.

2 Thessalonians 2:11 "And for this, cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had to pleasure in unrighteousness."

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Voltaire

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RNA and Covid-19...

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NIST researcher Megan Cleveland uses a PCR machine to amplify DNA sequences by copying them numerous times through a series of chemical reactions.
Credit: M. Cleveland/NIST

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, COVID-19, Diversity in Science, NIST, Research, Women in Science

Scientists track and monitor the circulation of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using methods based on a laboratory technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Also used as the “gold standard” test to diagnose COVID-19 in individuals, PCR amplifies pieces of DNA by copying them numerous times through a series of chemical reactions. The number of cycles it takes to amplify DNA sequences of interest so that they are detectable by the PCR machine, known as the cycle threshold (Ct), is what researchers and medical professionals look at to detect the virus.

However, not all labs get the same Ct values (sometimes also called “Cq” values). In efforts to make the results more comparable between labs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) contributed to a multiorganizational study that looked at anchoring these Ct values to a reference sample with known amounts of the virus.

Researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus: Its genetic material is single-stranded instead of double-stranded like DNA and contains some different molecular building blocks, namely uracil in place of thymine. But the PCR test only works with DNA, and labs first must convert the RNA to DNA to screen for COVID-19. For the test, RNA is isolated from a patient’s sample and combined with other ingredients, including short DNA sequences are known as primers, to transform the RNA into DNA.

RNA Reference Materials Are Useful for Standardizing COVID-19 Tests, Study Shows, NIST

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Aharonov-Bohm Effect

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A quantum probe for gravity: Physicists have detected a tiny phase shift in atomic wave packets due to gravity-induced relativistic time dilation – an example of the Aharonov-Bohm effect in action. (Courtesy: Shutterstock/Evgenia Fux)

Topics: General Relativity, Gravity, Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics

The idea that particles can feel the influence of potentials even without being exposed to a force field may seem counterintuitive, but it has long been accepted in physics thanks to experimental demonstrations involving electromagnetic interactions. Now physicists in the US have shown that this so-called Aharonov-Bohm effect also holds true for a much weaker force: gravity. The physicists based their conclusion on the behavior of freefalling atomic wave packets, and they say the result suggests a new way of measuring Newton’s gravitational constant with far greater precision than was previously possible.

Yakir Aharonov and David Bohm proposed the effect that now bears their name in 1959, arguing that while classical potentials have no physical reality apart from the fields they represent, the same is not true in the quantum world. To make their case, the pair proposed a thought experiment in which an electron beam in a superposition of two wave packets is exposed to a time-varying electrical potential (but no field) when passing through a pair of metal tubes. They argued that the potential would introduce a phase difference between the wave packets and therefore lead to a measurable physical effect – a set of interference fringes – when the wave packets are recombined.

Seeking a gravitational counterpart

In the latest research, Mark Kasevich and colleagues at Stanford University show that the same effect also holds true for gravity. The platform for their experiment is an atom interferometer, which uses a series of laser pulses to split, guide and recombine atomic wave packets. The interference from these wave packets then reveals any change in the relative phase experienced along the two arms.

Physicists detect an Aharonov-Bohm effect for gravity, Edwin Cartlidge, Physics World

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DUNE...

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Image Source: Fermilab, and link below

Topics: Fermilab, High Energy Physics, Modern Physics, Neutrinos, Particle Physics

Solving big mysteries

The Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment is an international flagship experiment to unlock the mysteries of neutrinos. DUNE will be installed in the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, under construction in the United States. DUNE scientists will paint a clearer picture of the universe and how it works. Their research may even give us the key to understanding why we live in a matter-dominated universe — in other words, why we are here at all.

DUNE will pursue three major science goals: find out whether neutrinos could be the reason the universe is made of matter; look for subatomic phenomena that could help realize Einstein’s dream of the unification of forces; and watch for neutrinos emerging from an exploding star, perhaps witnessing the birth of a neutron star or a black hole.

DUNE at LBNF, Fermilab

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Cosmic Existentialism...

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An illustration of a black hole and its event horizon. (Image credit: Nicholas Forder/Future Publishing)

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Black Holes, Cosmology, Einstein, General Relativity

"Small" black holes are estimated to make up 1% of the universe's matter.

Scientists have estimated the number of "small" black holes in the universe. And no surprise: It's a lot.

This number might seem impossible to calculate; after all, spotting black holes is not exactly the simplest task. Because there are as pitch-black as the space they lurk in, the light swallowing cosmic goliaths can be detected only under the most extraordinary circumstances — like when they're bending the light around them, snacking on the unfortunate gases and stars that stray too close, or spiraling toward enormous collisions that unleash gravitational waves.

But that hasn't stopped scientists from finding some ingenious ways to guess the number. Using a new method, outlined Jan. 12 in The Astrophysical Journal, a team of astrophysicists has produced a fresh estimate for the number of stellar-mass black holes — those with masses 5 to 10 times that of the sun — in the universe.

And it's astonishing: 40,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 40 quintillions, stellar-mass black holes populate the observable universe, making up approximately 1% of all normal matter, according to the new estimate.

So how did the scientists arrive at that number? By tracking the evolution of stars in our universe they estimated how often the stars — either on their own or paired into binary systems — would transform into black holes, said first author Alex Sicilia, an astrophysicist at the International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy.

40 quintillion stellar-mass black holes are lurking in the universe, a new study finds, Ben Turner, Space.com

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Dyson Sphere Feedback...

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Image: Artist’s impression of a Dyson sphere under construction. Credit: Steve Bowers.

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Dyson Sphere, SETI

Although the so-called Dysonian SETI has been much in the air in recent times, its origins date back to the birth of SETI itself. It was in 1960 – the same year that Frank Drake used the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia to study Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti – that Freeman Dyson proposed the Dyson sphere. In fiction, Olaf Stapledon had considered such structures in his novel Star Maker in 1937. As Macy Huston and Jason Wright (both at Penn State) remind us in a recent paper, Dyson’s idea of energy-gathering structures around an entire star evolved toward numerous satellites around the star rather than a (likely unstable) single spherical shell.

We can’t put the brakes on what a highly advanced technological civilization might do, so both solid sphere and ‘swarm’ models can be searched for, and indeed have been, for in SETI terms we’re looking for infrared waste heat. And if we stick with Dyson (often a good idea!), we would be looking for structures orbiting in a zone where temperatures would range in the 200-300 K range, which translates into searching at about 10 microns, the wavelength of choice. But Huston and Wright introduce a new factor, the irradiation from the interior of the sphere onto the surface of the star.

This is intriguing because it extends our notions of Dyson spheres well beyond the habitable zone as we consider just what an advanced civilization might do with them. It also offers up the possibility of new observables. So just how does such a Dyson sphere return light back to a star, affecting its structure and evolution? If we can determine that, we will have a better way to predict these potential observables. As we adjust the variables in the model, we can also ponder the purposes of such engineering.

Think of irradiation as Dyson shell ‘feedback.’ We immediately run into the interesting fact that adding energy to a star causes it to expand and cool. The authors explain this by noting that total stellar energy is a sum of thermal and gravitational energies. Let’s go straight to the paper on this. In the clip below, E* refers to the star’s total energy, with Etherm being thermal energy:

When energy is added to a star (E increases), gravitational energy increases and thermal energy decreases, so we see the star expand and cool both overall (because Etherm is lower) and on its surface (because being larger at the same or a lower luminosity its effective temperature must drop). A larger star should also result in less pressure on a cooler core, so we also expect its luminosity to decrease.

Dyson Sphere ‘Feedback’: A Clue to New Observables? Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams

Evolutionary and Observational Consequences of Dyson Sphere Feedback, Macy Huston, Jason Wright, Astrophysical Journal

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Exomoon Two...

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Artist’s impression of an exomoon (left) orbiting a giant planet around a distant star. Credit: Helena Valenzuela Widerström

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Exomoon, Exoplanets

And then there were two—maybe. Astronomers say they have found a second plausible candidate for a moon beyond our solar system, an exomoon, orbiting a world nearly 6,000 light-years from Earth. Called Kepler-1708 b-i, the moon appears to be a gas-dominated object, slightly smaller than Neptune, orbiting a Jupiter-sized planet around a sunlike star—an unusual but not wholly unprecedented planet-moon configuration. The findings appear in Nature Astronomy. Confirming or refuting the result may not be immediately possible, but given the expected abundance of moons in our galaxy and beyond, it could further herald the tentative beginnings of an exciting new era of extrasolar astronomy—one focused not on alien planets but on the natural satellites that orbit them and the possibilities of life therein.

There are more than 200 moons in our solar system, and they have an impressive array of variations. Saturn’s moon Titan possesses a thick atmosphere and frigid hydrocarbon seas on its surface, possibly an analog of early Earth. Icy moons such as Jupiter’s Europa are frozen balls that hide subsurface oceans, and they may be prime habitats for life to arise. Others still, such as our own moon, are apparently barren wastelands but could have water ice in their shadowed craters and maze-like networks of tunnels running underground. An important shared trait among these worlds, however, is their mere existence: six of the eight major planets of our solar system have moons. Logic would suggest the same should be true elsewhere. “Moons are common,” says Jessie Christiansen of the California Institute of Technology. “In our solar system, almost everything has a moon. I am very confident that moons are everywhere in the galaxy.”

Astronomers Have Found Another Possible ‘Exomoon’ beyond Our Solar System, Jonathan O'Callaghan, Scientific American

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I am happy to announce that I have a new short story posted on my official writing blog. It's a tale of adventure on the high seas, set in the Red Sea between Africa and Arabia around 100 AD. The protagonist is a Kushite admiral hunting down Arabian pirates to avenge the loss of her brother, but little is she prepared for what really happened to him...

You can read the full story here. But allow me to give you a tasty sample of it below:

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100 AD

A commotion buzzed at the edge of the trading souq next to the harbor of al-Mukha on the southwestern coast of Arabia. All eyes of the spectators followed a slender galley of ebony fringed with gold and inlaid ivory as it slid and anchored beside one of the earthen quays. On its billowing crimson sail glowered the gold face of a ram supporting the sun on its horns, the royal insignia of Kush.

It was by no means unusual for a Kushite vessel to dock at al-Mukha. Plenty of merchants from all sides of the Red Sea and beyond would flock to the Himyarite port to sell their wares and restock for the next trip. Yet the black galley that had come in was a rare giant that would have dwarfed the typical merchantman, never mind the puny native dhows. Above the deck glimmered the iron-bladed spears, axes, and swords of the soldiers aboard.

Once they laid the gangplank down, there descended a svelte woman whose skin was dark as the galley itself, with her short ringlets of frizzy hair reddened with ocher. The black-spotted red sash around her bosom bound a bow and quiver to her back while a slim sword rested along her white linen skirt. From her neck hung a string of ivory fly-shaped medals that honored her as a fighting champion of Kush.

After the woman followed her entourage of spearmen with oval cowhide shields. As she and her bodyguards advanced up the quay, the audience that had watched their arrival parted to give them as broad a berth as they could, with nervous murmurs in Himyarite Arabic passing between the spectators.

Placing both hands on her hip, the woman cleared her throat with her head held up. “I am Nensela, Admiral of Kush. You need not fear anything, for we mean you no harm. We come to al-Mukha with only two purposes: to resupply and to find information.”

From the ranks of the crowd, a white-bearded local shot his bony hand up. “What do you mean by ‘information’, my lady?”

Nensela pulled out a scroll of papyrus from her belt and unfolded it, revealing a painted illustration of a blue scorpion with claws serrated like a lobster’s. “Have any of you ever heard of the Scorpions of the Sea?”

Most of the people dispersed back to the souq while the old man squinted at the scroll, his tawny face blanching a shade paler. “By Rahmanan, who in al-Mukha hasn’t? They come here every season. Are they wanted?”

Nensela marched to him with her hand clenched on her sword’s hilt. “I hope you are not feigning ignorance with me, old man. You ought to know they’ve been a menace for generations. Why, I lost my little brother to them! So, please, tell me everything you know!”

The old Himyarite scratched the back of his keffiyeh and shook his head. “The truth is, I recall not when they last dropped by. But Hussein the pot merchant may know. He’s done business with them more than once. I’d look for him in the northeast part of the souq, over there.”

He pointed his walking stick in the direction of the souq‘s far corner.

Nensela tossed him a bag of silver. “May Amun bless you for your aid, then.”

The souq of al-Mukha was a bustling maze of people thronging between rows of stalls that were shaded with awnings of sagging cloth. Most of the traders and their customers were native Himyarites and other Arabs, along with similar-looking peoples such as Judaeans, Phoenicians, and Mesopotamians. Yet speckled amid the bronze-faced majority were darker-skinned nationalities such as Kemetians, Aksumites, and even a few Kushites, the latter of whom saluted Nensela and her men as they passed. The fragrances of perfume, fresh fruit, and cooked meat mixed in the air with the less pleasant odors of fish, musty cloth, and camels being dragged about on rope leashes.

Over the chatter of the customers and the music of trilling flutes, twanging lyres, and banging drums, Nensela heard a man yell about having the finest collection of ceramics along the Red Sea. That must have been the pot merchant the old man at the docks had cited.

Taking advantage of her feminine wile, she smiled and swayed her hips as she sauntered towards his stall. “You wouldn’t happen to be a handsome gentleman by the name of Hussein, would you?”

A toothy grin spread across the man’s pudgy face as he nodded. “Well, aren’t you a welcome sight around here! Of course, it is I, Hussein bin Abdullah. Why, did someone recommend my wares to you?”

All over his stall and beside it stood stacks of almost every ceramic form that could be found all over the known world. Wide-topped Kemetian jars inscribed with hieroglyphic texts sat beside orange-and-black Greek vases, Chinese porcelain, and native Arabian oil lamps with elongated nozzles. Nensela noticed there were also some Kushite bowls on display, distinguished from the rest by their black tops grading to red towards the bottom. She could not help but pick one of them up, for it had reminded her of the bowls her mother would make for her and her brother Akhraten to eat from when they were children.

Those were simpler, happier times. But they had fallen into the past. With them had gone Akhraten, all courtesy of the vile Sea Scorpions.

“My mother made pots like this,” Nensela said. “Where do you get these, my dear Hussein?”

Hussein’s eyes twitched sideways. “I’m afraid my suppliers wish to remain anonymous.”

“Oh, is that so? Because I’ve been informed that you have connections with those known as the Sea Scorpions…”

“What? Don’t be silly, woman!”

Nensela slammed her hands onto the stall, shaking the stacks of pottery until some of it fell and shattered on the ground. “Tell me the truth, Hussein bin Abdullah. When did you last deal with them?”

“I can’t say, but it isn’t them! I swear by Rahmanan, I would never profit from piracy!”

Nensela grabbed him by the collar of his tunic and hauled him off his feet. “Do not lie to me anymore! Tell me, for the safety of all around the Red Sea, whom you get your goods from. Do you hear me? Talk!”

Hands clapped as loud as the crack of thunder, and then the whole souq fell silent.

The one who had clapped was a stout Himyarite man, robed in black, with a white keffiyeh draped over the sides of his head. Everyone else in the souq stepped back to make way for him as he hurried towards Nensela and Hussein with a gentle smile under his gray-streaked mustache.

“There is no need for violence, my child,” he said. “Please put him down.”

Nensela obeyed with a grumble. “Please, do not call me ‘child’, for I am the Admiral of Kush. And I’ve good reason to believe this Hussein character is collaborating with pirates!”

“It is a lie, I assure you!” Hussein yelped.

“I will assess the truth of the matter later, Hussein bin Abdullah,” the black-robed man said. “Pardon me for my condescension there, O Admiral of Kush, but I am the Sheikh of al-Mukha. These are all my people, so I must implore you that you treat them with care while you are here.”

“You are the Sheikh?” Nensela bowed at the waist before him. “Then I must apologize for my behavior. I must admit I have little love for pirates, or those I am told are involved with their crimes.”

From the corner of her eye, she cast a glare at Hussein while he was picking up pieces of broken pottery. He repaid with a rude look of his own.

“You speak of pirates, Admiral? It so happens that I have information of my own on them,” the Sheikh of al-Mukha said. “And unlike that gentleman over there, I’ll be more than willing to share it…within the privacy of my own home, mind you. Why don’t you and your men come over for some refreshment after your long voyage?”

To be continued...

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Moments and Metaphors...

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Credit: Pete Saloutos/Getty Images

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Comets, Philosophy, Science Fiction

On a recent morning, in Lower Manhattan, 20 scientists, including me, gathered for a private screening of the new film Don’t Look Up, followed by lunch with the film’s director, Adam McKay.

The film’s plot is simple. An astronomy graduate student, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), and her professor, Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), discover a new comet and realize that it will strike the Earth in six months. It is about nine kilometers across, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The astronomers try to alert the president, played by Meryl Streep, to their impending doom.

“Let’s just sit tight and assess,” she says, and an outrageous, but believable comedy ensues, in which the astronomers wrangle an article in a major newspaper and are mocked on morning TV, with one giddy host asking about aliens and hoping that the comet will kill his ex-spouse.

At last, mainstream Hollywood is taking on the gargantuan task of combatting the rampant denial of scientific research and facts. Funny, yet deadly serious, Don’t Look Up is one of the most important recent contributions to popularizing science. It has the appeal, through an all-star cast and wicked comedy, to reach audiences that have different or fewer experiences with science.

Don’t Look Up isn’t a movie about climate change, but one about planetary defense from errant rocks in space. It handles that real and serious issue effectively and accurately. The true power of this film, though, is in its ferocious, unrelenting lampooning of science deniers.

After the screening, in that basement theater in SoHo, McKay said: “This film is for you, the scientists. We want you to know that some of us do hear you and do want to help fight science denialism.”

Hollywood Can Take On Science Denial: Don’t Look Up Is a Great Example, Rebecca Oppenheimer, curator, and professor of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History/Scientific American

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Strain and Flow...

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Topography of the two-dimensional crystal on top of the microscopically small wire indicated by dashed lines. Excitons freely move along the wire-induced dent, but cannot escape it in the perpendicular direction. (Courtesy: Florian Dirnberger)

Topics: Applied Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Electrical Engineering

Using a technique known as strain engineering, researchers in the US and Germany have constructed an “excitonic wire” – a one-dimensional channel through which electron-hole pairs (excitons) can flow in a two-dimensional semiconductor like water through a pipe. The work could aid the development of a new generation of transistor-like devices.

In the study, a team led by Vinod Menon at the City College of New York (CCNY) Center for Discovery and Innovation and Alexey Chernikov at the Dresden University of Technology and the University of Regensburg in Germany deposited atomically thin 2D crystals of tungsten diselenide (fully encapsulated in another 2D material, hexagonal boride nitride) atop a 100 nm-thin nanowire. The presence of the nanowire created a small, elongated dent in the tungsten diselenide by slightly pulling apart the atoms in the 2D material and so inducing strain in it. According to the study’s lead authors, Florian Dimberger and Jonas Ziegler, this dent behaves for excitons much like a pipe does for water. Once trapped inside, they explain, the excitons are bound to move along the pipe.

Strain guides the flow of excitons in 2D materials, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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I, Brandon S. Pilcher, would like to announce that I have a new historical-fiction novella out now. It's a romantic, action-packed, and multicultural tale set in southern Africa in the year 1215 AD, during the Middle Ages.

The Slave Prince of Zimbabwe

Hailing from the land known as Ruthenia in eastern Europe, Drazhan Khazanov has found himself forced into bondage and brought all the way to the Sultanate of Kilwa on the southeastern coast of Africa. His master the Sultan has offered him a chance at manumission if he can abduct the fierce and beautiful Mambokadzi of Zimbabwe. But when she foils Drazhan's attempts to capture her and offers him an alternate path to the freedom he craves, they find themselves confronting the wrath of not only his former master but also the mightiest empire in the medieval world.
 
You can read a couple of excerpts from the novella on my official writing blog, or hear them read out loud on Youtube:
 
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Endgame...

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Source: Marvel Disney Plus

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Existentialism, Human Rights, Fascism

Happy New Year, of a sort.

This kind of post would appear on a Friday, but it appears today on the one-year anniversary of an insurrection that one party that attempted it, is denying that they did try to overthrow the government.

"Problem 1. Suppose that we use a revolver with six chambers and one bullet. Calculate the probability of death of the first man mathematically.

"Suppose that players A and B play the game, and A is the first player. A takes up the gun in the first round and pulls the trigger. This time the probability of his death is 1/6.

"If A survives, then in the second round, B takes up the gun and does the same, and if B survives, then in the third round, A takes up the gun and does the same thing.

"Let’s calculate the probability of A’s death in the third round. If A is to die in the third round, A must survive the first round. The probability of survival for A in the first round is 5/6. After that, B has to survive in the second round. There are only five chambers and one bullet, so the probability of survival is 4/5. Then there are four chambers and one bullet, and the resulting probability of death is ¼.

"Therefore, the probability of death for A in the third round is 5/6 x 4/5 x ¼.

"As to the probability of A’s death in the fifth round, we can do almost the same calculation, and we get 5/6 x 4/5 x ¾ x 2/3 x ½.

"Finally, the probability of death of the first player A is 1/6 + (5/6 x 4/5 x ¼) + (5/6 x 4/5 x ¾ x 2/3 x ½) = 3/6 = ½."

From: "Elementary Theory of Russian Roulette: interesting patterns of fractions," Satoshi Hashiba, Daisuke Minematsu, Ryohei Miyadera

It's serendipity that the date of the modern attempted overthrow of our Democratic Republic, 1/6/2021, corresponds with "Russian" Roulette.

I've been asking myself this same question over again: "what is the endgame?" The Republican Party in 2016 at the influence of the convicted (and indebted) campaign manager, Paul Manifort, dropped any mention of opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine. In 2020, they opted for the "Seinfeld Platform" of nothing and garnered 7 million MORE votes than the previous attempt to usurp democracy.

In the summer of 2016, McCarthy endorsed Trump for President, but only after the In the summer of 2016, McCarthy endorsed Trump for President, but only after the interloper from New York had sewn up the nomination. A year later, it emerged that, in June of 2016, McCarthy had told some of his fellow members of the House Republican leadership that he believed—“swear to God”—that Trump was in the pay of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. When the Washington Post eventually reported about these comments, McCarthy tried to laugh them off as a joke.

The G.O.P. Can No Longer Be Relied On to Protect Democracy, John Cassidy, December 12, 2020, The New Yorker

The United States is marginally both a democratic republic and so-called "Christian" nation because of its slow expansion of citizenship to the marginalized: African American men, white women with the 19th Amendment, August 18, 1920, and black women finally with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Immigrants, LGBT, refugees are slowly gaining rights only afforded by our "Founding Fathers" (or narcissistic sociopaths) to "propertied white men." The current majority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has scheduled a vote to debate the Voting Rights Bills in the chamber, and if Moscow Mitch et al elected fascists follow past precedent, they will block the bill with a cowardly email. A workaround could be making the Republican Senators debate it on C-SPAN and explain WHY they DO NOT want the franchise to expand any further. They won't do that of course, essentially making opposition attack ads of themselves acting like buffoons, or mean tweeting Big Bird. It will likely be blocked by the tweedle dee, tweedle dumb dynamic duo of Mazarati Man-Chin, Firebrand liberal-turned-Blue Dog Kirsten Sinema, who seems to miss that "Don't Look UP" is a parody of politicians like herself.

The real answer is, even in the numerical majority in the Senate, republicans represent fewer actual voters than democrats. As of 2019, California registers 39.51 million citizens; Wyoming (Liz Cheney and her father's state) has 578,759. Each state gets two senators. So theoretically would Washington, DC at 692,683, more than Wyoming, but most likely, those senators would not be republicans, but democrats. And Republicans have only won the popular vote under the two Bush's, meaning their policies only appeal to oligarchs.

Tucker Carlson has almost given up the game by softball interviewing the authoritarian dictator Viktor Orbán on his propaganda network, then CPAC is going "full Borat" by hosting an American conservative conference in a foreign country that's NOT a democracy. Projection, much?

So, what's the endgame? Are we "fascism fluid"; "authoritarian curious"? I don't think we have to wait for more than one more round of this existential Russian republic roulette.

What happens to the other world democracies if the largest, most powerful in human history disintegrates into a pile of feces? I don't expect a band of family dysfunctional superheroes is going to save us. Nor do I think Bezos, Branson, or Musk are going to save humanity by cracking the mystery of "warp drive" (don't hold your breath). If they could, do you think they wouldn't CHARGE an exorbitant fee to ride The Enterprise? In this case, Bill Maher has a valid point. It's made us infantile and "Waiting for Godot."

Lastly, cute curtseys won't save us from being a proverb, a byword, and a laughable mistake. Franklin's statement: "A republic, if you can keep it" is currently in doubt.

 

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Martian Windmills...

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Artist's rendition of a future colony on Mars., e71lena via Shutterstock

Topics: Applied Physics, Energy, Mars, Space Exploration

(Inside Science) -- Mars is known for its dust storms, which can cause problems for lander equipment and block out the sun that fuels solar panels. These punishing storms, which can last for weeks, have already caused damage to equipment and even killed NASA’s Opportunity rover. But they could also be dangerous to astronauts on the ground, who would rely on solar power for oxygen, heat, and water cleansing during future missions.

Vera Schorbach, a professor of wind energy at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany, was curious to see whether wind turbines could harness the power of these storms, filling in for solar panels on the Red Planet during times of need.

"I asked myself, 'Why don't they have a wind turbine if they have dust storms,'" said Schorbach, the lead author of a study about the potential for wind power on Mars published recently in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Could martian dust storms help astronauts keep the lights on? Joshua Rapp Leam, Astronomy/Inside Science

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BOOK REVIEW: Infinitum, a graphic novel

9971532478?profile=RESIZE_710xA unique take on the graphic novel, Infinitum by Tim Fielder, is a stunning masterwork of science fiction. A hardcover book with clear and detailed graphics (one panel per page), Infinitum follows the never-ending life of Aja Oba, a king and legend of a man. It begins in his kingdom in Africa, where he longs for an heir, but his Queen is unable to bear children. Knowing that he has a child with one of his lovers, he takes the child from his mother, even as she begs Aja Oba not to. For this act, the lover curses Aja Oba. His fate, he can never truly die.

An outstanding leader and military strategist, Aja Oba is cursed to live a continuous life throughout the ages of humankind. His travels take him from Africa to the new world during the slave passage, to several world wars and into the vast future of humanity. Over the centuries, he watches his lovers and children die, while he is cursed to continue living. The artwork is stunning, the story captivating and Aja Oba intriguing to the end…of his life? You’ll have to read to find out. I highly recommend it.

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OIPCs and Janus...

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Topics: Battery, Energy, Green Tech, Research, Solid-State Physics

Janus, in Roman religion, the animistic spirit of doorways (januae) and archways (Jani). Janus and the nymph Camasene were the parents of Tiberinus, whose death in or by the river Albula caused it to be renamed Tiber. Source: Encylopedia Britannica

Over the past decade, lithium-ion batteries have seen stunning improvements in their size, weight, cost, and overall performance. (See Physics Today, December 2019, page 20.) But they haven’t yet reached their full potential. One of the biggest remaining hurdles has to do with the electrolyte, the material that conducts Li+ ions from anode to cathode inside the battery to drive the equal and opposite flow of charge in the external circuit.

Most commercial lithium-ion batteries use organic liquid electrolytes. The liquids are excellent conductors of Li+ ions, but they’re volatile and flammable, and they offer no defense against the whisker-like Li-metal dendrites that can build up between the electrodes and eventually short-circuit the battery. Because safety comes first, battery designers must sacrifice some performance in favor of not having their batteries catch fire.

A solid-state electrolyte could solve those problems. But what kind of solid conducts ions? An ordered crystal won’t do—when every site is filled in a crystalline lattice, Li+ ions have nowhere to move to. A solid electrolyte, therefore, needs to have a disordered, defect-riddled structure. It must also provide a polar environment to welcome the Li+ ions, but with no negative charges so strong that the Li+ ions stick to them and don’t let go.

For several years, Jenny PringleMaria Forsyth, and colleagues at Deakin University in Australia have been exploring a class of materials, called organic ionic plastic crystals (OIPCs), that could fit the bill. As a mix of positive and negative ions, an OIPC offers the necessary polar environment for conducting Li+. And because the constituent ions are organic, the researchers have lots of chemical leeways to design their shapes so they can’t easily fit together into a regular lattice but are forced to adopt a disordered, Li+-permeable structure.

Two-faced ions form a promising battery material, Johanna L. Miller, Physics Today

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From Redshift to Enlightenment...

Topics: Astrobiology, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Carl Sagan, James Webb Space Telescope, SETI

The relief was as deep as the stakes were high. At 7:20 A.M. (ET), the rocket carrying the largest, most ambitious space telescope in history cleared the launchpad in French Guiana, and the members of mission control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore roared their elation.

The suspense was not quite over. Half an hour postlaunch, the telescope still needed to decouple from its host rocket, after which it had to deploy solar panels to partly power its journey. Only after that first deployment proved successful, said a NASA spokesperson in a statement to Scientific American, would “we know we have a mission.”

Astronomers have more riding on the rocket than the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Also at risk is the viability of NASA’s vast space-science portfolio, if not the future of astronomy itself. As the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), JWST is one of those once-in-a-generation scientific projects that can strain the patience of government benefactors, as well as the responsible agency’s credibility, but also define a field for decades to come—and possibly redefine it forever.

The telescope that would become JWST was already under discussion even before HST launched in April 1990. By orbiting Earth, HST would have a line of sight free of the optical distortions endemic to our planet’s atmosphere. It would therefore be able to see farther across the universe (and, given that the speed of light is finite, farther back in time) than any terrestrial telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope Has Launched: Now Comes the Hard Part, Richard Panek, Scientific American

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Tardigrades and Qubits...

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(Credit: Giovanni Cancemi/Shutterstock) 

Topics: Biology, Condensed Matter Physics, Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics

Note: After presenting my research proposal and acceptance by my committee, I've been taking a well-needed break from blogging. I'll post on and off until the New Year, which isn't too far off. Happy holidays!

In recent years, evidence has emerged that quantum physics seems to play a role in some of life’s fundamental processes. But just how it might do this is something of a mystery.

On the one hand, quantum phenomena are generally so delicate that they can only be observed when all other influences are damped – in other words in carefully controlled systems at temperatures close to absolute zero. By contrast, the conditions for life are generally complex, warm, and damp. Understanding this seemingly contradictory state of affairs is an important goal.

So physicists and biologists are keen to explore the boundaries of these very different regimes—life and quantum mechanics—to better understand where they might overlap.

Now Rainer Dumke at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and colleagues have created an exotic quantum state called entanglement using a superconducting qubit and a microscopic animal called a tardigrade. Along the way, the team has created the most extreme form of suspended animation ever recorded. “The tardigrade itself is shown to be entangled with the remaining subsystems,” they say.

To perform their entanglement experiment, Dumke and co cooled their tardigrade to below 10 millikelvins, almost to absolute zero, while reducing the pressure to a millionth of that in the atmosphere. In these conditions, no chemical reaction can occur so the tardigrade’s metabolism must have entirely halted stopped and the processes of life halted.

“This is to date the most extreme exposure to low temperatures and pressures that a tardigrade has been recorded to survive, clearly demonstrating that the state of cryptobiosis ultimately involves a suspension of all metabolic processes given that all chemical reactions would be prohibited with all its constituent molecules cooled to their ground states,” say the researchers.

In this condition, the tardigrade can be thought of as a purely dielectric element. Indeed, the researchers simulated their experiment by treating the tardigrade as a dielectric cube.

The experimental setup consisted of two superconducting capacitors, which when cooled can exist in a superposition of states called a qubit. They placed the tardigrade between the capacitor plates of one qubit so that it became an integral part of the capacitor. The team was then able to measure the effect of the tardigrade on the qubit’s properties.

How a Tardigrade "Micro Animal" Became Quantum Entangled with Superconducting Qubit, The Physics AriXiv Blog, Discovery Magazine

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