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Saturday, March 22, 2014
Current Affairs ...

Just a few thoughts and comments on the world events of the past week. Well, I’ll start out with some non-thoughts about to the disappearance of Flight 370. I’m a born analyst and I’ve posted my theories on many a mystery on these pages. But that situation seems to defy all common sense.

To review: the latest satellite debris photos and the final “ping” data received from the 777 by the monitoring satellite indicate that the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, between Australia and Antarctica. And yet, the last military radar info indicted that the plane was flying on a north-west heading, after crossing the Malaysia peninsula on a due-west diversion from its normal south to north path to Beijing. This doesn’t look like a terrorist plot, since no credible group is taking credit. Even if it was a bungled attempt, say to crash the plane into an Indian city, most terror groups would still take “second prize” credit for bringing down a big commercial airliner. It would still be a “trophy” and an act of heroism in the sick world of terrorism. But blank silence on that account.

And yet, blank silence from the 777 flight too, even though the plane was well within aviation radio range when it went thru all the course deviations. If there were smoke from a fire (say from the lithium batteries in the cargo bay), or a hi-jacking going on, you would have expected the crew to have reported it; I’ve never heard of a flight emergency where at least one crew member did not immediately make a call, using the pilot’s main navigation radio or the crew’s secondary channels to airline headquarters. Even if these systems were blocked from use by the hi-jacker, you would have expected a cell phone call from a suspicious passenger or cabin crew member to have gotten thru (unless the plane really did climb well above 30,000 feet, as the military radar indicated; but the varying altitude readings from that radar are considered suspect). In reality, nothing, blank, nada.

If the plane really did wind up in the far southern Indian Ocean as the Aussie and Chinese satellite photos now hint (this guy thinks the 70-foot objects are capsized abandoned yachts), the only scenario I could imagine would be a malicious hi-jacking by a demented passenger who someone got some kind of weapon or explosive device aboard. I could imagine that this lone-wolf malefactor would have demanded a turn to the west (and a turning off the transponder and ACARS transmitter, if this evil hi-jacker was smart), once again to cause mayhem somewhere in India or southern China. As the plane flew over the Bay of Bengal after zig-zagging at the aviation way points (let’s say that this brilliant, evil hi-jacker demanded that the plane stay on established commercial routes so as not to raise any suspicion on military radar – which in fact was the case for the mid-directed Flight 370), let’s imagine that a heroic struggle ensued against the postulated hi-jacker. In that imagined struggle, the hi-jacker was initially subdued, but broke free long enough to damage the aircraft and doom the crew and passengers.

How? Let’s say that in his evil spite, this overwhelmed, suicidal hi-jacker somehow caused a rapid decompression event (perhaps by setting off a small explosive charge at an emergency door?). The passengers might have been mostly sleeping and oblivious to all of this, especially if it all transpired in the cockpit. After realizing what happened, the pilot or co-pilot (perhaps one of the two were incapacitated in the struggle), in his last seconds before passing out, may have turned the plane south to avoid crashing into India or any other populated area. Perhaps the next step after that turn was to get on the radio, but there was not enough time before oxygen deprivation took hold . . .

So OK, I do have a theory after all. But it’s one that even I don’t believe (although someone on a professional pilot’s discussion board basically does). However, I don’t believe any of the other theories either. My sympathies are with the families and friends of those who were on that plane; these past few weeks are obviously like being in Hell for them. They badly need some closure. I hope it comes soon. One way or another, this one is going to involve something of the unexpected.

Next: on a happier note, physicists and cosmologists are all abuzz about the initial findings from a South Pole astronomical observatory, indicating that they have identified gravity waves left over from the universe’s creation event. This experiment, called “BICEP2”, was supposedly able to return data at a very high level of confidence picking out the signatures of gravity waves amidst the polarization patterns in the cosmic microwave background radiation, which comes at us from all points in the sky. Of course, the boffins now go thru a period of cross-analysis, while further information from other study teams and information sources are awaited (including the PLANCK satellite, which will soon release more polarization data from its orbital observations of the cosmic background).

But if this finding is substantiated and accepted as “scientific truth”, it will tell us a lot about what was going on as the universe that we know and can observe first came into existence. In effect, we will start seeing a bit beyond the “Big Bang”, to the hypothesized “Big Inflation” conditions that first created the time and space settings for the Big Bang to occur in. Supposedly a little bit of this inflaton field might still be active today, as seen by the “dark energy” accelerating expansion of the size of the universe that we can observe; there’s probably a lot beyond what we can observe. (Dark energy expansion was the big cosmology discovery of the late 1990’s.)

Perhaps the theme song to the “Big Bang Theory” show will have to be revised. Right now the first line of the song goes “The Whole Thing Started In A Hot, Dense State”; if the pre-inflation theory holds up, then the whole thing really got started in a cold, empty bubble of space vacuum that was being created from a quasi-energy field, where even time and space did not exist. The hot, dense state came only as this strange “inflaton” field got drained enough such that it started creating and pumping energy particles into that space, instead of creating even more new space.

So anyway, we keep on making new findings and we learn more and more about the complexities of physical reality. With every finding, the whole picture gets more and more complex. Once upon a time the universe could be summarized in the first chapter or two of the Book of Genesis. In the early 16th Century, Isaac Newton gave us a set of mathematical physics regarding movement and gravity, followed about 100 years later by the theories of light and radiation by James Clerk Maxwell. Together, those ideas seemed to explain it all. It was more complex than Genesis, but not all that terrible; not beyond the capabilities of any person with a decent university education to understand (which admittedly was very hard to get back then).

Then came Einstein and said, wait a minute, it isn’t as simple as Newton and Maxwell made it seem; we need to add relativistic effects and limits on the speed of light. A few years later it got even worse when Bohr, Schrodenger, Heisenberg and the quantum crowd told us that the micro-world was totally off the hook, that it was sort of wave-like AND particle-like at the same time; but they came up with complicated equations that got a grasp on all this weirdness. Ever since then, it has gotten even more complex, with anti-matter and quarks and neutrinos, dark matter, the Higgs particle and field, inflation, superstring M theory, and maybe soon, a super-symmetric particle zoo to go along with the Standard Model particle zoo.

Thus, it is an incredible, highly intricate and complex story that our cosmologists and physicists now tell us about what our universe is made of, how it works, and how it got started. Various scientists are making a name for themselves by sharing the wonderment, awe and reverence that they feel towards it all (e.g., the new “Cosmos” series by the popular astronomer Neil Tyson deGrasse).

And yet, I can’t help but sense the irony of this if it does turn out that reality isn’t so really-real after all. I myself have been very impressed by the “it from bit” theories and the other speculation from real scientists saying that at bottom, the world is made up of information – nothing else! (Cosmologist Max Tegmark gives an overview of this idea in his recent book.) Research on black holes point in this direction. The loop quantum gravity alternative to string theory also hints at it through its mathematical “spin-networks” and foams which specify the architecture of space itself. Our perceptions of reality would thus be akin to a hologram. The “Matrix” movie scenario wouldn’t be all that far off. To the degree that “external reality” does exist, it would amount to some sort of information field or grid, a program interacting with itself something like a cellular automaton computer simulation (which are fun, you can set up a simple cellular automaton right on an Excel spreadsheet).

If that in fact turns out to be true . . . well, then all the cosmological grandeur of gravity waves streaming across vast expanses filled with dark matter and billions and billions of galaxies and quad-zillions of entangled, interacting quantum particles, will all turn out to be . . . a story, a tale told by a complex universe-generating computer program. A very interesting and involved story, no doubt, but nothing more than that. In the end, the fact that we are conscious and self-aware will be the thing of ultimate “ontological” significance. Consciousness may yet turn out to be the dog that wags the universe’s tail. But I also believe that time does in fact exist and is real and substantial. Time would be necessary if our stories are not totally pre-determined; if the events of our lives in our universe are in fact being made up as we go along, and thus really do have dignity and importance to them. The physicists go back and forth on whether time really means anything. I believe that it does.

But as to whether the BICEP2 discovery of gravity waves really means as much at the highest philosophical levels as the physicists and cosmologists make of it . . . well, hey, let them have their fun. But their own hologram theories of black hole dynamics and their own ultimate quantum blueprints behind “time-space-matter-and-energy” point to a realm of pure interacting information digits. If that is the case, well, then Descartes is the last man standing. We THINK (or better said, we FEEL ALIVE, we are conscious) . . . therefore WE ARE.

Next, how about Russia and the Ukraine? What to do there? Well, I don’t want to see a war happen. But then again, Putin is ready to draw blood from his people, and he knows that we are not. I hate to say it, but right now I have to tip my hat a bit towards those who want to get tough with Russia . . . as opposed to those (like John Kerry) who imply that if we keep on treating Putin like an adult member of the world community, and sanction him as if he is guilty of a minor misdemeanor and not a rape committed in lust for a new empire, then he will grow up.

Not that I would roll our tanks if Russia does grab more of the eastern Ukraine provinces (or accomplishes it thru further “secession votes” following pro-Russian agitation). But I myself don’t think that a divided Ukraine would be such a terrible thing. Other writers seem to agree, see here and here and here. Let the Ukrainians peacefully divide themselves into a West Ukraine and an East Ukraine. Let the old industrial-economy east cling to mother Russia, and let them see how far that gets them. Let’s see how they like becoming another Belarus. In the mean time, we can invest in Western Ukraine, hopefully turn it into the next Poland and Hungary . . . and yes, admit it to NATO. Let’s draw a line and be ready for blood if Vlady himself is ready. Bullies with nukes only take you seriously if you are serious yourself.

It seems to me that splitting a nation is sometimes what is needed, when that nation is of two minds about its future. Let both flowers bloom, so that all can see which one turns out for the better. It worked in Germany. You can argue that it also worked in Vietnam, although not in the way that the USA would have liked. Korea is still in process, but I think the handwriting is on the wall as to which side is going to be judged historically and economically correct (if the northerners can be kept from going suicidal before the inevitable unification comes).

Yes, I know that a “West Ukraine” wouldn’t be easy to turn into a 21st Century post-industrial economy (the western provinces are still largely agricultural; but high-tech agriculture isn’t a bad thing either). It would cost the USA and Europe a pretty penny in terms of loans and seed funding and technical assistance. And the gas and energy problem remains, i.e. how to wean the Ukraine (as well as Germany and Poland) off of Russian natural gas dependence (US natural gas exports via LNG ships might help, but not all that much). But this is a showdown with Russia, and if the showdown is to remain social, economic and technological in nature, and not military, then the West has to get behind a “Ukrainian showcase”.

Oh, finally . . . the New York Jets finally got rid of Mark Sanchez. Good move. But as to bringing on Michael Vicks . . . oh boy. We’re in for too much NY Jets drama on the personal and media level, and not enough positive drama on the playing field. Even when things change, they don’t change at all with the Jets. PS, sorry, I honestly didn’t intend to make a pun by starting this post out talking about a real jet tragedy, and closing with a discussion about a tragic sports team called the “Jets”. Life just does it anyway, sometimes.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:35 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I think I’ll take your “current affairs” in the order in which you write about them.

    As to Flight 370: It’s getting close to the point where this will become another Amelia Earhart mystery — a flight lost and never found. Strangely enough, I read an article (and again I have no reference) that this kind of thing (flights disappearing) happens more than we would think it does – especially in the Bermuda Triangle. I should say, though, that I was struck that most of the examples given in that piece from were long ago, some as far back as the 1940s.

    Then, I think of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the huge ship that went down in the storm in Lake Superior. (I can still hear the song that was written about it.) It took years before they could even come up with a theory of what might have happened to that ship. Finally after I don’t know how many years, they figured out a theory that made sense about how and why it could have simply “disappeared” so quickly – much as Flight 370 has done. And, strangely enough, the theory made perfect sense (or so it seemed to me). Perhaps this Flight will be the same. It may take years until a theory – but not plane is found, to say nothing of any survivors or even debris of how and why this plane simply has disappeared. Here I am not addressing the intense and massive grief of families that have no answer for this mystery.

    The disappearance of this plane may end up being in the same category, a mystery that many years from now someone may at least develop a plausible theory of what happened to the plane. I myself sometimes am tempted to theorize that they were caught in a black hole of some kind and crossed over into another dimension perhaps; but then giving it further tho’t, think, no, very likely no. Some unexplained thing happened that will, some years from now, find a theory and which theory will make much more sense than anything we can think of now. Everybody is too “close” to the mystery at this point; perspective may be needed to figure out the theory of what happened to this plane and all the people on it.

    As to the whole “gravity waves” thing: Well, here again, we are in the field of physics which I have neglected for quite some years and now am so far behind I have no real urge to catch up on. Oddly enough, I do find myself thinking of the Christian theologians and the doctrine of the Trinity and all the talk and (I’m going to be bold enuf to say here) blah, blah, blah about 3 persons in one God. Even the whole business about Christ being God and man, to say nothing of a lot of other theological doctrines. At one time they were theories, plain and simple – made up by theologians to make their religion more “worthy” of being a religion – or so it seems to me. Frankly, that’s more of a question I myself have made up than it is more something I’ve actually read any place.

    In the case of the theologians I find myself wondering, who actually went up to heaven and saw God and thus knows with a certainty there are 3 persons in one God? Who actually went up to heaven and discussed the God/Man with God the Father? See what I mean? Something of all this theological “stuff” reminds me of physics: When we talk of “billions of years” or things so small we can only “see” the place they *were* but cannot actually see the things themselves (see how far behind I am?), I find myself wondering if we are talking either other dimensions we cannot hope to enter because we are encased in our current dimension and/or if it’s just a lot of “blah, blah, blah” about the current “religion” science has become.

    I’m not being skeptical here; these are honest questions I find myself asking. Then again, maybe it’s just that I know so little about theology and physics that I just don’t understand what’s going on. But somehow it always comes back to my thinking that in both cases (theology and physics) don’t they both end up as the result of a bunch of people (Ok scholars) thinking great tho’ts and thus creating themselves the world (or religion) they want to see? Then again, maybe it’s just me missing something vital that I just don’t understand.

    And as to the Ukraine: I don’t know if I’ve said this here before or not. It seems to me that Obama is a “good guy” – similar to Jimmy Carter in some ways. The difference is that Obama’s “thing” is to want to sit down and talk and come to a compromise and “get along”; Putin’s “thing” is to take over ALA the style of Stalin. Never the twain shall meet there.

    Then too I find myself wondering just why it is that countries that are new to democracy don’t get the idea that, when they do not like the current administration, they wait until the next election before they throw out the current administration, instead of throwing out the current administration by force immediately. They seem to be missing an important part of the idea of democracy. Putin, of course, does not have any idea of democracy; he’s going to be a dictator and that’s that.

    As to there being a “West Ukraine” and an “East Ukraine”: In theory a good idea. Why not? One problem with that I can see is that the “half” that wants to be “West” and the “half” that wants to be “East” are not a simple dividing line in the country. Yes, basically the country wants to be half and half (East and West) but how to divide it so that the respective groups can be sensibly divided is not that easy. (See Korea, Vietnam, etc.)

    Then too, I find myself wondering if Putin’s annexing the Crimea is not the first of several steps to get back all the countries that used to be in the Soviet Union – and even other countries, e.g., some conservative country like say, Poland. Annexing Poland would certainly be a coup for Putin – not one the West would like, but nevertheless, Putin might like it very much. This last is just a tho’t that’s been running thru my head lately. More likely other smaller countries would come before a large country such as Poland – say Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and all the other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.

    Lastly, as to the Jets (I presume they are a football team? as you mention Michael Vick, who I think is/was a football player) – it’s easy to see that here I simply know nothing whatsoever. I did see a picture of a man on the blog “Humans of New York” who said: “I was Defensive Player of the Year”. He was sitting on stairs in what seemed to me to be very much like Union Station here in Chicago (so I presume Union Station in New York). The whole demeanor of his body was one of dejection. It seemed that at this point in his life, likely that honor means nothing to him anymore. It struck me that very likely those players who are not really major “stars” are paid what passes for small amounts these days and which pay certainly does not make a person rich for life.

    In addition I’ve seen so many football players whose lives, after football, end up in some kind of major disability. I think here of Jim McMahon (sp?) of the Chicago Bears (who I liked very much when he was playing; he could throw a ball and practically place it in the hands of the man far down the field, an amazing feat, it seemed to me). I saw him last year on a short TV piece; he seemed to suffer from some type of stroke symptoms; as a result, I’m sure, of having played football. Then too it’s painful to watch some former football players try to stand up and/or walk. They are old very much before their time. So, football is not one of my favorite games; I find it a “game” that seriously injures players who end up – and here I ask, “For what?” – being debilitated and disabled for the rest of life after football. Testosterone or not, I find this game difficult to like because of what how it injures the men involved, for a kind of “bread and circuses” of the technological age. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — March 23, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

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