Happy 100th Anniversary to the Schwarzschild Radius

Imagined image of black hole - public domain

Imagined image of black hole – public domain

There aren’t many things to celebrate about 1916, which set a new record as the bloodiest year in the history of human warfare, but an exception to that rule was discussed on a fascinating segment on Science Friday today, Tracing Light to Map the Cosmic Darkness.

German astronomer, Karl Schwarzschild, who was serving in the trenches, used his free time to solve the gravitational field equations of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. He communicated his findings to Einstein on a postcard. The great scientist didn’t like his solution, but recognizing its validity, he presented it to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1916. Ever since then, the Schwarzschild radius has defined a black hole.

Karl Schwertschild, 1873-1916, Wikimedia Commons.

Karl Schwertschild, 1873-1916, Wikimedia Commons.

And why is this important to anyone other than diehard Trekies?  Given that dark matter comprises 96% of the total matter in our universe – the stars, our earth, ourselves make up only 4% – it’s a rather interesting topic. Something to contemplate next time you’re under a sky full of stars.

One of Ira Plato’s guests, Sheperd Doeleman, Director of the Event Horizon Telescope project, hopes to soon have photographs of these objects that can’t be photographed. His other guest, Priyamvada Natarajan, Professor of Astrophysics at Yale and author of Mapping the Heavens, creates maps of dark matter, this mysterious background in which we and our universe dance.

This is a fascinating segment, so grab a cup of coffee, put you communicators on vibrate, and tune in for a wonderful glimpse at all we don’t know about our world.

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Of Kids and Legos

Studies in the psychology of happiness list the factors that contribute to wellbeing. Not surprisingly, good health is most important, followed closely by a satisfying social network. Having money for necessities and simple comforts is important, though the curve flattens out once we have “enough.”

Statistically, having children is a wash; those with kids and those without have the same chances of feeling satisfied in life. Two parents in China experienced the downside of little ones, when their four year old son, unable to read a “Do Not Touch,” sign, destroyed a $15,000 lego critter that had taken three days and 10,000 legos to create.  Oops!!!

The creator, who identifies himself as Zhao, said he feels “frustrated and depressed,” though he understands the act was not intentional. I am reminded of Tibetan sand mandalas, especially as China is warming up to Buddhist practice again. The sand mandalas are ritually destroyed after use to demonstrate the impermanence of all created things.

Still, I certainly sympathize with Zhao. I managed to screw up or set back painstaking projects at work from time to time, even without a four year old to help. The end result was that I became very careful…

Here’s hoping Zhao gets back in his groove!

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Farewell to a Truth Teller: Morley Safer

If you’re old enough, you will remember a time when reporters and news media aimed for the truth.  We just lost one of the greats of that era, Morley Safer.

Here’s what truth-telling looked like during that time when the corporate media and the government allowed it, and we would not have settled for reality TV.

RIP Morley, after a life lived with courage and integrity.

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Welcome to 1984!

This post from Ipledgeafallegiance is a tragic but pertinent summary of the fruits of a foreign “policy” that Jimmy Carter cautioned against 37 years ago. Saying we had a choice between national self-restraint and dependence on foreign oil, Carter said:

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God…too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve…learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

To continue on this course, he said, was “a road to certain failure.” Read it and weep.

ipledgeafallegiance

I think that President Obama has done a good job as President of the United States. I know that not everyone agrees with me and even though I don’t agree with everything that President O. has done, our 44th elected President is about to do something that no other president in the history of the United States has ever accomplished.

He is about to become the only president who has been at war during all 8 years of his presidency! And when you consider that President G.W. Bush had the nation at war for the last 6 years of his presidency then the United States has been at war for the past 14 years, non stop…with no stopping in sight.

Hillary Clinton, should she become our next president, is well known in Washington for being a “war hawk” herself… and Donald trump, should he become our next Commander in Chief…

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Land of the Free, Home of the Brave…

You mean Belgium, right?  That is, after all, the home of Anheuser-Busch InBev, parent company of Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser, which shall henceforth be known as America beer. Until the election is over, that is.

America beer

And who among us, cannot wait for that day?

Ad Age, which announced the change noted that the motto, “King of Beers” will become, “E Pluribus Unum,” and the bottom of the can will feature this text: “From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters this land was made for you and me.”

Yep, let’s hoist one for good old Woody Guthrie. I’d love to hear the songs he’d be writing this year!

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The Devil’s Sooty Brothers

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, 1855. Painting by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, 1855. Painting by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann

“People think stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way round.” – Terry Pratchett

“The Devil’s Sooty Brother” is the catchiest name among a group of tales from the Brothers Grimm about career soldiers who are discharged when they are wounded, or peace breaks out, or for no given reason. They find themselves on the road, with a loaf of bread and a few coins if they’re lucky, and no clear path to making their way in the world.

Most of the best known Grimm tales feature young people – a lad or a maiden, just starting out in the world. In contrast, we imagine these soldiers as middle aged career men, whose services are no longer needed. I thought of these stories when I heard that Oreo, “America’s favorite cookie,” will now be produced in Mexico, where Nabisco expects to save $130 million a year. Six hundred people join the hundreds of thousands before them whose working lives have been disrupted by technical, financial, and social changes that continue to accelerate in speed.

Do the old stories have anything practical to say to 21st century people when the world turns upside down?  Maybe…

These stories have elements in common:

  1. The protagonists are combat veterans. They’ve been around the block.
  2. They take up with shady, trickster-like characters, who take them underground, into the darkness, or other trials.
  3. They either are, or must learn to be, trickier than their tricky benefactors. In modern terms, they need to think outside the box, and there, if anywhere, is the relevance for us now. Circumstances may change, but the value of seeing the world afresh, free from habit and preconception, is probably even more vital now than in the “simpler” times when these tales emerged.

I will consider two of the tales of discharged soldiers that depend on wit. I’ll skip several others that hinge more on religious piety and luck. Piety and luck may pay off in real life, but they aren’t satisfying story elements.

German mercenary pikeman. Wikimedia Commons

German mercenary pikeman. Wikimedia Commons

In our title story, The Devil’s Sooty Brother, (Grimm Tale #100), Hans, a hungry and penniless out of work soldier, meets the Devil in the woods. This Devil is a dark trickster and initiator rather than a personification of evil. If the soldier agrees to the terms of a seven-year contract, he’ll be set for life.  If he violates the terms, he will die, and presumably, be stuck in hell. Continue reading

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Hungry Ghosts

Section of Hungry Ghosts Scroll, Kyoto, late 12th c., Public Domain

Section of Hungry Ghosts Scroll, Kyoto, late 12th c., Public Domain

In traditional Buddhist cosmology, there are six major realms of existence. Only two of these, the human and animal realms, are visible. The other four, which include both heavens and hells, are not manifest to our physical senses. Unlike Christian heaven and hell, none of these are forever – the length of one’s sojourn depends on karma.

Many contemporary teachers, while not denying the metaphysical reality of these regions, focus on our inner “location” in the here and now. One who is filled with love and compassion dwells in heaven. The one seething with anger, red in the face, like a devil, at that moment experiences one of the hells.

Hungry ghosts have a region all to themselves; their dominant trait is insatiable craving. Hungry ghosts are depicted with huge bellies but tiny throats and mouths – desperate hunger and thirst that can never find relief.

Never enough, there is never, ever enough,” is the mindset of hungry ghosts, both in the imagined subtle realm and in this world. Addictions and insatiable cravings of all sorts make us hungry ghosts. The pre-repentant Ebenezer Scrooge, the archetypal miser, is the best known western hungry ghost. Now, the Panama Papers reveal how widespread is this disease, and how it drives the leaders and elites in nations throughout the world. Nor do we, at least in “the free world,” get to sit back and righteously condemn “those bad people.” Not in Buddhist thought, at least, where everything is interconnected.

The people of Iceland forced their Prime Minister out of office within 48 hours of the time the story broke. They did the same with the bankers in 2008. We, who have elected officials of both parties who tolerate bailouts and corporate shell games, are are not separate from the hungry ghosts who are fucking this world.

In his public discourse, Buddha never commented one way or another on metaphysical truths. There’s plenty to worry about here and now, he said. If greed locks us into the hell of the hungry ghosts, generosity, the mindset of Scrooge on Christmas morning, opens the gates of heaven.

Ratnasambhava, the primordial Buddha of "the wisdom of equality," manifests the virtue of generosity.

Ratnasambhava, the primordial Buddha of “the wisdom of equality,” manifests the virtue of generosity.

Perhaps there are no big or small acts of generosity. Our world, the people in it, and we ourselves, need nothing more urgently at this time.

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Straight croissants

Even to me, this title seems to refer to the sexual preference of breakfast pastries, rather than its real subject, their shape. This is because “croissant” is French for “crescent,” and who ever heard of a straight crescent outside of higher mathematics?

straight croissant 2
Well, our cousins across the water are embroiled in a debate on this very subject.

Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in Britain, will no longer sell curved croissants. Tesco croissant buyer, Harry Jones, spoke of “the spreadability factor.” Curved croissants typically require three strokes to cover their surface with jam, the preferred topping of most Brits, while a straight croissant can be covered by a single sweeping stroke, thus cutting the risk of sticky fingers or table cloths. (1)

As a veteran of many sticky finger incidents involving restaurant marmalade containers, I can attest a Daily Telegraph editorial is wrong: it is not necessarily safer to eat toast!

Discussions of ease of use and symbolism fail to consider health implications. French law declares that straight croissants must be made with butter, while the curved varieties can use margarine.

In a world where so many familiar structures are in flux, curved croissants are now one less thing we can count on.

I guess there’s no help for it. Benjamin Turquier, last year’s champion Parisian butter croissant maker, said “I can understand the importance of symbolism and tradition, but straight croissants are more practical to make.”

Sigh…we’ll just have to learn to deal…

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