This Dragon…

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, COVID-19, Existentialism, Fascism, Human Rights

The Brainwashing of My Dad is a 2015 American documentary film directed by Jen Senko about her father’s transformation from a nonpolitical Democrat into a political Republican. The film was mostly funded by a Kickstarter campaign.


As Jen Senko tries to understand the transformation of her father from a nonpolitical Democrat to an angry Republican fanatic, she uncovers the forces behind the media that changed him completely: a plan by Roger Ailes under President Richard Nixon for a media takeover by the Republicans, the 1971 Powell Memo urging business leaders to influence institutions of public opinion (especially the media, universities, and courts), the 1987 dismantling of the Fairness Doctrine under President Ronald Reagan, and the signing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act under President Bill Clinton. The documentary aims to show how the media and the nation changed, which leads to questions about who owns the airwaves, what rights listeners and watchers have, and what responsibility the government has to keep the airwaves fair, accurate, and accountable. Wikipedia

In his book An Instinct for Dragons (2000), anthropologist David E. Jones suggests a hypothesis that humans, like monkeys, have inherited instinctive reactions to snakes, large cats, and birds of prey. A dragon is a large, serpentinelegendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Beliefs about dragons vary considerably through regions, but dragons in western cultures since the High Middle Ages have often been depicted as winged, horned, four-legged, and capable of breathing fire. Dragons in eastern cultures are usually depicted as wingless, four-legged, serpentine creatures with above-average intelligence. Commonalities between dragons’ traits are often a hybridization of feline, avian, and reptilian features, and may include: snakelike features, reptilian scaly skin, four legs with three or four toes on each, spinal nodes running down the back, a tail, and a serrated jaw with rows of teeth. Several modern scholars believe huge extinct or migrating crocodiles bear the closest resemblance, especially when encountered in forested or swampy areas, and are most likely the template of modern dragon imagery. Wikipedia/Dragon again, though somewhat rearranged.

Jen Senko uses the strongly suggestive term “brainwashing,” and in a few interviews I’ve heard her give (last one on Thom Hartmann), she alluded to the part of the brain referenced as the amygdala: “region of the brain primarily associated with emotional processes. The name amygdala is derived from the Greek word amygdale, meaning “almond,” owing to the structure’s almond-like shape. The amygdala is located in the medial temporal lobe, just anterior to (in front of) the hippocampus. Similar to the hippocampus, the amygdala is a paired structure, with one located in each hemisphere of the brain. The amygdala is part of the limbic system, a neural network that mediates many aspects of emotion and memory. Although historically the amygdala was considered to be involved primarily in fear and other emotions related to aversive (unpleasant) stimuli, it is now known to be involved in positive emotions elicited by appetitive (rewarding) stimuli.” (Britannica) Because it is primitive, it’s famously referred to as the reptilian brain (in Brain World Magazine, no less). Ms. Senko’s thesis was simply that her once calm, middle-of-the-road liberal dad became a fire-breathing (pun intended) conservative through endless repetition in the right-wing echo chamber of the idea he had something to fear, or someone in the form of foreigners and people of color. Her dad ironically came to this country as an immigrant. But through a relentless repetition campaign worthy of, and plagiarizing propaganda techniques from the Creel Committee, he transformed. Ms. Senko’s dad is “patient zero,” of our present darkness.

This is [our] life

Lisa Ling did an excellent job on her “This Is Life” series on conspiracy theories in America, and that they aren’t anything “new” to the national landscape. The problem is, it’s been digitized, and monetized over social media such that the more outrageous, the more violent the content, the more money those same companies make. Despite the proven harm to young teen girls and a lot of adults, the solution is practiced inaction. The pattern is public Mea Culpa, then do nothing, claim to be a social media platform, but not a journalistic platform, because lies monetized are more lucrative than publishing the truth.

Part of the problem is the many times we as citizens have been lied to: the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, and the installation of the Shah over a democratically-elected leader of Iran in 1953. Nationalizing oil reserves gained the ire of the CIA, MI6, and British Petroleum. The sixties was an assassination decade, and theories of President Kennedy’s assassination (and the immediate killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby), Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy were splayed on newsletters, and pamphlets; beauty/barber shops, and water coolers. There’s still a group that doesn’t believe we went to the moon, aliens are somehow interested in “little-old-us”; Bigfoot and Nessie are real creatures, and the world post-Apollo is either flat or donut-shaped (I’m not kidding). Follow that with “I’m not a crook” Richard Nixon, “we’re not selling arms for hostages” Ronald Reagan, it’s no wonder trust in institutions other than the military is at an all-time low. Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh appealed to fellow jowl-faced constituents that consider Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion an existential crisis, as their impish clone, Tucker Carlson parrots “replacement theory.” “Nature abhors a vacuum,” and provocateurs like Alex Jones are more than happy to fill the trust void. Add to that the 30,000+ COVFEFE whoppers of the last Oval Office occupant, and the death toll his lies bore. At least Brazil is considering holding Jair Bolsonaro responsible for crimes against humanity for 100,000+ dead. Our body count is higher. “U-S-A!” “U-S-A!”

Senator Angus King has evolved on the filibuster. He’s willing to change the rules so voting rights can get passed. However, the dragon reared its head to “conserve” the status quo of white supremacy (Senator Tim Scott needs a new mirror and an active human soul).

It is interesting that Steve Scalise, the minority whip counter on the Republican side of the House, is urging his colleagues to vote NO on holding his br’er fascist, Steve Bannon, in criminal contempt of Congress in fealty to a demagogue that lost the 2020 election, the Senate, and the House. If the rule of law is subject to “situational nihilism” (Brian Williams, The 11th Hour, MSNBC), then the law as we thought we knew it is essentially moot. Only nine Republicans in the House followed The Constitution to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress with all of the Democrats, meaning all the Republicans who voted against it are in contempt of Congress. Now, “Robert Lewis, Rufus, and Frog” along with “Billy Bob, Cooter, and Skeeter” will all declare themselves Republicans, and ignore any subpoenas sent to them, reduced to a notion by the man whose publicly stated aim was to “deconstruct the administrative state.” Good luck running courts large and small across the nation. ‘Murica.

Scalise once described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.” David Duke was a grand dragon, and avowed white supremacist. Any kind of supremacy is anathema to democracy. To quote a 2020 tweet from someone named Beau Willimon, succinctly comparing Capitalism, Socialism, Authoritarianism, and Democracy:

Our democracy can no longer afford to ride this leviathan and continue to exist.

“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.” Revelations 12:3

Peat Batteries…

An aerial view of peat fields in Elva, Estonia. September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans

Topics: Battery, Biofuels, Chemistry, Energy, Green Tech

TARTU, Estonia, Oct 11 (Reuters) – Peat, plentiful in bogs in northern Europe, could be used to make sodium-ion batteries cheaply for use in electric vehicles, scientists at an Estonian university say.

Sodium-ion batteries, which do not contain relatively costly lithium, cobalt, or nickel, are one of the new technologies that battery makers are looking at as they seek alternatives to the dominant lithium-ion model.

Scientists at Estonia’s Tartu University say they have found a way to use peat in sodium-ion batteries, which reduces the overall cost, although the technology is still in its infancy.

“Peat is a very cheap raw material – it doesn’t cost anything, really,” says Enn Lust, head of the Institute of Chemistry at the university.

Energy from bogs: Estonian scientists use peat to make batteries, Janis Laizans and Andrius Sytas, Reuters Science

Vapor Ragnarok…

Credit: Mark Ross

Topics: Climate Change, Existentialism, Global Warming, Research

More moisture in a warmer atmosphere is fueling intense hurricanes and flooding rains.

The summer of 2021 was a glaring example of what disruptive weather will look like in a warming world. In mid-July, storms in western Germany and Belgium dropped up to eight inches of rain in two days. Floodwaters ripped buildings apart and propelled them through village streets. A week later a year’s worth of rain—more than two feet—fell in China’s Henan province in just three days. Hundreds of thousands of people fled rivers that had burst their banks. In the capital city of Zhengzhou, commuters posted videos showing passengers trapped inside flooding subway cars, straining their heads toward the ceiling to reach the last pocket of air above the quickly rising water. In mid-August a sharp kink in the jet stream brought torrential storms to Tennessee that dropped an incredible 17 inches of rain in just 24 hours; catastrophic flooding killed at least 20 people. None of these storm systems were hurricanes or tropical depressions.

Soon enough, though, Hurricane Ida swirled into the Gulf of Mexico, the ninth named tropical storm in the year’s busy North Atlantic season. On August 28 it was a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 85 miles per hour. Less than 24 hours later Ida exploded to Category 4, whipped up at nearly twice the rate that the National Hurricane Center uses to define a rapidly intensifying storm. It hit the Louisiana coast with winds of 150 miles an hour, leaving more than a million people without power and more than 600,000 without water for days. Ida’s wrath continued into the Northeast, where it delivered a record-breaking 3.15 inches of rain in one hour in New York City. The storm killed at least 80 people and devastated a swath of communities in the eastern U.S.

What all these destructive events have in common is water vapor—lots of it. Water vapor—the gaseous form of H2O—is playing an outsized role in fueling destructive storms and accelerating climate change. As the oceans and atmosphere warm, additional water evaporates into the air. Warmer air, in turn, can hold more of that vapor before it condenses into cloud droplets that can create flooding rains. The amount of vapor in the atmosphere has increased about 4 percent globally just since the mid-1990s. That may not sound like much, but it is a big deal to the climate system. A juicier atmosphere provides extra energy and moisture for storms of all kinds, including summertime thunderstorms, nor’easters along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, hurricanes, and even snowstorms. Additional vapor helps tropical storms like Ida intensify faster, too, leaving precious little time for safety officials to warn people in the crosshairs.

Vapor Storms Are Threatening People and Property, Jennifer A. Francis, Scientific American

Vortex Beams…

This calculated diffraction image shows how forked diffraction gratings shape the atoms’ wave function into a vortex. (Courtesy: Science/AAAS)

Topics: Bose-Einstein Condensate, Nanotechnology, Particle Physics, Quantum Optics

A wave-like property previously only seen in beams of light and electrons has been observed for the first time in atoms and molecules. By passing beams of helium and neon through a grid of specially shaped nanoslits, researchers led by Edvardas Narevicius of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science succeeded in giving the beams a non-zero orbital angular momentum (OAM). The resulting structures are known vortex beams, and they could be used for fundamental physics studies such as probing the internal structure of protons.

Many natural systems contain vortices – think of tornadoes and ocean eddies on Earth, the red spot on Jupiter, and gravitational vortices around black holes. On all scales, such vortices are characterized by the circulation of a flux around an axis. In the quantum world, these swirling structures are found in ensembles of particles that can be described by a wavefunction, including superfluids and Bose-Einstein condensates.

Atoms and molecules make vortex beams, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

Big Bet on Small…

Topics: Futurism, Materials Science, Nanotechnology

The National Nanotechnology Initiative promised a lot. It has delivered more.

We’re now more than two decades out from the initial announcement of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a federal program from President Bill Clinton founded in 2000 to support nanotechnology research and development in universities, government agencies, and industry laboratories across the United States. It was a significant financial bet on a field that was better known among the general public for science fiction than scientific achievement. Today it’s clear that the NNI did more than influence the direction of research in the U.S. It catalyzed a worldwide effort and spurred an explosion of creativity in the scientific community. And we’re reaping the rewards not just in medicine, but also clean energy, environmental remediation, and beyond.

Before the NNI, there were people who thought nanotechnology was a gimmick. I began my research career in chemistry, but it seemed to me that nanotechnology was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the opening of a new field that crossed scientific disciplines. In the wake of the NNI, my university, Northwestern University, made the strategic decision to establish the International Institute for Nanotechnology, which now represents more than $1 billion in pure nanotechnology research, educational programs, and supporting infrastructure. Other universities across the U.S. made similar investments, creating new institutes and interdisciplinary partnerships.

Moreover, as a new route to inter- or transdisciplinary research, which was at the core of the NNI, nanotechnology has driven a new narrative in STEM: collaboration. Nanotechnology has captured the imagination of a generation of materials scientists, chemists, physicists, and biologists to synthesize and understand new materials; as well as inspiring engineers who are trained to develop tools for making and manipulating such structures; and doctors who can use them in the clinic. Collaborative nanotechnology research at our institute unites faculty members from 32 departments across four schools at Northwestern. This diversity of training and perspective does more than broaden the scope of our research. It enables us to identify, understand and address big problems—and it helps us break down barriers between the lab and the marketplace.

A Big Bet on Nanotechnology Has Paid Off, Chad Mirkin is director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry and a professor of materials science and engineering, medicine, biomedical engineering, and chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University.


Image source: Merriam-Webster

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

Noun: a chess opening in which a player risks one or more pawns or a minor piece to gain an advantage in position

Ninety percent of Fox Propaganda employees are fully vaccinated. The employees are required to disclose their vaccine status. The network tests the 10% that refuse daily, presumably barring them from the property, and mandating they quarantine if they test positive. For the record: that’s more stringent than the Biden administration, which only has a weekly requirement. Even as talking heads push hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, bear bile, and other quackery to their viewership.

The pawn is the least powerful chess piece, but it can be promoted into any other chess piece (except for a king). As Philidor once said, “Pawns are the soul of chess!”

The disdain Rupert Murdock’s network has for its viewership is only matched by the congruent ghoulishness of Kevin Q-Carthy, Moscow Mitch, and the death cult crew. The debt ceiling has been with us since 1917, the year before the last pandemic. It has been since the Obama administration, a game of chicken; a hostage tactic. It’s not one side of the chessboard or the other: it’s the entire field or the republic.

Congress has always restricted federal debt. The Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 included an aggregate limit on federal debt as well as limits on specific debt issues. Through the 1920s and 1930s, Congress altered the form of those restrictions to give the U.S. Treasury more flexibility in debt management and to allow modernization of federal financing. In 1939, a general limit was placed on federal debt.

Federal debt accumulates when the government sells debt to the public to finance budget deficits and to meet federal obligations or when it issues debt to government accounts, such as the Social Security, Medicare, and Transportation trust funds. Total federal debt is the sum of debt held by the public and debt held by government accounts. Debt also increases when the portfolio of federal loans expands.

Congress has modified the debt limit 14 times since 2001. Congressional Research Service Report

We have now exceeded the death toll of the 1918 flu pandemic. Gaslighting has replaced ideas, emotion has been substituted for substance. The “American Pravda” rage machine found out last year Rage Against the Machine is a political band that probably doesn’t favor their worldview. Fox Propaganda and the “gang of Putin” are solely dedicated to killing any bills that help the citizens of the United States, and the world at large, and anything that would make oligarchs and corporations pay the taxes they’ve dodged in particular. Neither has had any ideas since the “trickledown” 1980s. Income inequality is worse now than in the Gilded Age, with the one percent profiteering off the pandemic. Their wealth is literally built on the bones of 716,849 Americans. By Christmas, we’ll be over a million. In a gambit, the Fox viewership/republican constituents’ deaths are acceptable losses.

Yet, the criminal enterprise masquerading as a political party in Congress, in statehouses, has an opportunity to regain majority status. Why? Because of the raw exercise of POWER. Appealing to emotion, “owning the libs” haven’t improved the lives of their constituents. It has convinced them their “representatives” hate the “others” they hate. It is an addiction to sadistic dopamine. The other acceptable casualty is the federal republic.

It’s sad when the problem of 3.5 to 1.5 trillion is solvable with simple math. $3.5T over 10 years is $350B/year. $1.5T over 4 years is $375B/year. Then, Democrats can dare Republicans to run against it in 2022, and 2024. Once Americans experience expanded Medicare, free hearing aids, and glasses for seniors, free childcare, free community college (that will reduce the cost of four-year college), some movement on climate change that they can SEE, and FEEL, the political ads write themselves. This is an example of government functioning to HELP a stated need. Socialism is tax cuts for wealthy individuals, and corporations after failure in the “free market.” Socialism is government subsidies to the fossil fuels industry since the Bolshevik Revolution. There would be no logical argument to take away something every American would have experienced in the positive, even though logic for Putin’s party has been bereft for some time. Manchin gets what he wants, progressives get what they want. That, in my humble opinion, would be the strategic exercise of power.

If Republicans are a criminal enterprise, they behave like a functional Mafia family, capable of loyalty to the heinous, and in witness to obvious crimes by a chief executive, Omerta. Democrats, for all my support, behave like a herd of “woke” cats with Twitter fingers as itchy as the useless troll, Marjorie Taylor Green. I have called my congressional representative. Politics is the “art of compromise” and the “art of the possible.” If you cannot compromise with a recalcitrant cult, do what’s possible on your own. You will be RICHLY rewarded for it.

“Pawns are the soul of chess!” An informed citizenry is the soul of democracy.

Alvarez, and Apocalypse…

Luis Walter Alvarez co-developed the theory that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by an asteroid impact (Courtesy: iStock/estt)

Topics: Dinosaurs, Nobel Prize, Research

In the run-up to the announcement of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Physics on 5 October, we’re running a series of blog posts looking at previous recipients and what they did after their Nobel-prize-winning work. In this first instalment Laura Hiscott explores the wide-ranging research of Luis Walter Alvarez, who won the prize for developing the hydrogen bubble chamber, but also investigated the Egyptian pyramids and dinosaur extinction.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the theory that the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid crashing into the Earth. It’s a dramatic story that gets told to wide-eyed children in classrooms and natural history museums at an earlier age than many can remember, so it feels more like absorbed knowledge. What is less commonly known, however, is that one of the originators of this proposal was Luis Walter Alvarez, who won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the hydrogen bubble chamber.

But it wasn’t just dinosaurs and asteroids that Alvarez got excited about. Throughout his long and varied career, Alvarez was also involved in sending particle detectors into the sky in high-altitude balloons and searching for hidden chambers inside ancient Egyptian pyramids. It appears that his innate curiosity and experimental creativity, which were so vital for winning the Nobel prize, also led him to investigate many more questions both within physics and beyond.

Life beyond the Nobel: how Luis Alvarez deduced the disappearance of the dinosaurs, Laura Hiscott, Physics World

Cooling Teleportation…

Image source: CERN – accelerating science

Topics: CERN, Condensed Matter Physics, Entanglement, Lasers, Quantum Mechanics

Much of modern experimental physics relies on a counterintuitive principle: Under the right circumstances, zapping matter with a laser doesn’t inject energy into the system; rather, it sucks energy out. By cooling the system to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, one can observe quantum effects that are otherwise invisible.

Laser cooling works like a charm, but only when a system’s ladder of quantum states is just right. Atoms of alkali metals and a few other elements are ideal. Molecules, with their multitudes of energy levels, pose a much greater challenge. And fundamental particles such as protons, which lack internal states altogether, can’t be laser-cooled at all.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot of interest in experimenting on protons at low temperature—in particular, precisely testing how their mass, magnetic moment, and other properties compare with those of antiprotons. Toward that end, the Baryon Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment (BASE) collaboration has now demonstrated a method for using a cloud of laser-cooled beryllium ions to sympathetically cool a single proton, even when the proton and ions are too distant to directly interact.

A superconducting circuit is a cooling teleporter, Johanna L. Miller, Physics Today


The microfiber actuators on the metal mesh collector (top left), under SEM (bottom left), under heat activation (top right), and integrated into an artificial arm (bottom right). | Credit: Qiguang He et al./Science Robotics

Topics: Materials Science, Mechanical Engineering, Nanotechnology, Robotics

A new artificial fiber spun from a polymer called liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) using high-voltage electricity replicates the strength, responsiveness, and power density of human muscle fibers, scientists report. When powered by heat or near-infrared light, the fibers pulled upward and downward or oscillated back and forth.

“Our work may open up an avenue to build soft robotics or soft machines using liquid crystal elastomers as the actuator,” the authors write in their paper, published in the August 25 issue of Science Robotics.

When applied to a variety of potential applications, the fiber actuators successfully controlled the pinching motion of a micro-tweezer, directed the movement of a micro swimmer and a tiny artificial arm, and pumped fluids into a light-powered microfluidic pump.

Inspired by the utility of tiny fibers in nature, scientists sought to create artificial fibers that could also serve as ubiquitous tools in robotics, as sensors or assistive devices, for example. In the past few years, researchers succeeded in constructing fiber actuators driven by heat or light that are as strong and flexible as natural fibers. However, many of these artificial threads respond to their stimulus very slowly, due to their large size or complex actuation processes. When fibers can respond quickly, there’s a trade-off in size or quality; for example, micro-yarns made of carbon nanotubes are fast actuators, but aren’t as strong as other fibers.

“Animal muscle fiber exhibits superior mechanical properties and actuation performance,” said senior author Shengqiang Cai, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, San Diego. “Only a few existing materials show similar actuation behaviors as animal muscle, and the fabrication of fibers from those materials with a size and quality comparable to muscle fiber is not easy.”

Electrically Spun Artificial Fibers Match Performance of Human Muscle Fibers, Juwon Song, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Life As We Don’t Know It…

The depiction of tentacled extraterrestrials (above) in the recent science-fiction film, “Arrival, “indicates a divergence from aliens reported by supposed eyewitness accounts. Paramount. Source: Wrinkles, tentacles and oval eyes: How depictions of aliens have evolved, CNN Style

Topics: Astrobiology, Philosophy, SETI, Space Exploration

In my freshman seminar at Harvard last semester, I mentioned that the nearest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri, emits mostly infrared radiation and has a planet, Proxima b, in the habitable zone around it. As a challenge to the students, I asked: “Suppose there are creatures crawling on the surface of Proxima b? What would their infrared-sensitive eyes look like?” The brightest student in class responded within seconds with an image of the mantis shrimp, which possesses infrared vision. The shrimp’s eyes look like two ping-pong balls connected with cords to its head. “It looks like an alien,” she whispered.

When trying to imagine something we’ve never seen, we often default to something we have seen. For that reason, in our search for extraterrestrial life, we are usually looking for life as we know it. But is there a path for expanding our imagination to life as we don’t know it?

In physics, an analogous path was already established a century ago and turned out to be successful in many contexts. It involves conducting laboratory experiments that reveal the underlying laws of physics, which in turn apply to the entire universe. For example, around the same time when the neutron was discovered in the laboratory of James Chadwick in 1932, Lev Landau suggested that there might be stars made of neutrons. Astronomers realized subsequently that there are, in fact, some 100 million neutron stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone—and a billion times more in the observable universe. Recently, the LIGO experiment detected gravitational-wave signals from collisions between neutron stars at cosmological distances. It is now thought that such collisions produce the precious gold that is forged into wedding bands. The moral of this story is that physicists were able to imagine something new in the universe at large and search for it in the sky by following insights gained from laboratory experiments on Earth.

How to Search for Life as We Don’t Know It, Avi Loeb, Scientific American