Friday, January 15, 2016

Potomac Sunday Walkabout Pics Interspersed with Article Links and Excerpts OR - The End of Politics, Economics, and Even Physics??

The Arts of Peace equestrian sculptures -- Music and Harvest (right) and Aspiration and Literature (left) that adorn the entrance to Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway near the Lincoln Memorial, 4:39PM January 10, 2016.

The Arts of War equestrian statues -- Sacrifice and Valor -- adorn the nearby entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge (D.C. side).

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I started this entry last night but did not complete it. I am posting it Friday around one o'clock.

It is already quarter after one in the morning as I start this entry, so realistically I cannot write anything. I'm tired after a long day that included a semi-busy day at work, a more-or-less complete multi-part gym workout (despite my lingering head cold), doing laundry tonight, and making a late dinner.

I initiated another entry that discusses what is looking like a snowy-favorably weather set up for Buffalo over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend while Gary and I are there (Saturday - Tuesday), in particular late Sunday into Monday. However, I think it better if I post that just prior to my departure on Saturday morning (time permitting). This entry instead contains my Sunday walkabout pictures I along the Potomac River here in D.C.

It also contains links and excerpts to some commentary (especially Krugman and Chait!) and articles that I think are worthwhile, as well as a happy follow-up news item and a remarkable article on the state of theoretical physics. These are interspersed between the pictures.

Sky and clouds, 1800 block of New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, D.C., 2:55PM January 10, 2016.

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The Brutalism of Ted Cruz by David Brooks

This NYT op-ed by David Brooks -- , the Republican Establishment's the High-Minded and Genteel Columnist Extraordinaire -- is a truly damning indictment of the kind of person is Ted Cruz.

Excerpt (without in-line embedded links):

But Cruz's speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy. Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies, and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them. When he is speaking in a church the contrast between the setting and the emotional tone he sets is jarring.

Cruz lays down an atmosphere of apocalyptic fear. America is heading off "the cliff to oblivion." After one Democratic debate he said, "We're seeing our freedoms taken away every day, and last night was an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously.”

As the Republican strategist Curt Anderson observed in Politico, there's no variation in Cruz's rhetorical tone. As is the wont of inauthentic speakers, everything is described as a maximum existential threat.

The fact is this apocalyptic diagnosis is ridiculous ...

It's hard to overstate was a slimy, vindictive, reptilian hatemonger is Ted Cruz. Donald Trump would be an ineffectual and ultimately comical fascist wannabe with no particular ideology. Rubio and JEB! would be just tools of the billionaire oligarchical overclass. Cruz represents a special kind of malevolence.

As for liberals, they are so damn eager to see Hillary lose that they basically just want to throw this election to the GOP and have wall-to-wall one-party rightwing Republican rule. The Salon.com crowd not-so-secretly enjoys that.

The 1700 block of New Hampshire Ave NW at R Street NW, Washington, D.C., 2:59PM January 10, 2016.

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Bully for Neurotoxins by Paul Krugman

This is from Prof. Krugman's blog and it should be read. It's about the garbage that the Wall Street Journal editorial board peddles nonstop.

After pointing out the editorial's totally flawed assumption that there have been no "green jobs" under Obama, he writes:

The other striking thing is that the editorial simply takes it as a given that any regulation is bad, including regulations on mercury and coal ash (which is also loaded with mercury and other heavy metals like lead). Let's see: mercury is a neurotoxin, which can impair intelligence; other heavy metals can cause cancer and poison people in a variety of ways. In what moral or even economic universe is it obviously wrong to limit emissions of neurotoxins?

I know, I know: this article wasn't intended as any kind of rational argument, it was just an anti-Obama Two Minutes Hate. But still kind of amazing to see in a paper that sometimes pretends to be a cut above Erick Erickson.

Fountains at the Watergate Complex, Washington, D.C., 3:29PM January 10, 2016.

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Chait discusses the weird deeply pessimistic and negative feelings that liberals have for Pres. Obama despite the fact he actually achieved a remarkable number of policy objections in a time of implacable to outright nutty GOP opposition.

Excerpt:

Here is one of the oddities of the last seven years. Barack Obama won a clear majority in both his election and his reelection, fulfilled most of his policy goals as president, is presiding over a solid economic recovery, and has avoided any real scandal (i.e., one that exists outside the opposition fever swamps). Yet his approval ratings have consistently trailed his vote percentages. More than half of the electorate voted for him twice, but well under half approves of his job performance. Despite the fact that he accomplished what he said he would, Obama quickly lost a chunk of the public that voted for him, and has never won them back.

The choppy Potomac River on a windy afternoon, Washington Harbour, Georgetown, Washington, D.C., 3:42PM January 10, 2016.

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Continued excerpt:

In large part this represents negative polarization, the dominant political force of our time. Negative polarization is a phenomenon defined by political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster. It means that the public has sorted itself into hardened political camps with firm voting habits, but these loyalties are based more on antipathy for the opposing party than affirmative support for one's own side. Indeed, a growing share of voters describes itself as "independent" even as its behavior shows that it is more, not less, consistent in its support for a single party. In a negative-polarization world, many of Obama's supporters will express dissatisfaction with his job performance but vote for him and his party anyway, because they loathe the Republicans so much. The same phenomenon would likely hold true in reverse if a Republican held office.

The Washington Harbour complex with the winter seasonal ice skating rink, Georgetown, Washington, D.C., 3:49PM January 10, 2016.

A squally rain shower had just passed through and the contrast of sunlight and dark clouds was especially dramatic. It was getting windy and the temperature was beginning to drop sharply. I had stopped at Tony & Joe's at the outdoor bar for a quick drink.

Having said that, how in the world people were skating when it was nearly 60F and the rink was practically a puddle is beyond me.

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From this Paul Krugman blog entry "Yes He Did":

U.S. median household income and the U3 unemployment rate from Jan 2000 - Oct. 2015.

Excerpt:

So the Obama macroeconomic record isn't just one of stabilizing the economy after a terrifying crisis; he has also presided over overall income growth that, assuming we don’t have another recession this year, will have been better than his predecessor.

And meanwhile we've seen a dramatic reduction in the number of uninsured Americans, so while income has been flat, income security is up substantially.

Of course, none of this will make any dent on the conviction of the usual suspects that everything has been a disaster. But really, Obama has cause for satisfaction though not triumph.

The Rosslyn skyline as seen from Washington Harbour in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., 4:14PM January 10, 2016.

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Excerpt:

Months ago, during the Summer of Trump, Republicans looked at the appearance of this gross, comic, orange interloper among them with a mix of shock and disdain. Fox News tried to discredit him as a serious candidate; nobody else onstage knew quite what to do with him. Since then, Trump has created facts on the ground, making himself an indispensable element of the party. He now seems completely normal.

Part of it is that Trump has gotten better, more polished. His cartoonish facial gestures come less frequently. He is less outrageous (and less funny). He seems to control his tone more effectively.

But mainly, Republicans have decided to start treating him as a regular candidate and a member of their party in good standing, rather than an impostor who has hijacked it on a lark. He faced the same softball questions as everybody else, with no follow-ups. (Would you put your business in a blind trust if elected? Trump: Oh, yeah, I'd let my kids run it. In other words, no.)

A U.S. Coast Guard patron boat on the Potomac near the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., 4:24PM Jan. 10, 2016.

This little boat -- which reminds me of Wall-P swimming in a pool -- was armed with some sort of harpoon-like object at the front ready to be fired.

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I would like to note this article that Chester sent me -- actually, it's a video available after the obligatory 30-second ad -- giving a follow-up on the orangutan Baby Gito and his condition. He is doing much better and should have a decent life now.

A large oak tree growing along the Potomac River near the Kennedy Center and the sky above it, Washington, D.C., 4:31PM January 10, 2016.

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Finally, for the remainder of this entry, I'd like to post extended excerpts of this remarkable piece that appeared on the Business Insider site yesterday (link embedded) (it includes the images in the article but not the in-line embedded links):

by Jessica Orwig

A deeply disturbing and controversial line of thinking has emerged within the physics community.

It's the idea that we are reaching the absolute limit of what we can understand about the world around us through science.

"The next few years may tell us whether we'll be able to continue to increase our understanding of nature or whether maybe, for the first time in the history of science, we could be facing questions that we cannot answer," Harry Cliff, a particle physicist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research -- better known as CERN -- said during a recent TED talk in Geneva, Switzerland.

Equally frightening is the reason for this approaching limit, which Cliff says is because "the laws of physics forbid it."

At the core of Cliff's argument are what he calls the two most dangerous numbers in the universe. These numbers are responsible for all the matter, structure, and life that we witness across the cosmos.

And if these two numbers were even slightly different, says Cliff, the universe would be an empty, lifeless place.

Sunset approaches over the Potomac River near the Lincoln Memorial with Virginia in the distance, Washington, D.C., 4:37PM January 10, 2016.

The Sun had just emerged from a receding cloud deck. It was quite windy and getting blustery as the temperature dropped. Also, there was a flock of seagulls flying about wildly, focused on the choppy river.

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Dangerous No. 1: The strength of the Higgs field

The first dangerous number on Cliff's list is a value that represents the strength of what physicists call the Higgs field, an invisible energy field not entirely unlike other magnetic fields that permeates the cosmos ...

Illustration of the Higgs Boson and field

According to Einstein's theory of general relativity and the theory of quantum mechanics -- the two theories in physics that drive our understanding of the cosmos on incredibly large and extremely small scales -- the Higgs field should be performing one of two tasks, says Cliff.

Either it should be turned off, meaning it would have a strength value of zero and wouldn't be working to give particles mass, or it should be turned on, and, as the theory goes, this "on value" is "absolutely enormous," Cliff says. But neither of those two scenarios are what physicists observe.

Music and Harvest equestrian statue, Washington, D.C., 4:39PM January 10, 2016

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Continued excerpt:

"In reality, the Higgs field is just slightly on," says Cliff. "It's not zero, but it's ten-thousand-trillion times weaker than it's fully on value -- a bit like a light switch that got stuck just before the 'off' position. And this value is crucial. If it were a tiny bit different, then there would be no physical structure in the universe."

Why the strength of the Higgs field is so ridiculously weak defies understanding. Physicists hope to find an answer to this question by detecting brand-new particles at the newly upgraded particle accelerator at CERN. So far, though, they're still hunting.

Aspiration and Literature, Washington, D.C., 4:40PM January 10, 2016

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Continued excerpt:

Dangerous No. 2: The strength of dark energy

Cliff's second dangerous number doubles as what physicists have called "the worst theoretical prediction in the history of physics."

This perilous number deals in the depths of deep space and a mind-meltingly complex phenomenon called dark energy.

Dark energy, a repulsive force that's responsible for the accelerating expansion of our universe, was first measured in 1998.

Still, "we don't know what dark energy is," Cliff admits. "But the best idea is that it's the energy of empty space itself -- the energy of the vacuum."

If this is true, you should be able to sum up all the energy of empty space to get a value representing the strength of dark energy. And although theoretical physicists have done so, there's one gigantic problem with their answer:

"Dark energy should be 10exp120 times stronger than the value we observe from astronomy," Cliff said. "This is a number so mind-bogglingly huge that it's impossible to get your head around ... this number is bigger than any number in astronomy -- it's a thousand-trillion-trillion-trillion times bigger than the number of atoms in the universe. That's a pretty bad prediction."

The Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument as seen from near the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., 4:44PM January 10, 2016.

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Continued excerpt:

Getting answers could be impossible

If we could somehow confirm that our universe is just one in a vast multiverse of billions of other universes, then "suddenly we can understand the weirdly fine-tuned values of these two dangerous numbers [because] in most of the multiverse dark energy is so strong that the universe gets torn apart, or the Higgs field is so weak that no atoms can form," Cliff said.

Multiverse illustration

To prove this, physicists need to discover new particles that would uphold radical theories like string theory, which predicts the existence of a multiverse. Right now, there's only one place in the world that could possibly produce these particles, if they exist, and that's the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

And physicists only have two to three years before CERN shuts the LHC down for upgrades. If we haven't found anything by then, Cliff said, it could signal the beginning of the end.

"We may be entering a new era in physics. An era where there are weird features in the universe that we cannot explain. An era where we have hints that we live in a multiverse that lies frustratingly beyond our reach. An era where we will never be able to answer the question why is there something rather than nothing."

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The Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument with the U.S. Capitol dome in the distance, Washington, D.C., 4:53PM January 10, 2016.

I walked back up to Logan Circle, stopping at Trade, wher I met LP, and then later went to Larry's Lounge, where I met Mark and had a good time until the end of the night, but never mind that right now. Suffice it to say, a friendship (not Mark) has ended.

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Let's wrap up this entry. I will try to update the blog just prior to leaving for my Buffalo trip tomorrow. For tonight, I'll probably stop at Trade but I need to be home no later than 11PM. My flight is scheduled tomorrow at 12:24PM from Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to Buffalo - Niagara Int'l Airport (BUF).

That's all for now.

--Regulus

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