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The Obama Administration is planning on creating a college rating system, which can be used to funnel financial aid to better performing schools. Read more about it in this article in Politico.

The Republicans are already in uproar: How dare we put a single rating on a college! It can’t be done! Different students will value different features of an education!

Well, okay, but just because it’s difficult does not mean we should not TRY to do this. We use rating systems all the time. We rate restaurants, movies, hotels, cars, airlines – we rate everything. Why not colleges?

And why make it complicated? Let the people do the rating! Yelp works great – it’s kept me out of many a bad restaurant experience. I say open the rating system up to consumers, and it will be so accurate, it’ll be scary. Then we’ll know quickly if Harvard and Stanford are worth the money.

I have a problem when government dimwits stop initiatives for improvements just because they don’t understand the issues, or don’t like the possible outcomes.

They can’t deal with the truth or reality.

After headlines about the Sony hack and the threat of violence to people seeing the movie The Interview, Sony has canceled the release of the movie on December 25.

Now the U.S. is considering retaliation:

Typical retaliatory tools, such as imposing economic sanctions or restricting trade and financial dealings, would have no effect on the isolated nation, which the United Nations has sanctioned for its nuclear weapons program.

“We can’t just cut them off economically, because what are we going to cut off?” Syversen said. “This is a very tough problem to solve.”

– Business Week.

Three main thoughts come to mind:

1. The North Korean Boy Emperor must have a pretty thin skin if a comic movie on the other side of the world bothers him that much. Leaders that must prop themselves up by silencing opponents and censoring information in and outside of their countries come across as pretty weak and sorry.

2. The movie The Interview looked pretty crappy to me in the trailers. There was no way that I would have spent any money or time going to see that. But now, no matter how bad a movie, I will certainly go and see it when it will finally get released. Everyone in the world will.

3. For retaliatory measures, SHOW THE MOVIE. What are they going to do? Send little Korean soldiers with big hats into every movie theater in the world and shoot the viewers?

We must not give in to censorship. The Taliban is shooting little girls in Afghanistan because they want to go to school. The North Koreans lock up their own people for generations for the “crime” of not agreeing to support a fat baby-face as divine ruler. The East Germans were shooting their own people when they tried to cross the borders into the West as late as 1989 and arrested them when they caught them listing to Western radio stations. The list goes on.

The free world must remain free to say and do as the individuals please, and keep doing so, in order for the oppressors to look more and more silly with their games.

Sony – show us the movie! It’s bound to be a best-seller.

I find it ironic that we put the embargo on Cuba in 1961 in order to force the government out. Instead, Castro, who took power in 1959, with his brother following, has outlasted 25% of all our Administrations, or 11 out of 44 presidents:

  1. Eisenhower
  2. Kennedy
  3. Johnson
  4. Nixon
  5. Ford
  6. Carter
  7. Reagan
  8. Bush
  9. Clinton
  10. Bush
  11. Obama

I think the embargo has not worked. I am glad Obama stopped the nonsense that hurt generations of Cubans. The Castros will die soon and Cuba will experience the Cuban Spring.

Morning Sun on Freedom Tower

Morning Sun on Freedom Tower

 

This was the view out of my hotel room this morning in New York City from Pearl Street by the Brooklyn Bridge.

The tall grey tower on the right side is a residential building. The “Freedom Tower” in the back, with the spire, is actually about twice as tall at the residential building, but further in the back. It is now the tallest building in the entire Western Hemisphere.

The evening before all these towers were hidden inside low clouds. Puts the word “skyscraper” into perspective.

When we look up at night in the city, if we’re not under a street light, we see a few stars. If you have ever been out in the desert at night, it seems like there are a million stars. In reality, we can only see about 4,000 to 6,000 stars with the naked eye.

Furthermore, those stars are all located pretty close to our solar neighborhood. Some are just a few light years, or tens of light years away.

Here is a diagram of the 50 stars closest to us, all of them within four to 16 light years. Interestingly, only nine of those stars are bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Here is another chart showing major stars within 50 light years. There are about 2,000 stars within that distance.

Some very popular recognizable stars are in the Orion constellation.

Orion

Orion by Akira Fujii – Hubble Space Telescope [click for credit]

In the Orion, there are the four main stars forming the outer rectangle and three main stars in the belt.

  • Betelgeuse (left upper – 427 light years)
  • Belatrix (right upper – 243 light years)
  • Saiph (left lower – 720 light years)
  • Rigel (right lower – 773 light years)
  • Alnitak (left belt – 812 light years)
  • Alnilam (center belt – 1350 light years)
  • Mintaka (right belt – 916 light years)

As you can see, they are all comparatively far away, so they are very bright stars, but all are in the approximately 1,000 light year range. So let’s visualize the size of a 1,000 light year bubble around us.

The galaxy shown in the picture below is similar to our Milky Way, at least for the sake of this mind exercise. Please notice the little circle at the tip of the red arrow.

Milky Way 2

Our sun is about 28,000 light years from the center of our galaxy. If you enlarge the picture, you’ll see a little circle at the end of the arrow. That’s approximately the sun would be with respect to the center of such a galaxy, and the bubble encircles the area of all the stars we can see with our naked eye on Earth. If you go outside right now and look up in the night sky, every star you see is actually in this little red circle. That’s how far we can see. That’s the “approximately 1,000 light year bubble.”

The point is, we can’t see very far.

In recent years, scientists at Caltech have come to the conclusion that half of all stars in the universe may be “rogue stars” which are stars that float outside of the major galaxies in the vast open spaces between. Such stars don’t have any neighbors, so there would be nothing in their 1,000 light year bubble. If we lived on a planet on such a star, there would be nothing in the night sky. No stars at all. Only endless blackness, and some “smudges” of light if there were any close-by galaxies. I wonder what psyche such a civilization would develop if the only celestial objects were moons (if any), planets (if any) and the occasional comets? Their entire mythology would be very different from ours.

On the other hand, if our sun were close to the center of the galaxy, where stars are packed tightly, our night sky would be glowing bright with light. We probably wouldn’t think of it as a night sky. It would just be somewhat less bright during the “night” phase of our days, when the sun was below the horizon. That, too, would have created a very different mythology.

So it turns out, night skies are not the same everywhere.

 

Michio Kaku is a world-renowned scientist with a knack for educating the general, non-scientific public. This video is a great introduction to physics.  Yes, there are inaccuracies here, he glosses over much, but he is an excellent educator with a passion for his field. One of the best there is. I spent 42 minutes watching this, and I am grateful that I did.

I respect Senator McCain’s view on torture and his outspoken and candid approach about it.

The book The Faith of My Fathers is John McCain’s biography. I read and reviewed that book over six years ago during McCain’s run for the presidency. In it he describes in detail and at length the suffering he has endured under torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Here is a brief post I wrote about a visit of McCain back to Vietnam.

John McCain has more authority and standing, by far, than any of his colleagues in the U.S. Senate when it comes to rendering judgment about our nation’s endeavors into torture.

Yet there are his fellow-Republican frat boys who are expressing outrage over the report’s release.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said the Democrats who run the intelligence committee were exposing the CIA’s shocking treatment of detainees purely for “partisan joy.” What a ridiculous comment. This is America. We deserve to know the truth. “Truth” is defined as what really happened, whether it is convenient, pretty or outrageous. Deal with it, Senator Rubio. I want to know and have a right to know what my government is doing in my name, with my money.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz said the “partisan report will endanger lives, drive away our allies – who have never been needed more than now – and undermine the ability of our intelligence officers and soldiers to protect our national security.” Too bad, Senator Cruz. If our nation had stood up for its own values and behaved like we all hypocritically pretend it should, we would not have created this problem for ourselves in the first place. Most of this mess we are in we have created for ourselves in over 50 years of meddling with people we don’t care about and we don’t understand, mostly because we wanted their oil. This is what happens when you stir a hornets nest. And now you’re vilifying a report about something we did. We did it alright. Deal with it, Senator Cruz.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said he had “mixed feelings” and was concerned that the “gruesomeness of the details may well inflame people.” Well, if we hadn’t done the gruesome things you’re talking about, we would not be in this situation. But we did.

Marco Rubio never served in the military.

Ted Cruz was valedictorian in high school and has had a brilliant academic career, including Harvard University. He never served in the military.

Rand Paul has an M.D. degree. He never served in the military.

Overall, there are only 18 senators who have any military service in their background.

And then there is Dick Cheney. Even though he was Secretary of Defense, he never served in the military. He said he “never served” because of deferments to finish a college career that lasted six years rather than four, which he attributed to subpar academic performance and the fact that he had to work to pay for his education. Dick Cheney had asked for and received five deferments, four because he was a student and one for being a new father.

I’ll take Senator McCain’s opinion about torture over that of any other senator, especially that of the frat boys and their cronies.

This is what happens when we get heavy rains in Southern California.

Debris Slide

Debris Slide in Camarillo Springs, California. AP Photo.

Click here for hundreds more pictures.

In 1984, the U.S., along with most nations in the world, signed and ratified the convention against torture.

Article 1.1 defines torture:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

— Convention Against Torture, Article 1.1

Check out this Wikipedia Article for background information.

 

This is how big Andromeda actually would be in our night sky if it were brighter. Its light took two million years to get here. It’s moving in our direction at 245,000 miles per hour, and in 3.75 billion years, it will arrive and collide with our own galaxy. There are some 400 billion stars there. If there is an intelligent being that is lookup up in the night sky in our direction right now, they would see us as we were two million years ago. Our ancestors just started walking upright.

Andromeda1

Andromeda Galaxy – correct size in night sky next to moon- brightened.

 

Beetle

Ferdinand Porsche Showing Model of Beetle to Hitler

 

Theory of EverythingIt is hard to imagine that there is a single educated human being on the planet that does not know who Stephen Hawking is. Most of us know him only as an utterly disabled person, a brain in a wheelchair. Most of us have bought his book A Brief History of Time, and most of us have not fully read the book.

The movie is based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, by Jane Hawking, Stephen’s first wife of 30 years. The director is Academy Award winner James Marsh. The Theory of Everything is about the life of Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne in a riveting performance. I would not be surprised if this role resulted in an Oscar. Felicity Jones plays Hawking’s wife Jane.

When still a college student, Hawking fell in love with his future wife, fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. At the age of 21, Hawking was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The doctor told him that he had two years to live. In the early years, his love for Jane, who fought tirelessly by his side, made the difference between utter depression and possible death versus the life of one of the world’s most preeminent scientists, today right up there next to Einstein in visibility and renown. There is no doubt that Hawking is known as one of the world’s greatest living minds.

As I watched the movie, there were tears in my eyes for long periods of time as I was absorbed in the phenomenal difficulties this human being suffered as a giant intellect trapped in a completely useless body with no way to communicate.

The movie, of course, progresses through time periods quickly and sometimes I was not able to make all the connections. That did not detract from the story and the impact. I simply went home and pulled up the Wikipedia Page on Hawking and within 15 minutes of reading put it all together – now even more in awe of the man and the story.

The Theory of Everything educated me, entertained me, motivated me and incented me to read more of Hawking’s later books. After all, A Brief History of Time was published 25 years ago, in 1988.

Rating: *** (out of 4)

Google engineers got suspicious when they noticed that Bing searches seemed to return the same results as Google searches. So they set a trap. Here are the results.

Enjoy!

Edge of Eternity

Edge of Eternity is another giant work by a giant writer, a thousand-page book that I could not put down. It is the third book of the Century Trilogy by Follett. There is only one thing wrong with the Century Trilogy: the way he named the books:

  • Fall of Giants
  • Winter of the World
  • Edge of Eternity
  • I could never remember these titles, and I still won’t now that I have read all three. They are epic-sounding, big and vague, and in my opinion impossible to remember. But that’s ok. I think of them as book 1, 2 and 3 of the Century Trilogy.

In Edge of Eternity, we still follow the main families that were introduced in the first two books, but now we are with the grandchildren. The story spans from 1961, the Kennedy presidency and the beginning of the civil rights movement, all the way to 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In Germany, our characters are the Franck family, with Werner and Carla being the grandparents. The main characters are Walli, who becomes a pop musician, and the various characters around him.

In Russia, the patriarchs Grigori and Katherine are still alive, but the action surrounds their grandchildren, the twins Tanya and Dimka.

In the United States, Lev Peshkov is still a dandy, but George, his black grandson is the main character.

In England, Ethel still is the leader of the Williams family. Her grandson Dave, a musician, is the protagonist in this story.

Finally, the Dewars are also around, Cam and Beep, the grandchildren, being the leading characters.

Since it has been too long since I read the first two books, I had to pause occasionally to make sure I connected the story all the way to the present in this book, but as I kept reading, things kept coming together.

I love epics, and this trilogy is as epic as it gets.

Through the main characters, I got to be in the room with Krushchev in the Kremlin and Kennedy in the White House during the Cuban missile crisis. I was able to follow the civil rights movement and the thinking of its leaders like Martin Luther King. The pop music culture that dominated the sixties in England and the United States came alive through the band that Walli and Dave formed, called Plum Nellie. How did communism sustain itself through the leaderships of Krushchev, Breshnev and Gorbachev? Why did the East Germans build a wall to imprison its own people for decades, and how did they get away with it? And why did the Berlin wall eventually come down?

Following the main characters in this story, I felt I had a front-row seat with the major figures in the history of the 20th century and its huge movements. History came alive in front of my eyes, through all three of these works, unlike any other that I can remember reading.

Edge of Eternity is an extremely well written book and part of a powerful trilogy about the history of the 20th century.

Rating: **** (out of 4)

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