Seinfeld Diner

While hanging out  in New York City today, I went to Tom’s Restaurant, made famous as the diner the Seinfeld crew used to hang out in. It’s actually very crowded inside and it looks nothing like it does in the TV show. The reviews are mixed. I didn’t find a table so I didn’t stay to eat.

I stayed an extra day in New York City today, visited the Met and got my much-needed van Gogh fix.

VvG Irises

Vincent van Gogh – Irises

VvG Oleanders

Vincent van Gogh – Oleanders

VvG While Roses

Vincent van Gogh – White Roses

VvG Cornfield

on the right: Vincent van Gogh – Cornfield with Cypress

The world is a more beautiful place after being in the presence of these paintings by my favorite artist for a while. He created so much beauty in so little time. I have already lived 20 years more than he ever did.

Watch this video and  then tell me that you think it is right to simply send these young people away to countries they don’t know and have no connection to. They are Americans, and we need to deal with that reality.



Tallahassee, Florida at 7:30am, temperature 25 degrees F.


Then I found out that there was a shooting here at the local university after 2:00am this morning, after the news cycle, so there is nothing in the papers yet.

A cold morning indeed.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a truly American phenomenon. I do not know of any other nations that have such a thing. Most Americans, should you ask them, think that it was deeply ingrained into the structure of our country and created by the founding fathers.

Far from it. It was first composed by Francis Bellamy, a Christian Socialist (and Baptist minister) in 1892 in an effort to promote the U.S. Flag, at a time when the distribution of the flag was promoted by companies for commercial reasons. They wanted to sell something. Bellamy wrote the pledge to be used in schools. It wasn’t formally adopted by Congress until 1942, and the words “under God” were added only in 1954.

Foreigners that come to America and hear the pledge usually are astounded. They equate it to brainwashing. They compare it to something one would expect in North Korea, but not in the country of “the free.”

I was such a foreigner once, and I clearly remember how it took me some time to get used to it. Pledging allegiance to an object, even if that object is a flag and that flag represents a nation, seemed like a strange thing to do, and trickling this daily into the brains of little school children struck me like a delusion at best.

I have been a U.S. citizen for many decades now, and I participate in the pledge, when I am in an appropriate situation, like a public meeting, but I must admit I don’t do it because I have some allegiance to this object of fabric that represents our nation, but because I don’t want to be different lest I offend someone. I participate with those who grew up with the pledge all their lives – at least since 1946, who don’t know it any other way.

Americans often are prickly about this ritual. “You don’t have to participate, you can remain seated if you want.” But nobody dares. Being “unpatriotic” is not looked upon favorably at this “free” country.

They often say that people died protecting the freedoms we all enjoy today and we should show proper respect for the flag for that reason.

This, of course, is nonsensical. The pledge has nothing at all to do with the fact that people died. Many Americans today do not believe that those people that died in the wars of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq died for our freedoms. I personally do not believe that the 50,000 Americans that died in Vietnam made any difference in the freedom of our country and what it is today. If the Vietnam war had not happened, and nobody had died, we would be no less free today.

People willing to die for something does not automatically make that something good. People died by the millions defending Nazi Germany. What a terrible waste! Should Germans now show respect to the Swastika because their grandfathers died for it?

So making school children pledge their allegiance to a flag to show respect is a dubious practice. It would be much more practical and effective to educate them about the real reasons we are free now, the enormous risks the revolutionary generation took in the fight against England, the fact that the French (a people we often ridicule now as cowards) came to the aid of the colonials, the fact that the founding fathers separated church and state, and many, many others.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an acquired taste that we Americans grew up with an cherish. Foreigners don’t get it.

It’s the same with the Pledge of Allegiance.



Jupiter and North America

[picture credit: John Brady]

The green speck is what North America would look like on Jupiter to scale.

Made Out of Meat

Wonderful reading about two aliens talking about humans:

They’re Made out of Meat.


Lion, Nov 2014, Oil on Canvas, 24" x 24"

Lion, Nov 2014, Oil on Canvas, 24″ x 24″

Trisha and Mary Ann went to Africa on Safari. Between the two of them, they brought back over 4,000 photographs. This is my favorite lion. Painted for Mary Ann.

See what happens:

While we marvel about the possibility of millions, even billions of intelligent civilizations in the universe, we really only know for sure of one: our own. It has, as a sentient culture only existed for a couple of hundred thousand years. If I can classify civilization as a group of sentient beings that records its history, then we’re only about 5,000 years old as a civilization. If technology is the defining factor, we’re only about 150 years old. All these time spans are very short in the context of cosmological terms, where time periods are counted in millions of years, even billions. We also don’t know how long a civilization lasts. Our own has so far not lasted long, and there are some signs that we’ll do something stupid soon and it will have been a very short period indeed.

So let’s speculate that an intelligent civilization lasts about 10,000 years from first recording its history until flaming out and dying off.

Our universe is 13.77 billion years old and the Earth is 4.54 billion years old. There are almost half a million 10,000 year spans in 4.5 billion years. So our civilization, based on my assumptions here, lasts about half-a-millionth of the time span of the earth.

If other planets on other stars had similar timescales, and if there were half a million such planets in our galaxy, all forming about at the same time the Earth formed, we could conceivably have had half a million civilizations on these planets alone without overlap. This means every one of those civilizations could have existed throughout its entire life-cycle without ever knowing about the existence any of the others. All of them could have been advanced technological civilizations with active programs in place to scan the sky for signs of life. They still would never have seen a trace of any. They existed, but separated from each other by time.

This makes me think of camera flashes in a stadium:

Watching the short video above I can’t help but think of each of the flashes to be a 10,000 year civilization somewhere in our galactic neighborhood. The short video spans perhaps 10 million years of time. We’re one of them flashing right now, but we never saw those before us or after us. Yet they all exist.

Taking this thought process further: If the universe is 13.77 billion years old, and the Earth only 4.54 billion, there could have been several full solar systems that came and went before ours even started.

Let’s say a solar system formed when the universe was 5 billion years old, and matured to the current state of ours at 9 billion years. There could have been highly advanced civilizations in that solar system that never knew about ours, since our own sun had not even formed at that time.

So when we think about civilizations in the universe apart from ours, we have to think not only about those that may exist right now, but all of those that have ever existed, and now we can multiply the current estimates of possibly trillions (see my post about this here) to millions of trillions.

Meanwhile, it would be nice if we could finally find just one flash of consciousness in the vast dark. Just one.





I am forever fascinated with motion and relativity. One such example is how the European spacecraft Rosetta matched up speed with a comet traveling at immense speed (of 40,000 miles per hour or 25,000 miles per hour – I can only seem to find conflicting values, still searching for confirmation of the correct speed). Another such example is the article I reblogged recently titled Visualizing the Motions of the Solar System. An astronomer friend corrected me and sent me this link: No, Our Solar System is Not a “Vortex.”

Of course, my point of blogging about DJ Sadhu’s video was to show a cool visualization. It gets the layman thinking in a different direction than the boring heliocentric model and all the graphics we ever see about the motions of the planets, as they just spin in circles around the sun. Sadhu’s video spurs the imagination and shows there is much more going on.

Phil Plait’s article is scientific and describes what’s actually happening, and he shows that there are many inaccuracies as to the motion of the sun and planets trailing it in that graphic. He calls Sadhu’s model plain wrong. I will leave it to the reader to study Phil Plait’s article for the various technical corrections, but I take away two main points that may help the layman (and me):

1. The sun is not moving away in a direction perpendicular to the plane of the solar system, like it is shown in Sadhu’s video. It’s actually much more along the plane, causing planets to overtake it and then fall behind again, an intriguing way to think about it.

2. The sun is moving in many more and much more complex directions. I talked about that in My Coffee Cup is Moving more than a year ago. Plait, of course, talks about many of these additional motions of the sun, which, if put into a computer graphic would compound the complexity. Interestingly, if you check the numbers you will see that the motions of the sun that are not directly the sun, like the motion of the galaxy itself, is much faster than the relative motion of the sun within the galaxy. Another vortex?

I thank the Honking Goose for originally posting this. I thank Sadhu for helping us visualize something very complex with his great computer graphics skills. I thank Plait for the scientific corrections to Sadhu’s statements and claims and for the additional clarifications. Science matters – even when we need to make it simple for the non-scientists like me. And I thank my neighbor (BP) for pointing out Plait’s correction to Sadhu’s graphics.

And now we all have learned a little more.

In 1961 the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) undertook a tactic aimed at desegregating public transportation throughout the south. These tactics became know as the “Freedom Rides”.

The first Freedom Ride took place on May 4, 1961 when seven blacks and six whites left Washington, D.C., on two public buses bound for the Deep South. They intended to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which declared segregation in interstate bus and rail stations unconstitutional.

In the first few days, the riders encountered only minor hostility, but in the second week the riders were severely beaten. Outside Anniston, Alabama, one of their buses was burned, and in Birmingham several dozen whites attacked the  riders only two blocks from the sheriff’s office. With the intervention of the U.S. Justice Department, most of CORE’s Freedom Riders were evacuated from Birmingham, Alabama to New Orleans.

CORE website

This was in the spring of  1961. Blacks were beaten by white mobs because they dared ride on a bus, go into “whites only” toilets, sit at the counter of diners next to whites.  The police looked on while the beatings happened. No white thug was ever charged for any crime.

John Lewis was there with the Freedom Riders to witness it first hand. He went on to become a U.S. congressman on January 3, 1987 and still serves today.

Three months later, in Hawaii, a baby boy was born to a young white mother, a college student and a black father, a student visiting from Kenya. That little boy would grow up and eventually win the White House in 2008.

Musings about a Comet

Mankind did a remarkable feat today: It landed a probe roughly the size of a washing machine on a comet (named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) which hurtles through space toward the sun at a speed of 40,000 miles per hour, which is more than twice as fast as the space shuttles traveled in orbit. No other man-made objects ever traveled that fast. The Apollo missions reached 25,000 miles per hour, and the Voyager spacecraft are in interstellar space now traveling at around 35,000 miles per hour.

To rendezvous with an object moving that fast, the probe has to move just as fast, and then match the orbit of the object. Scientists have likened this feat to a fly trying to land on a speeding rifle bullet. Good luck. But that is just what happened today. The European Space Agency Rosetta craft has been in space for 10 years traveling to the comet waiting for this rendezvous.

The agency published a phenomenal picture which puts the comet into perspective:


Photo credit: Matt Wang, Flickr: anosmicovni. European Space Agency

Here is the three-kilometer-wide comet sitting behind Los Angeles. How is this for size?

The asteroid that hit the earth 65 million years ago causing the extinction of the dinosaurs is estimated to have been about ten kilometers wide, or about three times this big.

Another fascinating thought is that the comet is still 317 million miles away from earth, which means that it takes radio signals 20 minutes to get here.

If the earth were the size of a tangerine (about 5 cm across), the comet would be 1.25 miles away from the tangerine and would be smaller than a speck of dust. Now we can visualize this: The Rosetta spacecraft traveled off the tangerine sized earth to hit a speck of dust one and a quarter miles away.


Cruz Tweet

Ted Cruz has been blabbering about Net Neutrality being Obamacare for the Internet.

Ted Cruz – the Internet, and its neutrality, were around 20 years ago when you were still getting debating awards at Princeton. Obama was still an attorney in a Chicago law firm. The Internet was working just fine without you, Ted Cruz, and you, Barack Obama, messing around with it.

For anyone who doesn’t know what Net Neutrality means, and why this is important, you should read this piece in the Oatmeal. Your 7-year-old will understand it after reading this.

By speaking about ensuring Net Neutrality, Obama is doing the right thing at the right time. In a free Internet we trust.

Job Creation

There may be a lot of problems with Obama, but job creation is definitely not one of them. How can you argue with the reality of this chart? What’s all this Republican talk about Obama and not creating jobs? Would we really want to go back to the Bush years? See how that worked!


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