Chaos Theory?

3 dollar bill

Here is a definition of the branch of mathematics known as chaos theory:

Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.

Having survived the events of the past 13 months, I offer the following alternative definition of the field for your edification:

Chaos Theory – A study of the effects of the Trump administration, with special emphasis on the unintended consequences of the election of a particularly unqualified and immoral individual as President.

The theory posits this proposition: When a craven and narcissistic individual manages to exploit the weaknesses of his opponent, assisted by overt propaganda campaigns (some of which were Russian in origin), and this individual wins election, then this same individual will create a state of chaos in the government and in international relations due to the individual’s insistence that everything revolves around him. Ancillary effects include failure to perform constitutional duties involving protection of this nation from foreign adversaries. Other effects include performing carnival con games aimed at distracting members of the class that elected this individual by continually braying how good his accomplishments are, while delivering the largess of the Federal government to the corporate and plutocrat donor class.

The longer term effects of this experiment being conducted upon the American public are uncertain. If the experiment is to continue for a full term of four years, the potential impacts may be stated as follows:

  • Continued expansion of Chinese influence throughout Asia, Africa, and South America due to the abandonment of all US influence other than military power.
  • Ongoing degradation of existing infrastructure within the US due to the adherence of this administration to the principle that the only valid method of infrastructure restoration involves assigning private interests an ownership position in the restoration efforts.
  • Fomenting racial and cultural division by continually repeating lies and quarter-truths in order to justify policies of exclusion.
  • Developing a subgroup of the US population that steadfastly refuses to accept facts that contradict the brazen lies of both the leader of this administration, and all who shill for this individual.
  • Accelerates the decline of the US as a world leader due to the continual failure to recognize that the world has become interdependent. This failure to recognize the need for international cooperation will result in the abandonment of the US by other nations when US interests are threatened globally.
  • Eliminates all semblance of belief in scientific validity, thus enshrining policies that violate physical laws, and eliminating funding for scientific research. This also accelerates the decline of the US by allowing other nations to glom onto the growth engines of the global economy for decades to come.
  • Removes the economic growth that has always come from open policies for working within this country. By placing increasingly stiffer barriers against foreign students studying and then working in this nation, the US misses out on entrepreneurial energies of potential immigrants.

The list above includes only some of the potential effects of continuing this experiment within the body politic of the US. Part of the uncertainty involved with chaos is that there will be further unanticipated effects that will occur as a result of the seeds being sown by this administration. Given the direction and the effectiveness of this administration, it is apparent that the downside potential for the effects is much more likely than any upside potential.

One of the most disturbing effects of this experiment is that it is essentially an experiment conducted within another experiment. That larger experiment is the US republic, an experiment that has run for over 240 years. Some of the techniques being used by the current administration are testing the bounds of the Federal system enshrined by the constitution. In particular, the independence of the different branches of the government has ensured that no one branch gains ascendency over the others. This independence is being threatened by the trends developing within the Republican party of providing unswerving support of the executive branch, regardless of the harmful effects of the actions of the executive. By use of the feared twitter attack, this President has caused a phenomena within the Republican congress known as “toadying”. Once the poison toad has been licked, the tongues of those affected are capable only of providing statements of affirmation towards the administration, and declaiming those of any who speak ill of the President.

The current experiment may not reach a natural conclusion. During 2018 will come a checkpoint in the experiment, where those who pay the bill for the experimenters will indicate either their approval for completing the experiment, or will choose to apply constraints upon the unfettered excesses shown to date. It is even possible that the 2018 checkpoint will cause the experiment to be canceled due to changes that may come in the legislative chambers. Those who believe in the original US experiment are desiring that the legislative change happens, and serves as a stinging reproach towards the party that allowed itself to be hijacked by incompetence and immorality.

Green Bank Observatory Trips

Green Bank Observatory Picture from Google Earth

In a narrow vale between two folds of earthen ridges in eastern West Virginia, a man-made structure stands nearly 150 meters tall. This is the Green Bank radio telescope, a unique resource that is the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world, with an antenna 100 meters in diameter. The radio telescope is at the heart of what was once called the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and is now run by the Green Bank Observatory. The facility is in the middle of a radio-free zone, where cell phones go to die, since there is zero cell service in this region.

The facilities at this observatory are not just for the use of professional scientists. There is a 40′ radio telescope that is available for use by school groups to learn the principles of radio astronomy, and the principles of scientific observation. I was fortunate enough to chaperone two groups of high school seniors from South Charleston High School (SCHS) on their overnight excursions to this wonderful resource. The International Baccalaureate Physics teacher at SCHS, Janet Richardson, arranged for this field trip annually. I went in the years that my sons were in her physics class.

When we reached the observatory, we had a lecture from one of the observatory staff who explained what we were going to be looking for. The 40′ telescope is now fixed in place, so it allows observations of what is directly overhead as the earth rotates. This means that you can see the galaxy rotating towards you for one part of the day, and you can see the galaxy moving away from you 12 hours later. If you have a radio telescope tuned to the correct wavelength, you can observe the emissions from hydrogen gas found in our galaxy. If you remember the Doppler effect from physics, and you think about train whistles, you will remember that as the train is coming towards you, the pitch is higher. Then when the train passes you, the pitch lowers. That is the same phenomena that the radio telescope is observing. As the hydrogen gas in the galaxy moves towards you, the frequency moves up – the signal is shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum. If the gas is moving away, the signal shifts towards the red. By taking measurements around the clock, you can see the rotation of the galaxy as measured from our position on one of the outer arms of the galaxy.

The 40′ radio telescope is one of the first telescopes within the quiet zone of the observatory. Once you enter the quiet zone, there are no powered vehicles except for old diesels. Spark plugs are capable of creating intense interference for the radio telescopes, so you see Checker cabs from the 1940’s and 1950’s available to transport people. There are some diesel vans as well that are used to move the students back and forth. You enter the quiet zone after passing by the start of the scale model of the solar system, with the inner planets grouped closely together. Then a significant gap, and finally the symbol for Jupiter appears on the side of the road. The gaps between the planets grows, and we reach our destination for observation halfway between Uranus and Neptune. The building that accompanies the 40′ scope is small above ground. Once you enter the door, you descend a short flight of stairs to come to the observation room. This is a scientific instrument history display, but all of the analog dials and gauges and chart recorders are still working. I probably used similar chart recorders back in my college days in the 1970’s.

green bank solar system model

The room where the measurements are taken has been used by various school groups for decades. Mementos of these groups can be found scrawled on the ceiling beams, and the wall beams, where you can see which colleges, and which high schools left their mark for future students to see. The students have been instructed on how to tune the receiver to the correct frequency bandwidth, to start the chart recorder, and to begin their observational period. They move the frequency detector manually through that range, and the chart recorder shows the response. Hydrogen gas, if it is not moving relative to the observer, will emit radiation at 1420 mHz. If it is moving towards the observer, the frequency will increase, and if moving away, the frequency will decrease. As they step through the frequency range, all of a sudden the antenna picks up the signal from hydrogen, and the chart pen goes up. The height of the response is proportional to the concentration of hydrogen being observed. The students move the frequency through the entire assigned range, and the pen comes back down to the baseline. Thus completes one set of measurements. Each group of students makes two observations over the course of their stay.

The first year I went, Janet asked me to stay with the students through all of the late night observation shifts. So while each student only got to see one measurement in the middle of the night, I got to see multiple hours of observation, and really got the sense of seeing the motion of the galaxy in real time. But once the last group of students took their measurements, I was ready to go back to the bunkhouse where the boys in the group were sleeping. The accommodations are not spartan, but the dual rows of bunk beds do not allow for any privacy. They do enable a bit of mischief, like the spray cheese some of the boys put on the hand of another sleeping student, ensuring that when they tickled his face, he would smear the cheese all over his face. I, being a sound sleeper, heard none of this mild mischief.

On my second trip to the observatory, we saw the place where conspiracy theorists (the tinfoil hat crowd) would love. We got to go inside of a room-sized Faraday cage. A Faraday cage is an enclosure that does not permit electromagnetic radiation of certain frequencies to enter or leave. This is where the computer equipment is for the observatory. Since the antennas are so sensitive to stray radiation, the computers have to be totally shielded away from the antennas. The walls, ceiling, and floor are all impregnated with a copper mesh. There are holes in the mesh, because they are only concerned with blocking radiation of certain wavelengths and the size of the holes in the mesh govern the size of waves that can escape.

For this middle-aged self-admitted science and astronomy nerd, the two days off work that I took for these trips were some of the better vacation days I ever spent. It’s now been 10 years since my older son took his trip. I asked both my sons about what they remembered, but it seems that the details of the science portion has been lost to the vagaries of time. I asked Janet what she had the class do with their measurements once they returned to the classroom, and she said that their task was to get an image of the galaxy by looking at their observations over the course of a day. I cannot express my appreciation to teachers like Janet Richardson, who help to ignite the spark of curiosity in classes of young men and women. She said that in the future, they may get involved in the programs that they have to discover pulsars. It’s a crowd-sourced project, where the data from observations are available, and interested volunteers can use their computers and software from the observatory to try to detect pulsars that have not yet been identified.

I noted at the first of this post that the observatory used to be known as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. It was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). As part of the ongoing disinvestment in science that began years ago, the NSF no longer provides 95% of the funds for the facility. Up until late in 2017, it was even feasible that the NSF would call for the demolition of the telescope. But since that time, a compromise was reached that enabled the observatory to stand as a self-sustaining organization. The Green Bank Observatory now is partnering with universities, like West Virginia University, and is involved with several multi-year projects including Project Breakthrough Listen, which is surveying the million closest stars to us and looking for signs of intelligent life. But like all such facilities, the needs for funds continues. If you would like to support the science programs of this unique facility that seeks to expand our knowledge of our origins, here’s the link to get involved:

Where Have All The Christians Gone?

Long time passing.

The demise of Christianity was declared in 2018, and the declaration was made by the current generation of Evangelical Christian leaders who assumed the mantle of leadership from their fathers. Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University, tweeted the following: “Jesus said love our neighbors as ourselves but never told Caesar how to run Rome – he never said Roman soldiers should turn the other cheek in battle or that Caesar should allow all the barbarians to be Roman citizens or that Caesar should tax the rich to help poor. That’s our job.” This was in response to Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, who stated in the mulligan interview, “Evangelical Christians were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

So the last bastion of Evangelical Christianity, having sold its soul literally to the devil in order to accomplish its legislative and judicial agendas, now has openly admitted its hypocrisy against following the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. You know, all of that squishy liberal stuff about turning the other cheek, and overturning the moneychanger’s tables in the temple, and dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. Well, at least on that last count, Donald Trump has shown that he is more than willing to share space with a prostitute, and even to provide recompense for silence. I guess he turned the other cheek in order to have it paddled with the copy of Forbes.

For those of us who have wandered in the wilderness of the mainline Protestant churches, we have long awaited an exposition like this from the holier than thou crowd. I would gloat at the naked display of hypocrisy, but that would seem too much like hubris, i.e. pride, and you know, that is one of the seven deadly sins. But for us, it has long been apparent that actual Christian culture left the building a long time ago. Ironically, our current President Donald Trump formed whatever religious beliefs he has under the tutelage of the originator of the prosperity gospel, Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking is the progenitor of the prosperity gospel movement, where worth is measured by the bank account rather than by beliefs in the gospel. This bastardization of the biblical message has grown by leaps and bounds over the subsequent decades, and now, wrapped in its mantle of praise bands and lyrics to hymns displayed on screens inside of modernistic sanctuaries, has completed a hostile takeover of the message of the gospel. Combine this with those who discern prophetic messages about the ascension of Donald Trump from Youtube videos, it completes the surrealistic transformation of the evangelical wing of the Christian church.

Back in the late 1970’s, there was serious discussion about whether Ronald Reagan would be accepted by Christians since he was “DIVORCED”. The answer was clear, divorce was no longer a barrier to electoral success. Still, the issue of marital fidelity consumed the Evangelical crowd, so much so that when President Clinton had his infamous encounter with the blue dress, the response from the Evangelical community was not whether Bill Clinton deserved impeachment, but whether he deserved to be drawn before being quartered. Now, two decades later, the Evangelical community has chosen to cling to the robes of a charlatan who pretends when it is advantageous, to pay lip service to the precepts of Christianity. Or at least the Christianity he heard in his younger days. Now he is happy to have his little cracker during those infrequent times when he attends a church service. He has abandoned all pretense at following marital vows of fidelity, but then again, he got a mulligan.

So the Faustian bargain has been struck, and the Evangelical Christians are reaping the benefits. They’ve gotten judicial nominations aplenty, and the vacancies within the court system that were prevented from being filled by the Republicans during Obama’s terms of office, are being stuffed with judicial candidates that are declared as unqualified. The liberal organization calling the candidates unqualified? None other than the American Bar Association, a hotbed of liberal activism.

What else have the Evangelical Christians received as their part of the bargain? Daily doses of the violation of the commandment against bearing false witness (lying) from their dear leader. The honor of being represented by a government that believes the worst of anyone who does not look like America in the 1950’s – white, male, and macho. They’ve received reinforcing messages that the rest of the world owes the US – owes us trading relationships that always favor the US (because we deserve it so!), owes us unilateral obedience when we complain about another country (but don’t say anything about abrogating multi-lateral relationships and treaties), owe us respect when we take action that is nearly universally decried in the United Nations. We’ve gone, in one single year, from a nation that was respected for our moral position and standing (whether we deserved it or not), to one that is now being actively and deservedly disrespected for our selfish and short-sighted policy pronouncements and our diplomacy via tweet.

But the vast majority of Trump’s Evangelical supporters won’t consider that their leader is the antithesis of a moral follower of Christ. No, instead he is the first adherent of the Church of Celebrity ever to hold high national political office inside of the US. And as such, he is remaking the moral code of the nation into one befitting this new religion. It is now, what’s in it for me, and how much can I take, and what can I get away with. Those are the precepts driving the actions of this administration.

Still, it does not seem to matter. What matters to many is that Trump speaks his unfiltered thoughts via twitter. He does not need any intermediary in order to shovel his best covfefe into the brains of his addled followers. They can judge the validity of his statements on their own. And why in the world would we ever need eloquence in the political sphere? Eloquence, like competence and expertise, is much overrated in this day and age. When anyone and everyone can state something as a fact, and dare the world to contradict it, why do we need universal standards of behavior? It only gets in the way of our agenda.

Normality and morality are being redefined before our eyes. I hope that the deviancy that Trump has brought to our national stage is transitory, and that we can regain our moral bearing and actually be a light unto the world again. You know, back when America was Great.