Return to Blogging in the Twilight Zone

I have not been active on this site for a while in part due to time spent on getting the “Walkabout the Galaxy” podcast up and running. After what I regard as an unprecedented calamity and display of meanness, ignorance and stupidity yesterday, I’m looking for a way to identify those of us who value women, minorities, immigrants, refugees, the rule of law, science, reason and common human decency from the others. I think a simple blue wristband might be best.

Where Have I Been?

Posts here have become an increasingly rare item. Here, in a nutshell, is what is going on. In January 2011 I became Associate Chair of the Department of Physics at UCF. In September 2011 I became Assistant Director of the Florida Space Institute. Meanwhile I’m directing the Center for Microgravity Research and Education at UCF as well as carrying on my regular research and teaching duties. Things have been going very well on all fronts, but posting here has fallen through the cracks a bit. On my “pending posts” list are reviews (now unlikely to ever be written) of movies seen several months ago, such as “The Descendants”, “Unknown”, and “Drive”.

In March our Microgravity Center got three important wins from NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program providing us with a week-long parabolic airplane flight campaign for one experiment and two suborbital rocket flights for each of two other experiments. Florida Space Institute’s new digs at the UCF Research Park are well into construction with an anticipated move from Kennedy Space Center in June. The Physics Department continues to modernize its teaching program with the development of a new modern “studio-mode” classroom to be built this summer, and I completed my first year of teaching the Algebra-based Physics 1 and Physics 2 cycle (physics for life sciences majors) just this week. Cassini, meanwhile, is getting ready to leave Saturn’s equatorial plane for more inclined climes this summer, providing us once again with dazzling views of the rings and me with a new flood of data to analyze.

And, finally, the astonished amusement phase of the presidential campaign now gives way to the obsessive panicky phase at the prospect that election-law tinkering, super-PAC spending, and propaganda will result in the dismantling of the American government.

Questions for the Protesters

To those of you screaming about the rising national debt, where were you when President George W. Bush cut taxes and spent hundreds of billions of dollars invading a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of September 11 (to quote Bush himself) and posed no threat to the United States?

To those of you screaming about a government “takeover” of health care, why are you not screaming about government control of higher education in the form of state colleges and universities, government control of transportation in the form of the federal interstate system, or government control of commerce in the form of the United States Postal Service?

The cost of the Obama health care proposal is $900 billion over 10 years. $90 billion per year, or about 75 cents per day per American, so that in what I imagine you like to consider to be the greatest country on the planet, everyone has access to basic health care. Health insurance companies are out to make a profit. The way to do that is not to cover sick people. What exactly is your objection to regulations on the industry preventing them from doing that? Also, please look up the word “option.”

This morning the news clips of marchers revealed a common refrain from the protesters: “We’ve had enough” they say. Enough of what? After all, you can still buy guns, and your taxes have been cut.

The Health Care Shouting Match

It is not a debate when one party simply states lies. “Lies” is the kindest word I can come up with for the claims that the health care reform bills working their way through Congress contain a “death panel” (Sarah Palin’s words). I cannot come up with any words to react to Limbaugh’s comparisons of a health care logo to Nazi logos. So if one side is simply going to shout and repeat scary lies over and over, perhaps the Democrats should take them up on their own game. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Democrats spent the next week repeating over and over again that the Republicans are pushing for abolition of Medicare and for a $3000 cash access fee to get into Emergency Rooms to keep out “undesirables”. So I’ll start it here with the following statement:

The America I know and love is not one in which my daughter will have to stand in front of a Republican “worthiness panel” so their bureaucrats can decide, based on her ability to pay a $3000 fee to prove her “level of productivity and worth in society,” whether she can have access to urgent medical care. Such a system is downright evil.

Obama is a Natural Born Citizen

NBC Nightly News did a lengthy segment tonight on the conspiracy theories about Obama’s citizenship. This all seems to center around a conviction that he was not born in Hawaii. Even though it has been demonstrated that he was born in Hawaii, conspiracy theorists and the gullible continue to insist that he is not an American citizen and therefore not eligible to be President. The Constitution states that one must be a “natural born citizen” to be President. The U.S. Supreme Court has never issued a ruling defining what “natural born citizen” means in this context. However it is generally agreed that it means the individual is a citizen by right of birth, not through a naturalization process. I have not heard anyone dispute that Barack Obama’s mother was an American citizen. And that alone makes him a U.S. citizen by birth, not naturalization. In other words he would be a natural born citizen (a citizen from the moment of birth) even if he hadn’t been born in Hawaii. This is directly from the U.S. Department of State web site:

Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent in Wedlock: A child born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under Section 301(g) INA provided the citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. for the time period required by the law applicable at the time of the child’s birth. (For birth on or after November 14, 1986, a period of five years physical presence, two after the age of fourteen is required. For birth between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, a period of ten years, five after the age of fourteen are required for physical presence in the U.S. to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child.

Obama’s mother spent her entire childhood in the U.S., satisfying the 10 year requirement. Barack Obama was born when his mother was 18, before she could possibly have spent five years after the age of fourteen in the States, but of course she eventually would spend far more than five years after the age of fourteen in the States. And in any event, it is irrelevant because he was born in the U.S. anyway.

Much Ado About AIG and Earmarks

Earmarks made up less than 2% of the recently passed spending bill. The $165 million in bonuses for AIG executives is a much smaller fraction of the TARP funds (roughly $700 billion) already spent, not to mention the additional funds that will be directed to the financial industry. Is this really the most important thing for the media and congress to be working on?

What is Wrong with Congress?

It is widely known that the problem with the economy now is that there is reduced changeover of money. People are saving what little they have because of economic insecurity, and this results in less money flowing through the economy. A reduced flux of money through the system, to borrow a physics term, means fewer purchases and therefore fewer jobs for retailers and manufacturers. The stimulus bill is supposed to spur people to start spending again. The most obvious way to do that is to actually hire people. Repairing a road or a railroad line or building a smart electrical grid requires hiring construction workers and engineers. The same holds true for rebuilding schools and making government buildings more energy efficient. And these are things that are meritorious in their own right. Even re-sodding the National Mall means you’ve got to go buy sod from some farm somewhere and hire people to do the work to lay it. Those people then can afford to buy clothes, gas, food, and maybe even see a movie or get a new TV, helping keep the people in those industries employed. In fact, the one way the government can spend money that won’t stimulate the economy is giving tax breaks to people who are relatively well-off. We are the ones who can afford to put that extra money in a bank account (or maybe under a mattress these days).

So what the frak is the problem with these so-called centrists? Why is there so much tax cutting by self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives that will produce the smallest injection of money into the economy, and so much cutting of direct spending measures that will actually result in people working? Are they idiots? Or are they mean? I’m actually asking.

Jason Jones in Wasilla

This has to be seen to be believed:

Redistribution of Wealth

Some are getting up in arms over the idea that Barack Obama’s tax plan amounts to “redistribution of wealth”, a concept that is wedded in the American psyche to socialism which is in turn equated somehow with the Soviet Union. Here is the simple calculation I wish someone would present to the public. The annual U.S. federal budget is now $3.1 trillion. With about 300 million Americans, that amounts to $10,000 per American. The only way we don’t redistribute wealth on the federal level would be for tax to be a flat citizenship fee of $10,000 per person. After all, all people are given equal protection by the military, have equal access to the interstate system, have equal access to the products of federal scientific research. Let’s put aside for the moment that some federal programs are targeted. Not even Joe the plumber would argue that everyone should pay a flat fee of $10,000 instead of a percentage of income. If tax is anything other than a fixed dollar amount for each individual, then the government is by definition redistributing wealth. We are and have been “socialist” by this definition for a long time, and will continue to be. The only discussion should be over degree: how much more should a millionaire pay than someone on minimum wage?

The Real McCain from Rolling Stone