A Space Accordian Makes Infinity

Beware what follows! I have no more right to be thinking, much less writing, these words than the last drunk picked up in Times Square last night. But, I am, possibly, different from that guy because I read the Science Times in the New York Times on June 9th. I doubt they supply the TIMES daily in jail?

For those of you who missed it and have any fascination with the universe, I have a message writers rarely convey: put down this article, find it online here and read it.

The core of that piece is about the creation of a global telescope with several “listening” arrays in the North, South, East and West hemispheres integrated in California to home in on a ‘black hole’ theorized to exist at the center of our galaxy.

They are making real progress towards either buttressing Einstein’s theory of black holes–an undesired but unavoidable outcome of general relativity–or disproving it. In either event, they apparently are already convinced that black holes suck large amounts of surrounding objects from “nearby” space–in this case some 20,000 light years away from Earth–into a whirlpool that appears to make all such stars and planets disappear into something perhaps the size of an apple that compressed a great number of stars the size of our sun plus all their satellites. Think of a middle seat on a packed airplane and multiply it by a million or more.

It is very hard to grasp, but it triggers a thought. We also are on the constant lookout for what preceded the “Big Bang” beginning of our universe.

One of the most challenging thoughts I have ever grappled with is how to think about what came before the beginning.

How does something like a Big Bang spring out of nothing? There has to have been something, because otherwise it takes pure magic in our world to make something out of nothing.

Here is where I am really straying off my reservation. Perhaps infinity is simply an accordion-like recycling process. The universe grows and expands, and nature-as nature tends to do for almost everything–provides the garbage disposer, the recycler, in the form of black holes that at some point explode into another Big Bang which gives birth to yet another universe: hence the multiverse?

Abstractly this makes pretty good sense to me, though I obviously cannot write an equation to explain it.

If there is any merit in this whiz bang idea, it may lie in an answer to the source of the Big Bang as well as why black holes seem to exist at the center of every galaxy.

It also gives us (infinitely) more chances to find another planet like Earth someday, perhaps 4 billion years from now.

I hope that thought gives you some hope for me in my later years!

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It is said in academe that the intensity of political infighting varies inversely with the unimportance of the issues involved.

Something similar happens in small towns where the larger political issues are often pretty well handled by Town meetings and Selectpersons, but the smaller issues like property line disputes and view blockages fester generally out of public view sometimes for years. Neighbors come to despise one another and find all kinds of devious ways to punish ‘the offender.’ That often leads to tit for tat and sometimes ends up before a town authority–to everyone’s dissatisfaction.

This happened to me years ago and we have managed around our punishment for well over a decade when our neighbor asserted ownership of a piece of land that most likely has been Town land for over a century. She also asserted that to access our driveway we were illegally crossing about 18 inches of her precious land.

To drive her point home she bought and had placed on the alleged property line a large ROCK, which made it really difficult to get in and out of our driveway. She claimed she had rights to the land ‘from the Indians’. My investigation of her alleged property rights convinced me that she had no rights, but that it would take $10,000 and 5 years to really get an answer. And even then, who knows? Local courts can be fickle.

I then took another track. I found that under Town law no one could put a ‘structure’ within 15 feet of a town road. This now famous ROCK was about 2 feet from the road, but Town Appeals board found that a rock is not a structure even though it was placed by man where it sits. The stupid argument they advanced was that to be a structure it had to be something ‘built’ by man. We had very convincing arguments that a structure was simply anything managed and placed by man. Go figure how they came to their conclusion!

So we gave up and 2 or 3 scraped car doors later, have managed, with consistent annoyance, to live with the bloody ROCK.

Until this spring we remained stuck with the rock, when we were thrilled to learn that the ROCK parcel had been taken over by the Town for non-payment of taxes.

From that we learned that the definition of spite is when you drink the poison and wait for the other person to die.

I do not know what motivated that neighbor to be so hostile. She drank the poison when she placed the rock. While she is still living, she is not aware of what is going on. She surely put the rock there to drive us crazy. But we managed NOT to go crazy and survived.

Now, her heirs let the ‘rock parcel’ go to auction for want of $600 or 3 years unpaid taxes. We bought it, with our other neighbor, from the Town for something more than the unpaid taxes.

The rock is going overboard to support the shore bank and our driveway will expanded again.

My wife will not allow me to put the rock on the steps to her house with a note “Thanks for the loan!” which is where I think it really belongs.

The only thing that is disappointing to us now is that she is unaware of how it all played out.

Despite her spite, her heirs could have quite easily collected the value of the parcel rather than ‘giving’ it to the town. So all is right in Tunerville again.

So much for the rhyme and reason of small town politics!

Shucks (or S**t): It Can’t be Helped!

In the 1980s, I was commuting to Japan on various matters of business.

In between appointments, friends and clients took me to many sights, galleries, parks and stores.

One of those galleries had a superb pair of screens with eight scenes of Japanese daily life in the late 1700s. For example, a silk maker, a sword maker etc.; it was and is both fascinating and beautiful.

BUT the price seemed too steep-about $35,000.

I did not tumble then, but on succeeding trips year by year I passed that shop and inquired about the screens. Each time the price was less, not largely because of exchange rate changes.

About the fifth time I inquired, the price — not surprisingly — had fallen to about $15,000.

I then asked a genuine expert on Japanese art of that period to come with me to look and opine.

The dealer brought the screens out and proudly put them on stands in the middle of his shop.

My advisor very discreetly told me they were great: unusual and very valuable. The explanation of the lack of commercial interest over five years rested largely on the fact that romantic scenes, not everyday scenes, were then in vogue.

“How would you go about getting the best price?”, I asked.

I was told, “Write out a check for $7000, hand it to dealer, and say you will take them.”

I did just that. The dealer got very red in the face and mumbled — I learned later — an obscure Japanese expletive and slapped the back of his hand to the screens.

I thanked him, and we started out of the shop. As I was in the doorway, I felt a jerk on my coat. He said to come back, mumbled some more Japanese, and we agreed — in English — that my check included shipping and wall mounting.

I asked my advisor what had been said. Answer: “S**t! It can’t be helped.”

Why does this come back to mind at the moment? As we enter the period of the end games between Greece and Europe, Iran and the US, and Russia and NATO over Ukraine, both sides engage in end game tactics like that art dealer.

At the end of the day-and just before the stroke of midnight — both sides in a long running negotiation engage in screaming fits, gestures, promises and threats to try to gain some last moment advantage and possible benefit.

All it takes to get through the process is some cool calmness and a willingness to walk out the door.

I guess I was destined to get those screens and have loved them now for over 30 years!

Money Is the Root of Most Evil

Money is the root of most evil and the source of a lot of pleasure often to the wrong people.

This message is likely to lose me a lot of friends, but it needs to be said.

What I say is not new at all, but it is in a new context, which suggests that it is more important than ever to truly and seriously begin to address the problem systemically.

Politics:

Let’s start with money in politics. This is the easy one. When the Supreme Court effectively lifted all limits on political money in Citizens United, the flood gates were opened and we have seen just the beginning of a tsunami that could very well drown our system of a truly representative democracy. The legal question was whether spending money was the equivalent of free speech. The Court ruled that it is and therefore cannot be curbed.

To most people in this country it seems absurd to conflate those two very different things. By effectively eliminating limits a very small number of people can obtain much, MUCH louder voices by spending vast amounts of money, which in due course, is bound to warp our political system to increasingly favor big money interests.

Personally I have no problems with “big money” –in fact I like it — unless I see it undermining the overall public interest. I worry that when [not if] things get really out of hand, the basic sinews of our society will be sorely challenged to the point that even the owners of “big money’ will become BIG losers in a revolutionary fervor. That is why I worry. I have a lot at stake too.

Modern airplane wings are made to be flexible just to prevent them from breaking by being too stiff. The stiff rule that there cannot be too much money in politics could break the wings of modern society.

The sooner we deal with this problem, either by getting a Supreme Court to reverse Citizens United or by a Constitutional Amendment -or both – to protect the long run, the sooner we may begin to solve the dysfunctions in Washington.

Law:

The next important sector in our society harmed by money is the law.

Typically lawyers keep track of the time they spend every day and allocate it to the matters they are working on including the time of all their supporting lawyers. And as time has passed the hourly rates many lawyers all over the country charge routinely have been in four figures.

Go figure. What happens is that as time passes the number of hours grows exponentially. The lawyers have almost total control over the time they spend and their basic incentive therefore is to work methodically and even slowly as well as carefully. They have gotten away with that process for a long time.

Things are beginning to change because they silently slipped by an invisible line of tolerance and serious push back is finally under way.

The fact is that the old model was always seriously flawed despite its seductive attraction of being the metric most easily at hand.

Now the question is: where does the effort to correct the corrosive effect of money go? Perhaps some combination of outcomes, time, pages and agreed incentives to reward expeditious results for the client.

Whatever it turns out to be, it should be better than what came before AND serve the world needing lawyers well.

Medicine:

Medicine is vastly more complicated than the law because it involves insurers and the government who are integrally involved in virtually all the costs of medical care.

The biggest variables in medicine are procedures and tests. Non doctors are more or less disqualified from important decisions about procedures and tests . So — guess what — more and more outstanding experts are pointing out that looking over all data there are far too many procedures and tests being performed across the country. Who wants to play God about any or all doctors’ choices in this matter.

The current vogue of how to approach that problem has been to try to move toward doctors becoming self-insurers [via concierge arrangements] and/ or outcome arrangements where the better, faster and cheaper care gets the money roses.

Money really is and has been the root of a lot of evil. Some might say that the inevitable is happening spontaneously. Hopefully that is right and the system may end up being satisfactorily self-correcting.

In the meanwhile the more visible the underlying problems become clearer, the sooner we should all be better off.

NYC Pedestrian Traffic

This is a plea for a return to sanity in New York City traffic matters.

The newest traffic idea in NYC, called Vision Zero, requires ALL vehicles seeking to turn into a side street to be responsible to avoid hitting ALL pedestrians under all circumstances until pedestrians have finished crossing the side street, whether or not they had the benefit of favorable traffic signals.

That, perhaps well intended, provision has recently led to added massive new traffic jams in mid-town because pedestrians very largely ignore the traffic signals which start first with a signal of a green hand, then a flashing red hand and finally a steady red hand.

Clearly in this new situation, the deliberate ignoring of the steady red hand signal by pedestrians contributes a new additional complicating problem. I have seen avenue traffic stopped for three or four light changes, without moving, while cars had to wait for several lights to change for a vehicle already at the intersection waiting to make a turn for fear of touching anyone in the continuous stream of pedestrians deliberately ignoring the signal lights not to cross.

In “the good ole days” that was called jaywalking and tickets were frequently and freely given to pedestrian offenders and that did keep kept some order in the tug of war between cars and people.

Today with the combination of bikes, bike lanes, new pedestrian rules, parking problems and a maze of no right turns, left turns, etc., the city has become a static mess with a lot of unintended self-contradictory efforts to make one thing better while making everything else worse.

Current studies show this problem is having a significant adverse effect on the City’s economy and attractiveness as a place to do business and live.

To address this new problem the City now needs a representative group of creative, bold and interested citizens to review the overall situation and try to forge a public consensus on how create an “intersector” solution.

In addition to looking carefully and dispassionately at the overall current situation there are already some interesting ideas in use in other large cities around the world to look carefully at — for example congestion charges in London, which has numerous benefits, ranging from curbing emissions to relieving congestion and improving pedestrian safety.

New York is too big and too important to the whole world to let this situation fester forever!

It is time for citizens of New York to pick up where the City and special interests have failed us all for a long time and take the issue in hand for the GREATER GOOD of the whole city.