Sunday, October 4, 2015

The iPhone 6 is here!


Recent advances in cosmology tell us that the Milky Way is part of a broader supercluster of 100,000 galaxies known as Laniakea.

The Earth and the solar system are located in the Milky Way galaxy, but how does the Milky Way fit among the billions of other galaxies in the known universe?

Laniakea is much, much, much bigger than astronomers had previously realized. Laniakea contains more than 100,000 galaxies, and stretches 500 million light years across.

It's hard to imagine how enormous this is. Each galaxy contains millions, billlions, or even trillions of stars. Oh, and this all is just our little local corner of an even broader universe. There are many other galaxy superclusters out there.

So how did the researchers figure out this structure existed — and how did they distinguish it from other superclusters?

R. Brent Tully of the University of Hawaii led a team of scientists who first studied the motion of some 8,000 galaxies in our neighborhood. By doing so, they could map out certain patterns. The universe overall has been expanding ever since the Big Bang. But the team also found that gravity was pulling some galaxies toward each other.

That helped them build the graph below, where galaxies moving away from us are shown in red, and the galaxies moving toward us in blue.

The galaxies around us are moving in identifiable patterns. Galaxies moving away from us are in red, those moving toward us in blue (Nature Video, based on Tully et al 2014). That, in turn, let them create a map of the pathways along which all the galaxies are moving and demarcate some boundaries.

The map below shows some of the pathways within our broader supercluster of galaxies. There's an especially dense region called "The Great Attractor" (in red) that's slowly pulling the Milky Way and many other galaxies toward it:

Click to enlarge.
What's interesting is that this structure is much bigger than anyone had realized. Astronomers had long grouped the Milky Way, Andromeda, and other galaxies around us in the Virgo Supercluster, which contained some 100 galaxy groups.

But, as Tully and his colleagues found, and as the map above shows, this Virgo Supercluster is just part of a much, much bigger supercluster — Laniakea. (The name, aptly enough, means "immeasurable heavens" in Hawaiian.)

So what happens when we zoom out? The paper notes that Laniakea borders another supercluster known as Perseus-Pisces. And the scientists defined the borders as where the galaxies are consistently diverging:

What happens if we zoom out even further? Even Laniakea and Perseus-Pisces are just one small pocket of the much broader universe. That universe consists of both voids and densely packed superclusters of galaxies. It looks something like this:

We still don't have detailed maps of every last galaxy supercluster out there. But we now have one for our own home supercluster — and that's certainly a start.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In order to be effective you need not only virtue but also mental strength.
– Aristotle

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Land Of The Fleeced And The Home Of The Slave

Citizens of the United States are living under a system of laws and jurisprudence that is no longer valid. Now, why would I say such a thing? There's a simple answer. The social contract with which the government operates along with the permission of the citizenry has been effectively ignored for a number of years. If the government does not obey the law, citizens are under no obligation to obey the law, either. Let's do a quick review of what the heck I'm talking about.

The 1st Amendment is supposed to protect speech, religion, assembly and the press.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The Supreme Court has also interpreted the First Amendment as protecting freedom of association. However, the government will arrest those who speak out and use paramilitary police forces against those who desire to petition the government for redress.

A federal judge found that the law allowing indefinite detention of Americans without due process has a “chilling effect” on free speech. Can you believe we even have a law that allows indefinite detention of Americans without due process?

There are other laws that allow the secret service to arrest anyone protesting near the president or other designated folks. Wouldn't want to upset the elites with displays of dissatisfaction.

"They" are watching us. My native paranoia is justified! Mass spying by the NSA violates our freedom of association. The threat of being labeled a terrorist for exercising our First Amendment rights certainly violates the First Amendment. The government uses the laws it has passed to crush dissent, despite what the Constitution has to say about individual liberty.

For example, the following actions may get an American citizen living on U.S. soil labeled as a “suspected terrorist” today:

Taking any steps to protect your privacy.
Being a hippy.
Complaining about the taste of your tap water.
Being young (if you live near a battle zone, you are fair game).
Acting like a kid.
Using social media.
Reporting or doing journalism.
Having “strange odors” or “bright colored stains on clothes” (is that mustard or ketchup?).
Speaking out against government policies.
Protesting anything (such as participating in the “Occupy” or “Tea Party” movements). For example, Department of Defense training manuals classify all protest as “low-level terrorism”.
Questioning war (even though war reduces our national security).
Criticizing the government’s targeting of innocent civilians with drones (although killing innocent civilians with drones is one of the main things which increases terrorism.).
Asking questions about pollution (even at a public Congressional hearing?).
Paying cash at an Internet cafe.
Asking questions about Wall Street shenanigans.
Holding gold.
Creating alternative currencies.
Stocking up on more than 7 days of food (even though all Mormons are taught to stockpile food, and most Hawaiians store up on extra food).
Having bumper stickers saying things like “Know Your Rights Or Lose Them”.
Investigating factory farming.
Infringing a copyright.
Taking pictures or videos.
Talking to police officers.
Wearing a hoodie.
Driving a van.
Writing on a piece of paper.

(Not having a Facebook account may soon be added).

And holding the following beliefs may also be considered grounds for suspected terrorism:

Being frustrated with “mainstream ideologies”.
Being a libertarian.
Liking the Founding Fathers.
Being a Christian.
Being anti-tax, anti-regulation or for the gold standard.
Being “reverent of individual liberty”.
Being “anti-nuclear”.
Believe in conspiracy theories.
A belief that one’s personal and/or national “way of life” is under attack.
Impose strict religious tenets or laws on society (fundamentalists).
Insert religion into the political sphere.
Those who seek to politicize religion.
Supported political movements for autonomy.
Being “anti-abortion”.
Being “anti-Catholic”.
Being “anti-global”.
“Suspicious of centralized federal authority”.
“Fiercely nationalistic (as opposed to universal and international in orientation)”.
“A belief in the need to be prepared for an attack either by participating in… survivalism”.
Opposing genetically engineered food.
Opposing surveillance.

1st Amendment rights are especially chilled when power becomes so centralized that the same agency which spies on all Americans also decides who should be assassinated.

Despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms defined therein are under constant assault. Increasingly, Americans are being arrested and charged with bogus “contempt of cop” charges such as “disrupting the peace” or “resisting arrest” for daring to film police officers engaged in harassment or abusive practices. Journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers. States are passing legislation to muzzle reporting on cruel and abusive corporate practices. Religious ministries are being fined for attempting to feed and house the homeless. Protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.” Under the guise of “government speech,” the courts have reasoned that the government can discriminate freely against any First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum.

The 2nd Amendment states:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"

It is hard to read the Second Amendment and not honestly conclude that the Framers intended gun ownership to be an individual right. It is true that the amendment begins with a reference to militias: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Accordingly, it is argued, this amendment protects the right of the militia to bear arms, not the individual.

Yet, if true, the Second Amendment would be effectively declared a defunct provision. The National Guard is not a true militia in the sense of the Second Amendment and, since the District and others believe governments can ban guns entirely, the Second Amendment would be read out of existence.

More important, the mere reference to a purpose of the Second Amendment does not alter the fact that an individual right is created. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is stated in the same way as the right to free speech or free press. The statement of a purpose was intended to reaffirm the power of the states and the people against the central government. At the time, many feared the federal government and its national army. Gun ownership was viewed as a deterrent against abuse by the government, which would be less likely to mess with a well-armed populace.

Considering the Framers and their own traditions of hunting and self-defense, it is clear that they would have viewed such ownership as an individual right — consistent with the plain meaning of the amendment.

None of this is easy for mind-numbed voters who believe the Second Amendment was the dividing line between the enlightenment and the dark ages of American culture. That cadre of liberal mindset is not going to be swayed by logic or emotion. Fortunately, gun ownership was made a protected right by the Framers and the language used must be contorted in order to derive any other reading.

The bottom line is do citizens have a right to self-defense anymore? It's actually an absurd question, but in light of other present-day absurdities, it is still a legitimate question.

The gun control debate – including which weapons and magazines are banned – is still in flux… My belief is that it will soon become "inconvenient" for most people to own a firearm because of the onerous amount of laws, rules, and regulations concerning ownership, registration, training, storage, maintenance, ad nauseum. If you pay attention to the news, having a firearm makes you more likely to be shot by the police, accidentally or otherwise. Soon, only the authorities will have "legal" firearms.

Whether they are armed or not, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons better suited for the battlefield than for a country founded on freedom. Police shootings of unarmed citizens continue to outrage communities, while little is being done to demilitarize law enforcement agencies. Indeed, just recently, North Dakota became the first state to legalize law enforcement use of drones armed with weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbags, pepper spray and Tasers.

The 3rd Amendment prohibits the government from forcing people to house soldiers:

"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

With the police increasingly training like the military, acting like the military, and posing as military forces — complete with military weapons, assault vehicles, etc. — it is clear that we now have what the founders feared mos — a standing army on American soil. Moreover, as a result of SWAT team raids (more than 80,000 a year) where police invade homes, often without warrants, and injure and even kill unarmed citizens, the barrier between public and private property has been done away with, leaving us with armed government agents who act as if they own our property.

In America, journalists are considered terrorists yet the 4th Amendment prevents unlawful search and seizure:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

But the government is spying on everything we do… without any real benefit or justification. Indeed, experts say that the type of spying being carried out by the NSA and other agencies is exactly the kind of thing which King George imposed on the American colonists… which led to the Revolutionary War.

Most Constitutional experts think the police went too far reacting to the Boston Marathon Bombings (was it real or staged?) with lockdowns and involuntary door-to-door searches.

In reality, the Fourth Amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors.

The use of civil asset forfeiture schemes to swell the coffers of police forces has also continued to grow in popularity among cash-strapped states. The federal government continues to strong-arm corporations into providing it with access to Americans’ private affairs, from emails and online transactions to banking and web surfing. Coming in the wake of massive leaks about the inner workings of the NSA and the massive secretive surveillance state, it was revealed that the government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 every day for failing to comply with the NSA’s mass data collection program known as PRISM. Meanwhile, AT&T has enjoyed a profitable and “extraordinary, decades-long” relationship with the NSA.

The technological future appears to pose even greater threats to what’s left of our Fourth Amendment rights, with advances in biometric identification and microchip implants on the horizon making it that much easier for the government to track not only our movements and cyber activities but our very cellular beings. Barclays has already begun using a finger-scanner as a form of two-step authentication to give select customers access to their accounts. Similarly, Motorola has been developing thin “digital tattoos” that will ensure that a phone’s owner is the only person who may unlock it. Not to be overlooked are the aerial spies — surveillance drones — about to take to the skies in coming years, as well as the Drive Smart programs that will spy on you (your speed, movements, passengers, etc.) while you travel the nation’s highways and byways.

The 5th Amendment addresses due process of law, eminent domain, double jeopardy and grand jury:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

But the American government has shredded the 5th Amendment by subjecting us to indefinite detention and taking away our due process rights.

The government claims the right to assassinate or indefinitely detain any American citizen on U.S. citizen without any due process. For example, if you haven't heard, American citizens are being detained in Guantanamo-like conditions in Chicago… including:

Brutal beatings.
Being held in secret.
No legal representation.

As such, the government is depriving people of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

There are additional corruptions of 5th Amendment rights – such as property being taken for private purposes. And the right to remain silent is gone. The percentage of prosecutions in which a defendant is denied a grand jury is difficult to gauge, as there is so much secrecy surrounding many terrorism trials. Who knows what the government is up to behind closed doors.

The 6th Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury in the location where the crime allegedly occurred, to hear the criminal charges levied against us and to be able to confront the witnesses who have testified against us, as well as speedy criminal trials, and a public defender for those who cannot hire an attorney:

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

Subjecting people to indefinite detention or assassination obviously violates the 6th Amendment right to a speedy and public jury trial. In both cases, the defendants is “disposed of” without ever receiving any trial at all… let alone a speedy or public one. In neither case do they get a jury, a defense lawyer, or the right to call their own witnesses. And they often never even hear the charges against them.

Indefinite detentions usually don’t occur where the alleged crime occurred, but at a black site.

More and more commonly, the government prosecutes cases based upon “secret evidence” that they don’t show to the defendant… or sometimes even the judge hearing the case. The government uses “secret evidence” to spy on Americans, prosecute leaking or terrorism charges (even against U.S. soldiers) and even assassinate people. Secret witnesses are being used in some cases. And sometimes lawyers are not even allowed to read their own briefs.

Indeed, even the laws themselves are now starting to be kept secret. And it’s about to get a lot worse.

Moreover, government is “laundering” information gained through mass surveillance through other agencies, with an agreement that the agencies will “recreate” the evidence in a “parallel construction”… so they don’t have to admit that the evidence came from unconstitutional spying. A former top NSA official says that this is the opposite of following the Fourth Amendment, but is a “totalitarian process” which shows that we’re in a police state.

There are two systems of justice in America: one for the big banks and other fat cats, and one for everyone else. The government made it official policy not to prosecute fraud, even though fraud is the main business model adopted by Wall Street. Indeed, the biggest financial crime in world history, the largest insider trading scandal of all time, illegal raiding of customer accounts and blatant financing of drug cartels and terrorists have all been committed recently without any real criminal prosecution or jail time.

On the other hand, government prosecutors are using the legal system to crush dissent and to silence whistleblowers.

Some of the nation’s most powerful judges have lost their independence and are in bed with the powers-that-be. Constitutional lawyer John Whitehead explains:

"The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended. Certainly, if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights. That’s the crux of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the government’s use of asset forfeiture to strip American citizens of the funds needed to hire a defense attorney of their choosing."

The 7th Amendment guarantees trial by jury in federal court for civil cases:

"In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."

A broken system.
But there are two systems of justice in America… one for those with deep pockets and one for everyone else. So good luck going after those who sit on high.

And the World Justice Project – a bipartisan, independent group with honorary chairs including numerous current and former Supreme Court Justices – released a report saying that Americans have less access to justice than most wealthy countries… and many developing nations. The report finds that Americans have less access to justice than Botswanans, and that only the wealthy have the resources to protect rights using the court system.

For example, Germans sue equally whether they are rich or poor, but in America, only the wealthy have the resources to protect rights using the court system.

Federal judges have also recently decided that they can pre-judge cases before the plaintiff even has the chance to conduct discovery and throw cases out if they don’t like a plaintiff’s case. How convenient for them.

The thing is, the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution — civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums — that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears. However, as a growing number of citizens are coming to realize, the power of the jury to nullify the government’s actions — and thereby help balance the scales of justice — is not to be underestimated. Jury nullification reminds the government that it’s “we the people” who can and should be determining what laws are just, what activities are criminal and who can be jailed for what crimes.

The 8th Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment:

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Indefinite detention and assassination are obviously cruel and unusual punishment. The widespread system of torture carried out in the last 10 years – with the help of other countries – violates the 8th Amendment. Many want to bring it back or at least justify its past use. While Justice Scalia disingenuously argues that torture does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment because it is meant to produce information – not punish – he’s wrong. It’s not only cruel and unusual… it is technically a form of terrorism.

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
Government whistleblowers are being cruelly and unusually punished with unduly harsh sentences meant to intimidate anyone else from speaking out. Do you care? What if it happened to you?

The 9th Amendment provides that people have other rights, even if they aren’t specifically listed in the Constitution:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

We can debate what our inherent rights as human beings are. I believe they include the right to "pursue life, liberty, and happiness" and access to non-toxic food and water. You may disagree.

But everyone can agree that the government should not actively encourage fraud and manipulation. However, the government – through its malignant, symbiotic relation with big corporations – is interfering with our aspirations for economic freedom, safe food and water (instead of arsenic-laden, genetically engineered junk), freedom from undue health hazards such as irradiation due to government support of archaic nuclear power designs, and the freedom to pursue a livelihood.

By working hand-in-glove with giant corporations to defraud us into paying for a lower quality of life, the government is trampling our basic rights as human beings.

The 10th Amendment provides that powers not specifically given to the Federal government are reserved to the states or individual:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Two of the central principles of America’s Founding Fathers are that (1) The government is created and empowered with the consent of the people; and (2) Separation of powers.

However, the majority of tax-paying, legal Americans believe that the government is opposed to individual freedoms. For years, “conservative” pollsters have said that Americans are furious at the government:

Who runs the show?
"Rasmussen noted in 2010 that only a small minority of the American people think that the government has the consent of the governed, and that the sentiment was “pre-revolutionary”."

Gallup noted in 2011 that a higher percentage of Americans liked King George during the colonial days than currently like Congress. And last year, Gallup noted that trust was plummeting in virtually all institutions. These sentiments have recently been repeated in the media.

Liberals may be tempted to think this is a slanted perspective, but non-partisan and liberal pollsters say the same thing:

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from 2011 found that 76% of Americans believe that the country’s current financial and political structures favor the rich over the rest of the country.

The Washington Post reported in 2011 that Congress was less popular than communism, BP during the Gulf oil spill or Nixon during Watergate.

Public Policy Polling added last month that Congress is also less popular than cockroaches, lice, root canals, colonoscopies, traffic jams, used car salesman and Genghis Khan.

And the liberal Pew Charitable Trusts noted last week that – for the first time – a majority of the public says that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree.

In March 2010, opinions were divided over whether the government represented a threat to personal freedom; 47% said it did while 50% disagreed. In surveys between 1995 and 2003, majorities rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms.

The survey finds continued widespread distrust in government. About a quarter of Americans (26%) trust the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time; 73% say they can trust the government only some of the time or volunteer that they can never trust the government.

Majorities across all partisan and demographic groups express little or no trust in government. Obviously, Democrats are currently more trusting in government than Republicans. For example:

The Pew Research Center’s 2010 study of attitudes toward government found that, since the 1950s, the party in control of the White House has expressed more trust in government than the so-called “out party.” But given that even a growing percentage of Dems believe that government is a threat to their freedom, things are indeed getting interesting…