Monday, 30 March 2015

Thoughtless suicide, Jeremy (Wanker) Clarkson and Why I don't love the media

What a palaver! Have you ever had to go through fifteen months' worth of emails; sorting the junk out of the ones that are actually worthwhile? Don't! Two thousand, six hundred and fifty three and only about twenty of them was I vaguely interested in! I don't need penis enlargement since I have no penis and I certainly don't need a Stannah stairlift even if does come with a three year warranty and 50% discount! I doubt that the engineers would be happy about fixing the brackets to the ice on the bluff!

However, one I thing I did notice in the interminable drive to clear my in-box; how the Brits, or rather the Brit media, have not in any way lost their appetite for news which isn't news and news which merely panders to the more ghoulish among a population. I am of course talking about the non-news about Jeremy Clarkson's little contretemps with a producer and the almost rabid fascination with air-crashes.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but sympathy for the families of those killed in the Lufthansa 'cheapo' subsiduary's plunge into a Swiss mountain but is is news? Perhaps on day one, when the disaster happens, but on every other day as the poor hapless co-pilot has his all-too-human frailities dragged through the mud of a media only too happy to cast blame and opprobrium willy-nilly to the wind in a fit of all-too-self righteousness! Does anyone care about the family of the co-pilot who, according to French investigators, willfully rammed the plane into the side of a mountain merely so he could kill himself. Sick, yes! But news?

And what of the French investigators who have been more than willing to feed the media tasty titbits about every little detail of the co-pilot's existence; don't they feel any compassion towards the families of those killed and the family of the co-pilot? It seems that they don't. It must be distressing enough to have those that they loved perish in such a disaster but to have it ground into their faces that it all could have been avoided if only (pick one or more): (a) the pilot had not been caught short; (b) the pilot could have gained access to the flight deck; (c) an attendant had been with the co-pilot; (d) the Europeans had adopted the same policies as the US after 9/11; (e) the airline had spotted the co-pilot's mental state sooner, if at all; I leave the other options to your own fertile imagination and the media's promptings.

While it is desirable that 'the truth must out', wouldn't it be better if the media, and everyone else involved, just reported that a crash had occured and left it at that until such time as the official report was published. But then, that's not the media's conception of news; is it?

The media's conception of news is either 'disaster', preferably with a hearty dose of human tragedy mixed in, tsunami, an air crash, earthquake, or some 'celebrity' (A-list or E-list, it matters not) doing something which celebrities, as opposed to 'normal' human beings, ought not to engage in, although the majority of humans do. Violence, infidelity, inhaling or injecting noxious narcotics, not practising what they preach, the list is endless. Do people really care? Do they care enough to think that it is news? The media seem to think so!

The blow by blow, speculation by speculation, possible outcome by possible outcome of the whole Jeremy Clarkson brouhaha has been the best, recent example of non-news that I have ever come across. Who gives a wet wank as to whether a self-opiniated, racist, chauvanist tosser attempts to deck his producer over an argument about whether said tosser can have steak or not?  Unfortunately, some people do, Twitter is testament to that, although God alone knows why; the media know their audience, give them that! But honestly, is it news?

It was once said, I forget by whom, that a nation only gets the media it deserves. This was said, I believe, in the wake of the deregulation of TV in the UK which Sky ushered in. Well, whoever said it, got it spot on! With only a very few exceptions, the media, whether print, broadcast or online,  now only cater for the very lowest common denominator with channel after channel of dross and a regional and sometimes national press insistent on not reporting newsworthy stories but only the sexual habits of 'celebrities' so far down the alphabet as to be almost invisible to the naked eye.

So, that's my rant over for the day but I will leave you on an optimistic (well, sort of) note. MG has finally got around to pitching his 'novel' (I call it that but really it is lamentable fare) to literary agents. I wish him all the best but really. . .I don't hold much hope that it's going to be the next Harry Potter!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Gravitational Lensing, Quantum Foam and Back on my Old Stompin' Ground

‘I've been bitten, Lord, I've been stung. Well I was cornered, and I was almost hung. Well, I sure made a getaway and I'm almost back on my stompin' ground. Well, it's been written, many, many times it's been sung. It's well learned by the old folks, and unheeded by the young. Well, the grass may be greener but, me, I just want my old stompin' ground.’ With my grateful thanks to the late, great (awesome really) Rory Gallagher and Tony Palmer’s marvellous movie about RG’s 1974 Irish Tour for the lyric.

Yes, the Penguin is back; older but none the wiser. In the absence of an MG post for more than a year, I have decided that I must take up my pen again, or at least bang the bill against a few keys, and so try to make up for not only my enforced absence from mangling the English language but also to make some kind of redress over my e-pal’s betrayal of promises to make up for my lack.

I only returned the day before yesterday and what do I find in my email in-box? Further confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity! It seems, as predicted, that ‘gravitational lensing’ around massive objects like a galaxy (presumably with its attendant ginormous black hole at its heart) is the only answer to four separate images of the same, distant object; just like this.

And yet. . .

Amongst a year’s worth of SPAM in that same in-box, I also found evidence which seems on the surface to call into question general relativity’s ‘claim’ to be the final answer. It appears, in some cases, that gamma rays, highly energetic photons, arriving from a distant supernova or ‘black hole burst’* arrive at different times according to their energy levels; the lower energy levels reaching some seconds or even minutes after the more energetic photons. Why should this be? According to General Relativity, photons, light, should travel at the same maximum speed whatever their energy levels and only the medium in which they travel affect their velocity. This is why you get the bizarre diffraction when looking at an object half immersed in water; light travels more slowly through the denser medium. So what is causing the delay, although the evidence for this is highly controversial and subject to much heated debate amongst physicists about the veracity of the data gathered; ie does the time lag really exist?

If the data should prove accurate, the string theorists would no doubt point to the extra, folded-up dimensions (six or seven, depending on your fancy) which the lower energy photons must pass through more slowly; the cosmologists would point to dark matter, whatever that may be, as the cause; the quantum physicists, quantum foam, the countless particles that are forever winking in and out of existence on the borrowed energy of the universe and which might have a effect of the absolute velocity of the massless photons. Whatever the truth of the findings, one thing is clear. Humanity is no nearer to reconciling the classical theory of relativity and the quite bizarre and mind-numbing theory of quantum mechanics than it has ever been. How can the theories of the smallest and the largest, both accurate to five or six or seven or more decimal places be at such odds with each other?

Me, I am just a lowly, mentally challenged penguin and ill-equipped to cope with pondering the issues of the whichness of the why and the whyness of the how and I always amaze myself as to why such ideas should so captivate? Perhaps it is because I will never understand. It was all so much easier in humankind’s past; before Newton and the age of enlightenment; before Maxwell and Planck; before Heisenberg and Feynman; before Hubble and his damned telescope. In the past, all anyone had to do was possess a blind faith in the unknowable and a sure knowledge of a life everlasting.

I sometimes wonder whether you would not be happier if you had preserved a measure of that blissful ignorance and quenched the flames of your insatiable curiosity but the cat is now well and truly out of the bag and you can do no more than spend vast sums of money, time and intellectual expertise on such questions until you finally find a satisfactory answer; which in my estimation will be when Hell freezes over!

Talking of which, a student was once asked to write an essay on whether Hell was hot or cold. He gave the problem a considerable amount of thought and much consideration to the three laws of thermodynamics before settling on the notion that Hell was indeed hot or at least very warm. When asked, in a seminar, to explain his reasoning by his Professor, he replied: ‘Well, Mary Carpenter said during my first year at university that it would be a cold day in Hell before she ever slept with me. Since this implies that Hell is not already cold and Mary Carpenter has, after three years, yet to go to bed with me, I must conclude that Hell is currently hot.’

Oh, I had a small redesign and changed the picture to the right. MG has been very remiss in not providing a new one so I nicked one from the Daily Squee. Perhaps this will goad him into producing something original to grace my blog, although he says that his ability to draw and paint have been affected by the events of recent years. Your guess is as good as mine!

* Black hole bursts are detectable flashes of x-rays or other radiation when objects spiral into a black hole and get subsumed. If you don’t know what a black hole is (and it’s not a district of Kolkata) then look it up!