47 TONS

The distance from Pyongyang, North Korea to Tokyo, Japan is 800 miles; to Hawaii, 4,400 miles; to Los Angeles, 6,000 miles; to Seattle, 5,150 miles; to Alaska, 3,200 miles. The border of North Korea meanders 25 to 50 miles from downtown Seoul.  

While the Little Rocket Man and North Korea capture the world’s attention, our president is in Tokyo to deal with a threat that dwarfs anything we have faced since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 72 years ago.

The surprise attack against our Navy on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, started a cascade of retaliation against the Japanese that three-and-a-half years later resulted in 67 Japanese cities burnt to ashes during a few months of sustained “fire-jelly” attacks by hundreds of Boeing-29 Superfortress bombers and other aircraft. After napalming the cities to dust, the United States followed the horror with a “preemptive” nuclear strike against the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Nine million Japanese civilians were left homeless. The death toll has never been definitively calculated, but two million souls is a reasonable guess.

A few years after the stalemate of the Korean War, General Curtis LeMay—head of Strategic Air Command—claimed that his pilots had killed a similar number of Koreans by aerial bombardment—20% of the population.

The United States killed an estimated million Iraqi civilians in the more recent wars in the Middle East, which included the Gulf War and the Iraq War.

It killed two million Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam genocide of the 1960s and 70s.

In August 1945, USA bombers killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Millions were burned alive in jelly-fire (napalm) bombings, which decimated 67 cities over several months. Evacuation of cities helped to reduce casualties. 

Why discuss disturbing statistics? Why not leave unpleasant memories forgotten in a distant past where they can’t impact the happy lives we live now, not then?

What possible benefit can remembering the past confer upon our contented present? Why bother puking up a sour history that only the old-timers among us experienced? 

May I ask one more question? Maybe thinking about the answer will help some to make sense of current events that seem to have no rhyme or reason.

Of the fifty countries against which we have directed our military wrath since World War II, which among them has a right to the biggest grievance? Who did we hurt the most? 

Which country has been forced to endure the shame of a military occupation that never ends?  

America fights secret and not so secret wars against communist, Islamic, western hemispheric, and, it turns out, African countries all the time. We have conducted strategic operations against friend and foe alike since World War II. We have meddled in the internal politics of super powers like Russia and China. The Dalai Lama of Tibet wrote in his book Freedom in Exile that the United States gave him millions of dollars to incite violence against China, for example.

The USA has attacked militarily one in four of the 190 countries on the earth during the modern era. Which country is the one most likely to harbor a secret ambition for revenge?

America keeps itself in a state of perpetual war to feed the appetites of voracious weapons manufacturers whose stockholders are among the world’s most affluent. The AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force against terrorists) passed Congress, and President Bush signed the bill in August 2001 for a reason—to fuel the demands of arms dealers to free them from the inconvenience of securing approval by Congress to declare wars—which the Constitution demands. Only Barbara Lee (no relation to Billy Lee) of California voted against it.

Since 1991 Congress has passed and the president signed four AUMFs, mostly to cut down on the amount of work and resulting delays that are inevitable when large elected groups of representatives are compelled to go on record for or against any particular conflict. 

We in America live under a lot of illusions. We tell ourselves a lot of lies about how wonderful we are and how everyone wants to be like us. Our enemies who fear us the most insist—some of them anyway—that they love us; they want to live with us and be like us, and we tend to believe them.

No one tells a command officer who is carrying an automatic assault rifle that he is a pig; the term “butt-wipe” is never used. No one wants to die for a no good reason like name calling, for example. Our subjugates place flowers in the barrels of our guns and tell us they love us.

Everyone who has been shamed and humiliated prays for their day of liberation; the day of their revenge; the day the world is finally set right. It’s human nature. The desire to settle scores crosses cultural, religious, and geographical boundaries.

Few countries that have suffered cremation by fire of millions of their citizens forget. They don’t forgive. Think long and hard. It’s true.

For almost a year Billy Lee lived where he could view Mount Fuji from his bedroom window during his two-year stay in Japan. The Editorial Board

The situation in Japan is dire; it really is. The United States for some insane and goofy reason permitted the Japanese over the past thirty years to build the most sophisticated nuclear power grid the world has ever seen.

The USA sold the Japanese uranium-impregnated fuel rods. A by-product of their use (which is to produce the intense heat required to generate electricity) is plutonium. Instead of collecting and disposing the spent fuel rods, the Japanese built facilities to extract the plutonium. They promised to use the plutonium for fuel in advanced power generators called “fast reactors.” Fast reactors are, in theory, cheaper and less complicated; they are also more volatile; more dangerous to operate. 

After the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, the Japanese abandoned “fast reactors”. They discovered during the audits they conducted following the disasters at Fukushima and other facilities that their fast reactors had safety records that bordered on terrifying. They stopped using plutonium for fuel. With no place to “burn” the plutonium they were harvesting, it began to accumulate, bigly.

In the entire universe plutonium is found above trace amounts at one location and one location only: planet Earth. Plutonium went extinct due to radioactive decay billions of years ago. It can be created during rare cosmic events, but the bomb-making kind—Pu 239—is a manufactured element that does not occur in nature. It is a by-product of nuclear fission reactions. It hides itself within the matrix of elements that make up the remnants of spent fuel rods.

Plutonium is among the most poisonous substances known. The speck of plutonium dust that kills you, you will likely never see. Some scientists today have downplayed the lethality of plutonium 239. My advice is to be skeptical whenever vast amounts of money and power fuel a controversy.

Regardless of its lethality as a poison, no one argues that fourteen pounds is enough plutonium to make an atomic bomb of a construction so unsophisticated that a high schooler could fashion the necessary components in shop class. Sophisticated bombs require even less plutonium—a mere nine pounds.

This is what plutonium powder looks like. Japan has 94,000 pounds of it. 14 pounds are required for an unsophisticated bomb; 9 pounds for a sophisticated version.

Japan has harvested 47 tons (94,000 pounds) of high-grade plutonium from its nearly one-hundred or so nuclear power and processing plants, which include power plants, research reactors, fast reactors, reprocessing installations, and recently decommissioned facilities—decommissioned due mostly to safety concerns.

Japan’s production schedule is running at a frenetic pace—adding eight tons of surplus plutonium to its stockpile every year into the foreseeable future unless the United States is able to shut down Japan’s reprocessing installations with an agreement scheduled for negotiation in 2018. Our new president has said the old agreements won’t be changed.

By this time next year the Japanese will have accumulated enough high-grade Pu 239 to make as many as 12,000 atomic bombs. Should it make that choice, Japan would possess the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

Plutonium is heavy. Nine pounds of Pu 239 is the size of a softball. It is exactly the right size to construct a single atomic bomb. By this time next year Japan will possess enough Pu 239 to make 12,000 bombs.

What follows next in this essay is the scary part. Some readers might want to bail and maybe find a good comic book to occupy their imaginations.

Despite agreements with the United States that followed World War II, Japan has one of the largest military budgets in the world. The country spends 42 billion dollars per year on its military. This expenditure does not include its civilian nuclear power system or its civilian space exploration programs. 

The Japanese consolidated three civilian rocket launching companies into one (named JAXA) in 2003. They are launching rockets into space all the time. JAXA designed, built, launched, and maintains the largest module on the International Space Station. The Japanese have spacecraft in the asteroid belt and spy satellites in earth orbit. These are civilian programs. 

Although the military budget of the United States seems huge, people might want to consider that the USA spends one-third of its military dollars on salaries and pensions. No other military spends as much. It maintains 800 military bases in 70 countries at an expense of $200 billion—an expense that other militaries simply don’t have. Japan spends about the same amount on defense as England, France, and Germany. A controversial argument can be made that the combined military might of Russia, China, Japan, and North Korea exceeds that of the United States. It is an argument that is hard to prove, because countries lie about their military expenditures, war-fighting readiness, and technical capabilities. The chart above is misleading in another important way, because it doesn’t include expenditures on nuclear weapons—their production, maintenance, and modernization—which are state secrets in all the countries that possess them.  

The Japanese don’t have to make bombs from their plutonium stores to wreak havoc on an adversary. They can pulverize the metal into aerosols and release plutonium dust into the air over cities.

They can load plutonium into drone subs like rumors say the Russians have done and set hundreds of them in the coastal waters of our country. The subs can lie in ocean sand and silt for decades before releasing their poisons, should it ever become necessary.

Their advanced missile technology might enable Japan to overwhelm our defenses by launching multiple warhead missiles over our homeland. It might take a few months, but poisoned populations would eventually succumb to the release of toxic dust.

And, should they choose to make bombs, well, any country with the resources of a country as sophisticated as Japan can turn high-grade plutonium into bombs in a few days; they can possess the capability to create hell on earth in the blink of an eye, anytime they choose. With the right (or wrong) leadership they can unleash a nightmare of suffering far worse than the inferno we inflicted on them 72 years ago.

This plant is the place where the Japanese extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel rods. The Japanese have admitted on NHK television that they have 94,000 pounds of plutonium that they have no use for nor any place to safely store.

Plutonium is an artificially produced killing material that no human being, company, or country should ever be allowed to possess or use. It is a forbidden apple of physics that can only bring anguish to whoever uses or shares it with others. 

Japan has the potential to threaten the world with the same level of terror as the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, and who knows what other countries. Many countries are conducting (in secret) diabolical engineering even now and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

What could be worse? Believe it or not, our predicament might already be much worse than anyone in the USA is willing to think about or imagine.

What about the possibility that North Korea and China are playing a game of good cop / bad cop with our military planners? What if Japan is toying with the idea of leading an unholy alliance? Behind our backs? Do we really have enough Japanese-speaking spies to keep track of all the secret Samurai cults that might be conspiring at the highest levels of government. Do we?

What if Vladimir Putin thinks: The United States lied to me. I helped to elect an American president who is ineffective—a buffoon who can’t help me the way he promised. Let’s get ’em!

Imagine an alliance of China, North Korea, Russia, and Japan; an alliance led by the one country that has the greatest lust for payback; the strongest ache to settle scores once and for all.

A Hunkpapa Lakota holy man, Sitting Bull, had the vision that led to the defeat of the USA’s 7th Calvary Regiment on June 26, 1876—one week before the USA’s 100th anniversary. Five of seven battalions were decimated—one led by Civil War hero George Armstrong Custer. Sitting Bull became a celebrity who worked in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Later in life he became a leader of the Ghost Dance movement, which terrified whites, because it prophesized the exodus of white people from native American lands. Ten days before Christmas—on December 15, 1890 during an arrest by police on reservation property—Indian Affairs agents shot Sitting Bull in the head and chest in front of his family and friends. Agents removed his body to Fort Yates, where they buried him in a makeshift coffin.  

A surprise attack by such an alliance would be nation ending. It might end like the Battle of the Little Bighorn. We don’t have enough soldiers or missiles or ships to fight a gathering of tribes who possess tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.

The USA has the power to destroy the whole world if we must, but we can’t save ourselves; we can’t save our country; we can’t save the planet.

In the conflagration that took the hyper-alert Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer by surprise, all his ribbons and medals; all his accolades; all his friends in high places couldn’t save him, his men, or even his horses. The battle of the Little Bighorn was a massacre that dwarfed Custer’s reputation for being a really good person; a hero of the Civil War loved by every patriotic American.

To those who say, Billy Lee, you’ve gone paranoid on us… the Japanese would never organize an attack against America unawares… not a nuclear attack… they know how bad it would be… they suffered through one… they know better than anyone… and look at them, how they smile when we tell bad jokes. The last thing on their minds is revenge. The very last thing!

I say, you are so right!  The Japanese would never hurt us. I lived in Japan for two years after the war. The Japanese have their quirks, yes, but most of them are not cruel or insensitive. They don’t enjoy watching torture videos for entertainment, most of them. Tying up women and twisting their bodies to prepare them for rape is not something most Japanese men would have any part in. Am I right? Of course I am.

The Japanese are not monsters. They are a kind and gentle people who don’t farm or ranch or mine, because they are resource impoverished. When I lived there our Japanese house-maids and yard-boys were as sweet as they could be. They meant us no harm. I see that now. 

But how on earth are the Japanese going to get rid of the 47 tons of plutonium poison they have produced? And how will they dispose of the eight tons they plan to produce each year into perpetuity—plutonium which they admit has no longer any peacetime applications whatsoever?

Everybody knows plutonium has a radioactive half-life of 24,000 years. It’s never going to go away. Someday, through inattention or from whatever other cause, plutonium containment structures are going to rot, and the poison will leach into the soils, the oceans, and the atmosphere to kill all living things. It is Earth’s best case scenario—the scenario where nuclear war never happens, the world disarms, and plutonium is tucked away out of reach and out of sight of war makers and other terrorists.

The process that will sterilize the planet of all life is already well underway and cannot be stopped—not over a period of tens of thousands of years. Read the essay, RISK, elsewhere on this site. Humans are likely to be extinct by the time the unnatural poisons of war and opulence first make their advance against the innocent, less intelligent life-forms that we will leave behind—like chipmunks and kittens, for example—who will never be capable of understanding what is killing them or why.

Our new president is in Tokyo as this essay is being written. Anyone who asks him will learn—because he’s not afraid to say it—he is really smart and bigly educated. He understands people and how best to manipulate them to maximize his advantages and get what he wants.You don’t believe it? Ask him—for the love of God—ask him. 

Maybe we should help the Japanese store their plutonium in a safe place—a place much safer than their earthquake tormented islands that float within the largest fisheries of the Pacific Ocean. We could store the plutonium perhaps deep in a cave somewhere. Maybe we could store it beneath the volcanic cauldrons of Yosemite—or some other remote location, like a trench astride the San Andreas fault.

Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s do that.

If we talk nicely, will the Japanese listen? Maybe they will, if our new president has the sense to ask. Does anyone have a better idea? For the love of God, tell someone. 

Billy Lee

Posted in Energy, History, Horror, Military, Opinion, Politics, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EYE TO EYE

What makes i^i interesting is the four real numbers it generates. (The numbers are +.2078… , -.2078… , +4.8104… , and -4.8104… .)

Can anyone give a geometric reason why an imaginary number raised to the power of an imaginary number generates four real numbers and no imaginary ones? What does \sqrt{-1}^{\sqrt{-1}} even mean? Is there anyone who can visualize a reason why the answers make sense? Are all the answers even correct? Or is only one correct, as any calculator that can do the calculation will tell you?

Complex numbers are two-dimensional numbers that are made by raising the number “e” to the power of an imaginary number—called “i”—times an angle in radians. Complex numbers lie on a circle in the complex number plane. Unless “e” is preceded by a number that stretches or shrinks it, the numbers lie on a unit circle like the one in the picture. Recall that “i” is the square root of minus one. When “i” is raised to the power of “i”, the result collapses onto the real number line—in one of four possible places. Which one? The numbers aren’t found on the unit circle. The process can be demonstrated mathematically, but any physical intuition about why imaginary numbers with imaginary exponents behave the way they do can be elusive.

Abstract math that hides no model that anyone can visualize makes results startling, even unnerving. It’s a lot like the quantum mechanics of entanglement or the physical meaning of gravity. They can be mathematically described and their effects accurately predicted, but no one can explain why.   

Mathematics alone can sometimes describe (or at least approximate) realities of the universe and how it seems to work, but as often as not when humans dive deep into the abyss of ultimate knowledge, math is unable to provide a picture that anyone can understand. How can that be? Things seem to happen that cannot be thought about except by playing around with numbers and being taken by surprise. Intuition is difficult, if not impossible.

Here is the solution of  i^i. Perhaps clues exist in the math that I’ve overlooked. If a model exists in the mind of a reader somewhere, I hope they will share it with me.


(1)       i^i = e^{\ln(i^i)} = e^{i\ln(i)} = cos (ln i) + i sin (ln i)

Now:  e^{i\frac{\pi}{2}} = i

Also:  ln ^{(e^{i\frac{\pi}{2})}} = ln i

Therefore:     ln i =  i (\frac{\pi}{2})

By substitution into line (1):    i^i = cos (i\frac{\pi}{2}) + i sin (i\frac{\pi}{2})

By half angle formulas:             i^i  = (\sqrt\frac{1 + cos (i\pi)}{2}) + i (\sqrt\frac{1 - cos (i\pi)}{2})

Convert 2nd term i to  \sqrt -1 :     i^i  = (\sqrt\frac{1 + cos (i\pi)}{2}) + \sqrt -1 (\sqrt\frac{1 - cos (i\pi)}{2})

(2)     Simplify the 2nd term:     i^i  = (\sqrt\frac{1 + cos (i\pi)}{2}) + (\sqrt\frac{cos (i\pi)-1}{2})

Euler’s cosine identity is:   cos θ =  \frac{e^{i\theta} + e^{-i\theta}}{2}

Therefore:                          cos (iπ) =  \frac{e^{i(i\pi)} + e^{-i(i\pi)}}{2}

(3)     Simplifying:               cos (iπ) =  \frac{e^{-\pi} + e^{\pi}}{2}

Substitute line (3) into line (2) and simplify:
i^i  = \sqrt{{\frac{1}{2} + \frac{e^{-\pi} + e^{\pi}}{4}}} + \sqrt{{\frac{e^{-\pi} + e^{\pi}}{4}} - \frac{1}{2}}

Now it’s just a matter of pulling out an old calculator and punching the keys.

e^{-\pi} = .043214;  e^{\pi} = 23.140693. I rounded off both numbers, because they seem to go on forever like π and “e”; they probably are irrational, because they don’t seem to be formed from ratios of whole numbers. Using these values will enable anyone to compute {i^i} who has a calculator with a square root key.

When square roots are calculated the answers can be positive or negative. Two negatives make a positive, right? So do two positives. So doing the math gives four numbers. See if your numbers match mine: .2078… , -.2078… , 4.1084… , and -4.1084… .  

I don’t know why. The answers aren’t intuitive. Who would guess that imaginary numbers raised to powers of imaginary numbers yield real numbers?—not a solitary number like anyone might expect, but four. Pick one. In nature a unique answer can be arbitrary—determined by chance, most likely.

In this case, no.

It feels to me like the imaginary fairies flying around in complex space are destined to collapse onto the real number line for no good reason, except that the math says they must collapse (maybe from exhaustion?) in at least one of four places. Can anyone make sense of it? 

The ln i is well known. It is i\frac{\pi}{2}, which equals (1.57078… i ). The ln of i^i can be rewritten by the rules of logarithms as i ln i, which is i times (1.57078…i ), which equals -1.57078… (a real number). Right? The ln of the correct answer must equal this number. Only one of the four results listed above has the right ln value: .2078… .

It seems odd that a set of equations I know to be sound should return a set of results from which only one can be validated by back-checking. Maybe there is something esoteric and arcane in the mathematics of logarithms that I missed during my education along the way.

Then again square roots can be messy; there are two square roots in the final equation, each of which can be evaluated as positive or negative. Together they produce four possible answers, but just one result is the right one.

Adding the four numbers is kind of interesting. They sum to zero. That is so like the way the universe seems to work, isn’t it? When everything is added up, physicists like Stephen Hawking claim, there’s really nothing here. Everything is imaginary. Some philosophers agree: everything that is real is at its core imaginary.   

Are there clues in the pictures and models of complex number space that would ever make anyone think? Sure, I totally get it. Yeah, I’ve got this. Real numbers cascading out of imaginary powers of imaginary numbers make perfect sense—like snowflakes falling from a dark sky.

A mathematician told me, Rotating and scaling is all it is. The base must be the imaginary “i” alone; “i” is the key that unlocks everything. The power of the key can be any imaginary number at all; “i” is why the result of every imaginary power of “i” becomes real. 

The explanation calms me; but it seems somehow incomplete; it’s missing something; in my gut I feel like it can’t be entirely right, though it purports to persuade what the math insists is truth. We are being asked to believe, for now at least, and move on.

Billy Lee 

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What is e exp (-i π) ?

What is e^{-i\pi} ?

I posted a long answer on Quora.com where it sort of didn’t do well. Answers given by others were much shorter but they seemed, at least to me, to lack geometric insights. After two days my answer was ranked as the most read, but for some reason no one upvoted it. It did receive a few positive replies, though.

I can’t help but believe that there must be nerds in cyberspace who might enjoy my answer. Why not post it on my blog? Maybe someday one of my grandkids will get interested in math and read it. Who knows?

I added some graphics here that wouldn’t post on Quora. The site lacks graphics functionality, apparently. Either that or I’m too dense to figure out how to insert something.


NOTE: 24 Oct 2017: Today Billy Lee finally figured out how to post media on Quora.com. After admonishment and chastisement by the staff, he added a pic and a GIF to his “answer.” Unfortunately, Billy Lee never did get the GIF to run right, so he took it down. Otherwise, Billy Lee is doing good. He really is. THE EDITORIAL BOARD


Anyway, this pic and a working GIF below make a big difference in understanding, I hope. And anyone who doesn’t understand something can always click on a link for more information. (No one ever clicks on links, but I spend a lot of time adding them—maybe so I can click on them myself during times when remembering my name or where I live seems to lie just outside my intellectual skill-set.)

Here is the drawing I added and the answer:

This diagram is excellent but contains a mystery point not on the unit circle—{i^i}. The point is shown at .2078… on the real number line. It has 3 other values on the horizontal line that are not shown: -.2078… and +/- 4.8104… . Its solution can be reviewed in this video link, which Billy Lee has carefully reviewed and confirmed to be sound. An imaginary number raised to the power of an imaginary number yields a result that is four real numbers. How can that be? It’s something to ponder; something to think about. The Editorial Board 

What is e^{-i\pi} ?

The expression evaluates to minus one; the answer is (-1). Why?

Numbers like these are called complex numbers. They are two-dimensional numbers that can be drawn on graph-paper instead of on a one-dimensional number line, like the counting numbers. They are used to analyse wave functions—i.e. phenomenon that are repetitive—like alternating current in the field of electrical engineering, for example.

“e” is a number that cannot be written as a fraction (or a ratio of whole numbers). It is an irrational number (like π, for instance). It can be approximated by adding up an arbitrary number of terms in a certain infinite series to reach whatever level of precision one wants. To work with “e” in practical problems, it must be rounded off to some convenient number of decimal places.

Punch “e” into a calculator and it returns the value 2.7182…. The beauty of working with “e” is that derivatives and integrals of functions based on exponential powers of “e” are easy to calculate.

What is “e” raised to the power of (-iπ) ?

A wonderful feature of the mathematics of complex numbers is that all the values of expressions that involve the number “e” raised to the power of “i” times anything conveniently lie on the edge (or perimeter) of a circle of radius one. This happy fact makes understanding the expressions easy.

I should mention that any point in the complex plane can be reached by adding a number in front of e^{i\theta} to stretch or shrink the unit circle of values. We aren’t going to go there. In this essay “e” is always preceded by the number one, which by the familiar convention is never shown.

The number next to the letter “i” is simply the angle in radians where the answer lies on the circle. Draw a line from the center of the circle at the angle specified in the exponent of “e” and it will intersect the circle at the value of the expression. What could be easier?
For the particular question we are struggling to answer, the number in the exponent next to “i” is (-π), correct?

“π radians” is 180 degrees, right? The minus sign is simply a direction indicator that says to move clockwise around the unit circle—instead of counter-clockwise if the sign was positive.

After drawing a unit circle on graph paper, place your pencil at (1 + 0i)—located at zero radians (or zero degrees)—-and trace 180 degrees clockwise around the circle. Remember that the circle’s radius is one and its center is located at zero, which in two dimensional, complex space is (0 + 0i). You will end up at the value (-1 + 0i) on the opposite side of the circle, which is the answer, by the way.

Trace the diagram several paragraphs above with your finger if you don’t have graph paper and a pencil. No worries.

Notice that +π radians takes you to the same place. The value you land on is (-1 + 0i), which is -1. The answer is minus one.

Imagine that the number next to “i” is (π/2) radians. That’s 90 degrees, agreed? The sign is positive, so trace the circle 90 degrees counter-clockwise. You end at (0 + i), which is straight up. “i” in this case is a distance of one unit upward from the horizontal number line, so the number is written (0 + i)—-zero distance in the horizontal direction and “plus one” distance in the “i” (or vertical) direction.

So, the “i” in the exponent of “e” says to “look here” to find the angle where the value of the answer lies on the unit circle; on the other hand, the “i” in the rectangular coordinates of a two-dimensional number like (0 + i) says “look here” to find the vertical distance above or below the horizontal number line.

When evaluating “e” raised to the power of “i” times anything, the angle next to “i”—call it “θ”—can be transformed into rectangular coordinates by using this expression: [cos(θ) + i sin(θ)].

For example: say that the exponent of “e” is i(π/3). (π/3) radians is 60 degrees, right? The cosine of 60 degrees is 0.5 and the sine of 60 degrees is .866….

So the value of “e” raised to the power of i(π/3) is by substitution (0.5 + .866… i ). It is a two-dimensional number. And it lies on the unit circle.

The bigger the exponent on “e” the more times someone will have to trace around the circle to land at the answer. But they never leave the circle. The answer is always found on the circle between 0 and 2π radians (or 0 and 360 degrees) no matter how large the exponent.

It’s why these expressions involving “e” and “i” are ideal for working with repetitive, sinusoidal (wave-like) phenomenon.

In this essay Billy Lee uses θ in place of the Greek letter φ shown in this GIF. “r” equals “one” in a unit circle. The Editorial Board

Some readers might wonder about what radians are. A radian is the radius of a circle, which can be lifted and bent to fit perfectly on the edge of the circle. It takes a little more than three radius pieces (3.14159… to be more precise) to wrap from zero degrees to half-way around any circle of any size. This number, 3.14159…, is the number called “π”. 2π radians is a little bit more than six-and-a-quarter radians (radius pieces) and will completely span the perimeter (or circumference) of a circle.

A radian is about 57.3 degrees of arc. Multiply 3.1416 by 57.3 to see how close to 180 degrees it is. I get 180.01… . The result is really close to 180 degrees considering that both numbers are irrational and rounded off to only a few decimal places.

One of the rules of working with complex numbers is this: multiplying any number by “i” rotates that number by 90 degrees. The number “i” is always located at 90 degrees on the unit circle by definition, right? By the rule, multiplying “i” by “i” rotates it another 90 degrees counter-clockwise, which moves it to 180 degrees on the circle.

180 degrees on the unit circle is the point (-1 + 0i), which is minus one, right?

So yes, absolutely, “i” multiplied by “i” is equal to -1. It follows that the square root of minus one must be “i”. Thought of in this way, the square root of a minus one isn’t mysterious.

It is helpful to think of complex numbers as two dimensional numbers with real and imaginary components. There is nothing imaginary, though, about the vertical component of a two-dimensional number.

The people who came up with these numbers thought they were imagining things. The concept of two-dimensional numbers was too radical at the time for anyone to believe that numbers could exist on a plane as naturally as they do on a simple number line of one dimension.

Visit my website for an illustrated and concise explanation of these topics titled, “What is Math?” It is easily found by making a simple entry into the search box on theBillyLeePontificator.com .

Comments
J.G.
Thanks, I was confused about the -i part, so it’s not – sqrt(-1)? My calculator gives me an answer of -1.

S.X.
Good answer, I approve 🙂

B.L.
Thanks!

Billy Lee

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ILLUSIONS

Billy Lee has never visited Las Vegas nor does he plan to. It was built as a stopover during WWII for GIs on route to the west coast, where they boarded ships to fight their way to Japan. According to legend, criminal syndicates built “Sin City”. People say the bad guys moved out. The president owns a hotel there. The Editorial Board 

I read a report about the lunatic in Las Vegas; he was a multi-millionaire who owned nearly fifty high-powered guns plus a lot of other scary stuff. His dad was once on the FBI’s ten most wanted list—he was a fugitive for ten years.

These guns that many civilians now own were designed to shatter the bones and scramble the internal organs of victims—in violation of the spirit of international norms, agreements, and treaties that were agreed to by all countries before and after the second World War.

These Geneva Convention prohibitions (and others) were crafted to make hollow-point style ammunition illegal. To evade these restrictions, US gun-makers designed weapons to fire high-velocity bullets that tumbled—they inflicted crippling injuries with more ferocity than even the banned hollow-points.

During combat officer training in the Vietnam era, I fired one of these weapons (an M16 rifle) at a bucket of water. The bullet went in clean but blew out the back. Shards of metal and water flew everywhere. The container exploded, basically.

Every massacre involving these weapons reaps what we sowed. The USA violated both the spirit of the international consensus and basic common sense nearly six decades ago. Our country put the lethality of heavy weapons into rifles that handled like toys. Weapon manufacturers created bone smashing ammo.

People shot by these guns don’t recover. Survivors carry their wounds to the grave.

Modern high-tech guns and ammunition are inhumane, lethal, and crippling. The military shouldn’t use them; neither should civilians; especially civilians who aren’t properly trained or supervised; some civilian gun owners have an unhealthy obsession with these kill-sticks; some are lunatics.

Flags are set at half-mast across the USA to honor the fallen in the Las Vegas attack. This pic was taken by Billy Lee in a Belle Tire parking lot. The Editorial Board

As for hollow-point ammo, police inside the United States ignore the international prohibitions. Many agencies use black-talon style hollow-points to reduce the penetrating power of tumbling slugs (that can kill bystanders) while dramatically increasing debilitation to the person shot.

Misunderstanding of the second amendment has put four million tumbling-slug killing tools into the hands of ordinary people who have no accountability and who are in some cases insane.

After all these years only God knows where these weapons are. What could possibly go wrong?

Despite being a pontificator who by definition lacks expertise, I don’t generally speculate about things I know nothing about. I really don’t. I try to not think about the hundreds of mass shootings that have taken place during past decades, because it is depressing and demoralizing (and scary) to believe that going to public venues is dangerous.

It’s hard to say who is worse off during these mass-casualty events, the dead or the wounded or those who witness the violence up close and personal. So many people are traumatized for no good reason. I suspect that even viewers of television coverage get a sick feeling in their stomachs when these horrors occur. I know I do.

The recent attack in Las Vegas was strange. Daesh—called ISIS or ISIL in the U.S.—claimed that the shooter was a contractor who worked for them. He was a kind of sleeper mercenary who was well-paid, apparently, and did what he was told when the time came.

His handlers—who may have helped to set up the killing zone—occupied the hotel suite alongside him during the attack. They might have killed him to make it look like suicide and exited the building via a service elevator disguised as hotel workers, maybe. It’s possible.

Another disturbing possibility is that they let the shooter live expecting that he would escape and join them in another attack. He might have been disabled by gas—perhaps injected under the door by police. If so, he is now in custody.

Anything is possible, when conspiracy theories start percolating. The shooter might have been a kind of patsy, like Lee Harvey Oswald claimed to be (for those readers who have convinced themselves that Oswald did not conspire alone).

If the Las Vegas massacre was an ISIS attack (as ISIS claims) it’s not likely that the United States will give the group the satisfaction of an acknowledgment. Disclosure would undermine confidence in law enforcement’s capability to protect the public from terrorist attacks.

Agencies will instead work behind the scenes to uncover, debrief, and terminate with extreme prejudice all the players. Justice will be served. It will be methodical and relentless. It could take time—months or even years.

This vehicle is being tested for battle-worthiness.

Most Americans never fully understood the Iraq War that spawned ISIS and filled its ranks with experienced and ruthless fighters; nor have they grasped how powerful is Saddam Hussein’s family, his friends, and his army—once one of the world’s largest and most formidable. I’ve heard people say some dumb things about what all that fighting in the Middle East was about those many years ago.

Accounts I’ve read and heard from people I trust say that before the Iraq War Saddam’s family was one of the world’s wealthiest; they owned a lot of stuff—popular magazines and food franchises, even sophisticated enterprises, some with an international reach.

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, second in command in Saddam’s Iraq and founder of ISIS.

Saddam’s closest advisor and deputy—who President Bush called the King of Clubs—was never apprehended. His name is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. He is considered to be the mastermind behind the formation of ISIS.

A few years ago reports appeared in the press that Ibrahim died during an attack on his security detail. But no one saw him die. No one attended his funeral. His body (including DNA evidence of his death) is missing. Some say these stories of al-Douri’s demise were planted by ISIS agents. Ibrahim faked his own death. Who knows?

Anyway, my understanding is that ISIS was formed by members of Saddam’s family and loyal remnants of his army who are trying to take back what they lost during the Bush presidency. That’s how many see it, including reporters at Haaretz, an Israeli news organization.

When the USA conquered Iraq, Saddam’s army (and leadership) melted away, but they had billions of dollars stashed in banks, the walls of buildings, and in holes underground. They have not been afraid to spend it.

ISIS travels first class. It has the best of everything, including trucks, cars, weapons, and drones. It captured an astounding amount of USA war fighting machinery in fights with Iraqi Shiites (ISIS is Sunni) after the USA exited Iraq.

Some of the captured equipment included MRAPs (see earlier illustration). It seems unbelievable, but its true. (Note from the Editorial Board: Billy Lee helped design the run-flat wheel that permitted fighting vehicles in the Gulf wars to stay mobile after their tires were shredded, punctured, or shot through.)

Billy Lee helped develop for Chrysler the run-flat technology used by combat vehicles like this one. The Editorial Board

The way I understand the conflict, the Sunnis of Iraq could reasonably be compared in some ways to the southern whites who served the confederacy during America’s Civil War. The Shiites in this analogy would be the negro slaves.

Think about it. After the Iraq War, the downtrodden Shiites (with help from the USA) took control of Iraq from the entitled Sunnis, much like blacks took control of the southern states after the Civil War with help from the north’s military occupation (called Reconstruction).

Southern whites eventually wrested control from their former slaves, but it took twenty years of terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan to make it happen. A similar dynamic is underway in the Middle East today, it seems. The Sunnis are reestablishing their control through terror, for the most part. Eventually they may win, like the Ku Klux Klan won their fight. In the meantime, a lot of innocents are getting hurt and worse.

The territory that ISIS controls in the Middle East is vast. It is comparable in size to the country of Egypt. Yes, some ISIS cities and towns have been recaptured by USA backed forces in recent months, but the fights have been costly in lives and treasure; the victories do not seem to have turned the tide of the war, at least not yet. Everytime the USA hits ISIS hard, as it has in recent months, ISIS seems to find a way to hit back.

It’s difficult (some would say, impossible) to defeat a determined foe in their own country. We learned this lesson in Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. The fight against ISIS is going to be a long one. Our country might go bankrupt before victory comes. It’s possible.

No one wants to admit it, but the USA is teetering on the edge of financial collapse right now, as this essay is being written. Our last president, Barack Hussein Obama, (now called Barry Obama by friends) worked out some fixes to stave off an economic crisis, but the current president seems hell-bent on bringing our country to ruin.

The president and his wealthy friends seem to want to eliminate the estate tax so that they can leave thousands of millions of dollars (they call them billions) to their crazy kids who can flee with our national treasure to whatever solvent country will welcome them after the dust settles.

I’m told that the people around the president are Christian patriots who are determined to prevent really big screw-ups from being implemented. The country is safe.

More importantly, Christians don’t do genocides. They don’t do mass killings of civilians like that lunatic in Las Vegas. Yes, Hitler said he was Christian, but history has judged him differently.

The Christian patriots in the White House won’t permit the president to first-strike North Korea, for example, with nuclear weapons. They won’t kill ten to twenty million people over a few missile tests, which many countries conduct without threat of retaliation, including the United States.

Atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. Hydrogen bombs are much larger.

The USA dropped dozens of hydrogen bombs in the Pacific Ocean, remember, and no one did anything about it. Countries around the world have conducted 520 atmospheric nuclear explosions and 1,352 underground detonations. We aren’t going to exterminate an entire country like North Korea over a few low-level, underground atomic tests. No rational, humanity-loving civilization would even contemplate such an atrocity.

So far, so good, I guess. Yes, we are in good hands, I’m told. No one is insane—not here; not there. 

In time, no one will remember the killings in Las Vegas, anyway. No illusions. Everyone knows the truth when they see it, right?

When given a choice, decent people do what’s right, don’t they? Of course, they do. They show mercy; it’s what the Bible says God wants.

Billy Lee  

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Begging For It

Nikki Haley is the daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India. She served as governor of South Carolina until she became UN Ambassador in the Trump Administration.

Nikki Haley, the UN Ambassador, told the world that North Korea is begging for war. Her statement reminds me of the rape defense that bad men used in decades past at trial before court—she was begging for it, they would always insist.

The victim—always a woman—exercised her constitutional right to dress any way she chose. A prowling lunatic observed her and believed instead that she was advertising a willingness to copulate with a grease-ball, so he attacked.

In today’s United States the grease-ball defense no longer works. Women (and countries) have rights. The courts protect them, most of the time. When they don’t, women have recourse to civil suits.

All countries (and women) have the right to defend themselves. It shouldn’t have to be said. But the United States has mucked-up the waters of international affairs by waging pre-emptive wars against communist and socialist countries for the past seventy-five years. It seems like these wars will never end.

It is the policy of the United States to undermine any country that espouses communism; it attacks using whatever methods are devised and recommended by the brilliant, depraved minds of our intelligence community. Despite all the evidence, despite all the complaints lodged against the United States before international courts and at the United Nations, most Americans refuse to believe it.

This war-policy against collectivism was birthed in the early 1900s when the first communist revolutions undermined the noble classes of eastern Europe. The well-connected saw what happened in Russia and Hungary and decided to do something about it. Writers like Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), George Orwell (1984), and Ayn Rand (We the Living) wrote short, easy to read tracks that portrayed life under communism as a personality-destroying nightmare. The public ate it up. 

After World War II, the job of suppression was handed over to our newly formed intelligence agencies who gave the fight its name: the Cold War. With the recent CIA assisted transformations of the Soviet Union and Red China into oligarchies (marking a putative end to the biggest conflicts) other terms have emerged from inside the intelligence community to describe how the USA is continuing to war against what few holdouts remain. The current buzz phrase is strategic strangulation.

Billionaires don’t look at the world in the same way as the disenfranchised and exploited. In the neglected and overlooked far reaches of the world where billionaires don’t live, common people sometimes try to organize themselves by producing wealth cooperatively and sharing it as best they can. Once they attract the attention of the powerful, the powerful send in missionaries and agricultural-aid workers to undermine and disenfranchise their leaders.

If God and food don’t work, they send in assassins. It’s true. Since WWII, the United States has gone to war with one out of four countries. It has overthrown (or co-opted) many states, including Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Poland, Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens more. 

Eventually, the USA sends in Coca-Cola and other first-line-of-attack companies to overwhelm the nascent economies of the sharers and cooperators. The wealthy move in to buy the arable land and lock up the country; billionaire power-brokers make it their business to bury every way of governance that might threaten their right to administer an economic empire built for one purpose only: to empower their own families and the families of their friends to rule unimpeded into perpetuity.  

This billboard appears all over the island of Cuba. It says: BLOCKADE: THE LONGEST GENOCIDE IN HISTORY. It shows a Klansman’s noose strangling the island. Inside the United States intelligence community, it’s called strategic strangulation. Our leaders have enforced the embargo of Cuba for fifty-five years. Odds are it will never end.

The USA is very good at undermining socialist countries. It’s why socialism doesn’t do well. When a communist country like Cuba manages to hold on somehow, they are tormented by embargos, infiltration by agents, sabotage, disinformation, slander, assassinations, and so on. Radio Free Whatever is beamed into the targeted country to undermine morale and brainwash listeners with the most seductive psychological warfare techniques in our arsenal. It’s why communist countries seal their borders.

The United States makes sure that no administrator can relax; none can kick back without constantly looking over their shoulder and keeping guard. As long as the privately-owned United States exists, countries of the opposite sex, that is socialist countries, are going to get blamed for however the rich and powerful choose to hurt them. The better these socialist countries do for their people, the bigger the target they become. Their success is their mini-skirt; their low-cut blouse. Obviously, they are begging for war, as Madame Haley so eloquently put it.

Blaming the victim is as old as Cain and Abel. It’s as old as history. The bullies win. They put on coats and tails, send their kids to exclusive schools, learn to speak with a different accent, and set themselves apart. They tell wonderful stories about themselves on TV, movies, radio, books, magazines, and the internet until people start to actually believe deep in their hearts that wealthy people are more wonderfully made than they or their kids ever will be.

The poor and disadvantaged admire their employers, because no one is left to help them understand that they are slaves; fools before a noble class that thinks of them as having no more value than farm animals. They live in the cow-pastures outside the gates of the wealthy. A few unlucky cows get a glimpse from time to time of what has been stolen from them; most of the time they are too incredulous before the view to believe their own eyes.

Today the billionaires are planning, as they have for the past seventy years, to obliterate the North Koreans. Tens of millions of Koreans will die in the first hours. The North Koreans and their Chinese allies were the first countries to challenge America after WWII. Apparently, our arsenal of atomic weapons didn’t intimidate them. The USA has a long memory.

If we use nuclear weapons in a first strike, no one will ever live on the peninsula again. That this threat has been floated by our new president (fire and fury like the world has never known) makes it easy to understand what the USA is all about.

Despite denials in the press, America may in fact have neutron bombs in its arsenal which kill people, but leave infrastructure intact outside the immediate impact zone. Only bunkers constructed from heavy concrete that is impregnated with barium sulfate can shield against both neutrons and the gamma ray by-products of collisions between neutons and the proton-rich substate of heavy concrete.

High level command bunkers are likely to be built with these materials. Otherwise lead and other heavy metals are generally used as barriers to nuclear radiation. Heavy metals are transparent and ineffective against neutron bombardment.

Neutron bombs emit little residual radiation, so they don’t contaminate the attack zone. An occupying force can be inserted with little risk of radiation poisoning. It’s possible the USA will use neutron bombs against civilians for the first time, if the Koreans continue begging our country to kill them all. A follow-on insertion of Marine and Airborne divisions would locate and destroy any surviving command bunkers.

The United States always seems to be first to try diabolical things. We used anthrax against Chinese troops during the Korean war back in the 1950s. Everyone knows about it but us, of course. We have short memories when it comes to remembering our own sins, like the genocidal Vietnam War and other cruelties such as the war against Iraq and the destabilization of the Middle East.

And no one seems to remember that it was a CIA agent (yes, he was disgruntled and no longer employed, the agency has insisted) who blew up the first commercial airliner and wiped out the Cuban Olympic fencing team. It was an act of terrorism that never happened, if you ask most Americans. Lee Harvey Oswald was disgruntled and no longer employed too, come to think of it. 

Speaking of begging for war, is anyone out there begging for peaceThe USA killed two million North Koreans during aerial bombardments approved by President Truman. What’s stopping us from doing it again?

During the first days of the Korean War, the South rounded up one-hundred thousand of its own citizens and summarily executed them, believing that each of their victims might be a leftist sympathizer of the North. The Korean War was an atrocity, which I’m not going to devote blog space to explain or explore. Click on links, those who want to know more.

South Korea from North Korea’s point of view. A massive China has their back. South Korea’s capital is close to their border—a tempting target.

The point is, we aren’t listening to the North or South Koreans. Most want the peninsula unified. We don’t. Most folks want to live in a safe and fair place where billionaires don’t reduce the average person to poverty. South Korea doesn’t want us to sacrifice millions of its own citizens in a military strike, possibly a nuclear conflagration, to make a point. It’s simple, really. 

The only sensible solution is to leave Korea and to assist reunification as best as we can, if we are invited to do so. We aren’t leaving, obviously, because our policy is to topple socialism wherever it takes root.

We have demonized in the past so many of our enemies that it is confusing to know who the bad guys are this time around. We once called native Americans savages. We exterminated their food supply (buffalos), then their populations.

Right now, no one knows who to trust. With our new president, we will never know what the facts are. We will never know for sure who is begging for war, us or them.

Billy Lee

From the EDITORIAL BOARD:
Billy Lee supports private and public ownership of property (a mixed economy), but advocates for international limits to personal incomes and estate sizes to reduce the temptation that drives the wealthy to burn down democratic processes on altars of their own greed. Read his essay Capitalism and Income Inequality

Billy Lee opposes war on humanitarian grounds. During war people get killed and are maimed in huge numbers. It sometimes takes generations for both winners and losers to emerge from the trauma and the horrors. Billy Lee supports the United States during war, but in peacetime reserves his constitutional right to pontificate freely.

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OCEAN WAR

The United States Navy insists that it has 277 ships on active-duty. About 132 are combat surface vessels; 75 or so are submarines. About 70 are logistical craft designed to supply the fleet. Do the math. 132 surface ships patrol the oceans. Yes, the Navy says they have a fleet of 160 or so non-commissioned ships held in reserve, but they are unavailable and ineffective during first strike scenarios. 

The New York Times agrees with the Navy. Everyone agrees—we have 277 ships. I hope the Navy and the New York Times are lying, because if they aren’t, we are in big trouble. We don’t have enough boats. 132 surface ships can’t control the Great Lakes, let alone the world’s seven oceans. Submarines, everyone knows, are almost useless except when used for nuclear deterrence.

The Navy’s Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan. The fleet is responsible to cover 48 million square miles—from Japan to South Korea to Singapore, unless the far reaches of the South China Sea are included; then the square miles are too confusing for anyone to compute. China claims the whole of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory anyway, including all reefs, atolls, and islands.

How many ships bear this awesome responsibility to keep the sea-lanes open and safe from pirates and hostile powers like North Korea? The Navy says, 70. The USA deploys one aircraft carrier and 69 ships. Some news outlets have reported that an additional carrier group has been sent into the Sea of Japan to augment the current force configuration. A typical carrier strike group consists of eleven vessels, two of which are submarines. So, the total as of the date of this essay might be as high as 81.

Sorry, but someone is ordering our sailors to do an impossible job. The job is too big, the resources are too thin, and guess what? A flotilla of 81 vessels scurrying about the South China Sea trying to keep a lid on China, which is expropriating islands that belong to Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines while they build and fortify new ones wherever they feel like it is more than enough problems to exhaust any navy. People get tired. Accidents happen.

We have 70 ships in theater, the Navy says. We probably have 81. What does the other side have?

Well, we don’t really know. They lie. So do we. But we and they both watch; and we and they both spy and calculate.

Hillary Clinton—once upon a time (is there anyone who remembers?) she had the security clearances to know for sure—in one of her 2016 presidential debates, let it slip that Russian drone submarines are patrolling our coasts. These are cheap subs with no crews on board.

She said it once. Her assertion was never repeated in the press or public media. Everyone pretended they didn’t hear, for good reason. The number and types of ships in the Russian and Chinese fleets that are arrayed against our tiny arsenal of boats are state secrets. It’s all classified—out of reach of everyone except those with a clearance and a need to know. 

Chinese frigates like this one often stalk US ships in the South China Sea.

It seems clear to more than a few casual observers of Chinese shipping that the Chinese are building the most high-tech navy the world has ever seen. They have been building it for a few decades now. They have regularly practiced their sea-going skills in coordination with the Russian navy since 2012. Last year the Russians and China held joint naval exercises in the South China Sea, of all places. Joint land-based military exercises started in 2007.

China is selling it’s naval technologies and hardware to smaller countries that don’t normally threaten us. Thailand is buying Chinese subs. With military hi-tech weapons spread among a dozen or more countries in secret alliances with China, well, if it’s happening more than we know, does anyone think it’s good for our side?

But really, what would any reasonable person suspect are the forces arrayed against us? Look around. Hundreds-of-thousands of Russians live on the island of Cuba, just ninety miles from the United States.

Upscale area southwest of the airport in Havana, Cuba. (From Google Earth. Street View not available.)

Go on Google Earth and look at the Cuban neighborhoods. Some nice ones have Russian street names. It’s true. The Russians have a number of wonderfully designed, modern military bases for both subs and ships; and oh yeah, they have fighter jets and missiles, as well. Let’s not kid ourselves. Go look.

Am I trying to scare the public? Doesn’t the public have enough to fear? Isn’t terrorism, immigration, climate change, distant war, disease, and precarious health care (that could collapse any moment now that the GOP is in charge) enough to worry about? Of course it is. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson helped Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin build Russia’s oil and gas infrastructure. It is the world’s best.

Besides, our country has ten-thousand nuclear weapons buried hundreds of feet below the cornfields and deserts of our heartland to extinguish any threats, should we lose our Navy. Until they rot and their plutonium leeches into our soils, why needlessly worry? Everyone should sleep well at night, right? I don’t want to alarm anyone, I don’t.

Secretary of State Tillerson said we should sleep well, so why not? He knows all about the Russians, having helped them build their oil industry over many decades. Depending on when anyone takes its measure, Russia’s energy industry is the world’s largest and most productive—bigger than Saudi Arabia’s. People don’t believe it, but it’s true. Russia is the world’s biggest oil and natural gas producer and exporter. Secretary Tillerson must know what he’s talking about, right? 

Well, here is some stuff that is not so comforting. It might scare some people. Between 1975 and 2016 (41 years) our Navy experienced nine accidents, mostly between our own ships. Only two accidents involved the boats of foreign countries. That’s not bad. That’s not the scary part. But hear me out.

The Ehime Maru was on a 74-day voyage to train high school students to become commercial fishermen when it was struck on 9 February 2001 by a US submarine. It sank. Of the 35 on board, nine died, including four teenagers.

In 2001 a Japanese fishing-training boat, the Ehime Maru, with thirty-five Japanese citizens aboard, was obliterated near the Hawaiian island of Oahu, when the commanding officer of one of our attack submarines apparently hot-dogged the craft for civilian joy-riders. Our new president, George W. Bush, went on national TV to apologize to the Japanese, and the United States paid huge fines and compensation to the Japanese government and the grieving families of the nine who died, which included four high school students.

In 2004, the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, ran over an Arab sailboat in the Persian Gulf. 15 people died, but the Navy never identified who they were, apparently, and no one was compensated, as far as I know. Two jet fighters parked on deck were damaged. The Navy relieved the commanding officer.

USS Belknap, guided-missile cruiser, destroyed in 1975 near Sicily.

The most serious accident was in 1975 when the same U.S.S. John F. Kennedy hit one of our own guided-missile cruisers, the USS Belknap, off the island of Sicily. The Belknap was completely destroyed; seven sailors died.

A fire burned on the Belknap for twenty hours just a few yards from the magazine where Terrier surface-to-air missiles were stored. The ship was constructed with aluminum, which caught fire. The entire above deck structure melted. It took nearly five years to reconstruct the ruined cruiser. In 1995, the Navy struck it from the Naval Registry and began using it for target practice. They sunk it during a live-fire exercise in 1998.

A year after the Belknap accident, the USS John F. Kennedy collided with another ship, this time the aging USS Bordelon destroyer during a refueling. The Navy struck the ship from its registry and sold it to Iran for parts in 1977. No one died.

So, during the forty-one years between 1975 and 2016, the US Navy had nine peacetime accidents, seven of which were friendly-fire and self-inflicted. 24 foreign nationals died; 7 U.S. sailors; 1 U.S. civilian. Ship losses: one cruiser and one obsolete destroyer. Maybe other losses occurred. I haven’t heard about them, if there were any.

The USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian oil tanker, the Alnic MC, on August 20, 2017 in an early morning incident that killed ten sailors. The crash took the destroyer out of action for at least one year.

And now comes the scary part; hold onto your pants: In the seven months since the inauguration of our comb-over commander-in-chief (and keeper of our nuclear codes), the U.S. Navy has suffered four major accidents that have killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured scores more. We’ve lost two of our most powerful missile-guided destroyers—the U.S.S. Fitzgerald and the U.S.S. John S. McCain. It will be years before they are back in service. Readers can read about the fates of the USS Antietam and the USS Lake Chaplain in the links below.

At least two dozen sailors and officers have been disciplined, including a Vice-Admiral, a Commander, and a Lieutenant Commander. Admiral John Richardson, chief of Naval operations, has ordered an “operational pause” to all fleet commanders. He’s ordered a months-long review of protocols, because, he says, “there’s something out there that we’re not getting at.”

All this commotion is happening during a time when we’re planning to conduct war games against North Korea and are daily challenging the Chinese in the South China Sea.

Can I put things into perspective? If the accident rate of the past seven months was applied to the past forty-one years, the U.S. Navy would be short another 85 ships and 800 sailors. Thousands more young men and women would be maimed and wounded, and 250 promising Naval careers would be wrecked. In peacetime, essentially, the U.S. Navy might have lost one-third of its fleet and some of its best sailors and officers at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.

The USS Antietam, a guided missile cruiser, grounded itself in Tokyo Bay January 31, 2017. It released over one thousand gallons of toxic hydraulic oil into the bay and damaged both of its propellers and propeller hubs. Repair costs will exceed $4 million.

Here are a few of the headlines from our country’s newspaper of record, the New York Times. All headlines are from articles written in 2017. I’ve read every single one of them. Readers can access their content by clicking on the links. The remainder of my essay is written below these headlines:

China and Russia Hold First Joint Naval Drill in the Baltic Sea

Naval Collision Adds to Fears About U.S. Decline in Asia

After U.S. Destroyer Collision, Chinese Paper Says U.S. Navy a Hazard

Filipino Officials: Chinese Navy Stalked Philippine Area

4 Accidents, 2 Deadly, Raise Questions About Navy Operations

USS Lake Champlain Collision at Sea

Bodies of Several Sailors Are Found Aboard Damaged U.S. Destroyer

Sleeping Sailors on U.S.S. Fitzgerald Awoke to a Calamity at Sea

Japan Says Deadly Ship Collision Happened Earlier Than Reported

Maritime Mystery: Why a U.S. Destroyer Failed to Dodge a Cargo Ship

Navy Ship in Collision Named for McCain’s Dad, Grandfather

Previous Collisions Involving U.S. Navy Vessels

After Dangerous Collisions, Navy Will Pause for Safety Check

U.S. Admiral Says Remains Found Inside Damaged Destroyer

Commander of Naval Fleet Relieved of Duty After Collisions

Top Two Officers on Navy Ship in Deadly Collision Off Japan Are Relieved of Duties

10 Missing After U.S. Navy Ship and Oil Tanker Collide Off Singapore

Navy Dismisses 7th Fleet Commander After Warship Accidents

Mississippi Shipyard to Fix Destroyer Hit in June Collision

U.S. Navy Relieves Seventh Fleet Commander in Wake of Collisions in Asia

Wreckage of U.S.S. Indianapolis, Lost for 72 Years, Is Found in the Pacific*

*Some readers may have noticed that the last headline seems to have no connection whatsoever to this essay. But they would be wrong. Recall that the battleship USS Indianapolis was the fiercest war machine we had during World War II in the Pacific. We used that ship to deliver the atomic bomb, Little Boy, (the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) to Tinian Island in the western Pacific Ocean sometime during July, 1945. It would be assembled and delivered to the Japanese people with terrifying effect on August 15.

From Tinian the Navy ordered the Indianapolis to advance to Leyte Island in the Philippines to prepare for an all-out assault and invasion of Japan scheduled to follow the atomic blasts that were soon to occur.

On July 30 the lumbering battleship encountered a Japanese submarine which delivered six torpedoes in the wee hours of the night. Two struck the Indianapolis. It took twelve minutes for the battleship to sink below the surface. The ship sucked four hundred men to the bottom and left behind an oil slick that would sicken the nearly one-thousand sailors and marines who survived to face the threat of death by dehydration, drowning, and sharks.  

The USS Indianapolis delivered the atomic bomb to the Air Force in the Pacific before being sunk by a Japanese submarine. The ordeal took the lives of nearly a thousand men during five days in the open sea. Read Devil’s Voyage by Jack L Chalker.

The Navy didn’t notice that their prized battleship was missing. After five days of vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, and shark attacks, three hundred men were still alive (some in lifeboats, including the Commanding Officer) when an aircraft on an unrelated mission saw something suspicious and flew down to take a closer look. 

Twenty-two men who were pulled from the water remain alive today. The Navy court-martialed the commander, Captain McVay, and convicted him for not zig-zagging as he sailed. The Japanese sub-commander testified that zig-zagging would not have mattered. The Indianapolis was going to the floor of the ocean, in any event, he insisted. Nothing could have stopped what happened. 

Losing a ship, even in war, is a big deal in the Navy. It’s not something that anyone takes lightly, even when there are extenuating circumstances and good reasons for failure. Captain McVay committed suicide in 1968—clutching a toy sailor in one hand and his service revolver in the other.

The Navy has a history of not being able to keep track of its ships. The earth’s oceans are vast, and we don’t have that many boats on them. Hiding ships from our enemies means we sometimes hide them from ourselves.

Civilian boats are another matter. Merchant fleets deploy 51,405 ships on our oceans. Most of them are bigger and longer and heavier than our 277 Navy ships. Almost all run on auto-pilot most of the time, especially at night when the crews sleep. If the computer directs the tanker to ram a boat like the Fitzgerald, that’s what is going to happen. In collisions, chances are Navy ships will lose.

Collision avoidance should be easy. Crews need only have situational awareness and the ability to steer the boat. The problem is that to perform these tasks crews rely on a complicated matrix of technologies that always seem to fail in critical situations like combat or rule violations by other boats.

These technologies should be used to confirm human observation and decisions; instead sailors confirm what the technology tells them, but only when something goes wrong, which is almost always too late. An alarm sounds and a glance at a computer screen shows that a tanker is 500 meters to starboard, so a crew member looks out a window to see if it’s there. No! That’s bassackwards and will get someone killed. 

Officers might better demonstrate proficiency in the absence of high-tech aids for situational awareness and steering, then add high-tech proficiencies one skill-set at a time. Maybe they wear merit badges to enable COs to tell at a glance who can handle hydraulic controls and who is good at computer-aided navigation, for example.

Every officer doesn’t have to master every skill-set, and the least skilled officer should be able to turn off the high-tech systems they haven’t mastered in order to steer the boat and stop it using the skills they do have, when necessary.

Laser distance finders (like those used by golfers) and wide-field-of-view night vision binoculars should be standard issue. A half dozen or more sailors should be stationed around the perimeter of every boat and be required to report what they see or don’t see every five minutes or so. No snoozing!

Mischief Reef is the site of a Chinese airstrip and military installation built on a contested atoll in the Philippines.

Anyway, one thing about the four accidents this year (January 31, the USS Antietam; May 9, the USS Lake Champlain; June 17, the USS Fitzgerald; August 20, the USS John S. McCain) bothers me: the destroyer McCain was nearly sunk just two weeks after it challenged the Chinese at a contested atoll named Mischief Reef, which the Chinese have in recent years built-up into a military base.

I have a problem with coincidences that turn out bad for our side. Malevolent intent by an adversary is always possible. Every bridge officer should understand the protocols to avoid intentional (or unintentional) collisions initiated by rogue (or wayward) boats.

A Philippine-manned cargo ship, the ACX Crystal, rammed the USS Fitzgerald, a guided-missile destroyer, on June 17, 2017. Seven US sailors died. The night was clear; the seas calm. The commanding officer and another crew member were severely injured. Repairs will cost hundreds of millions and take years to complete.

Our Navy is a mess. Everyone knows it. The optics of powerful warships limping into port under the power of a dozen or so tugboats emboldens our enemies and demoralizes our patriotic fighting men and women. We have the wrong ships, designed the wrong way, for the wrong wars, for the wrong reasons. And our Navy is overworked to the max. We all know it’s true. It doesn’t have to be. It’s good to have high-tech systems, but they are useless during a crisis. Everyone must be proficient at low-tech and know how to enable it. Seriously.

Politics and corruption, profiteering and greed, laziness and lack of zeal are going to kill us all if we don’t wake up. It’s time for civilians to step up and defend our way of life. It’s time for corporations and billionaires to do what’s right—not what makes them wealthy at the expense of our country’s defense and the prosperity of our citizens and the people of the world who are looking to us for leadership.

We are going to regret privatizing our military and using contractors instead of citizens to fight our battles. We are going to lose our freedoms and our country if we don’t fight for both. Everyone must do their part. Corruption can have no role in the process.

We must use our power to make the world safer, freer, and better for everyone, not just ourselves. People are sick and tired of “America first.” We have so much, already. 

It’s time to share our advantages, with love. If we do what’s right, if we embrace public service and reach out to the disadvantaged in the world (the military, after all, doesn’t have the room or the money for every citizen), we won’t need to kill everyone who hates us like we’ve been doing for hundreds of years.

A year or two of public service by every American in bad neighborhoods and blighted communities might make a big difference in the why, how, and who we fight.

Billy Lee

Posted in History, Horror, Military, Politics, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

DEATH TAX

The billionaire who lived on this estate died at age 82 from cancer in 2009.  

It’s un-American for the wealthy to leave fortunes to their children and grandchildren. It creates a caste system, which is what we fought a revolution to avoid. Under current tax policy anyone who dies can leave up to $5.5 million tax-free to relatives. Any excess above $5.5 million is taxed at 40%, generally speaking. It’s a bit more complicated, but taxation always is. Loopholes are important to rich people. They pay tax attorneys a lot of money to maintain their power and financial privileges.  

Forty percent is not generous enough for people like our current president and his GOP associates. They want the “death tax” (as they derisively call it) eliminated. I’m arguing that the rate should be increased to 100%. Handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to spoiled brats is destroying the USA. A corrosive degeneracy is creeping into every sphere of the lives of the wealthy.

It’s not like there is no precedent. It happened in ancient Rome. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon was required reading when I was a young man in the 1960s. Modern printing companies have consolidated the history into three volumes and into an abridged version of one.  

Gibbon, an English historian, published his first volume in 1776, the birth-year of the USA. His six-volume masterpiece relied exclusively on original sources and, as the remaining five volumes flowed out over the following thirteen years, heavily influenced the builders of the American republic for the next seventy years to the brink of the Civil War. 

Gibbon disapproved of Catholicism and challenged its version of history and the role of martyrs. His history was controversial, which resulted in revisions that he continued to write until his death in 1794. His work remains controversial to this day for a number of reasons that aren’t going to be discussed in this essay. Gibbon understood that cruelty and insensitivity in an entitled class of rulers contributed to Rome’s decline. When the barbarians walked into Rome, they were greeted as liberators by ordinary people. Rome fell like a rotting apple. Gibbon’s History was a warning to the future.

In modern-day America creative workarounds have enabled the wealthy to hand out to crazy relatives a lot of clout they didn’t earn. Yes, it’s difficult to stand up to mob bosses, crooks, and their families. It should be obvious that it’s impossible to accumulate billions of dollars legally, but many have. Behind every fortune is a dark secret—sometimes many secrets. It’s true.

So much for freedom and equal opportunity. Freedom is easily lost to wealthy people who think that those who dare to challenge them are misguided misfits—lower and dumber than farm animals, in many cases.

Wealthy Grandpa, it turns out, had hundreds of legislators on his payroll, which bought him all the advantages of a modern-day emperor. His adult children—who haven’t done a darn thing but argue about which-of-them-should-get-what after Grandpa dies—seem to think that they deserve all the power and perks they didn’t work for and could never earn had they been born into the impoverished family whose mother got her start working in Grandpa’s sweat-shop.

Any American who has traveled outside their comfort zone has seen the poverty these children are experiencing. Is anyone doing anything about it?  This family lives in a state that rejected the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act.

I like math, so let’s do some. Divide the Gross National Product (the GNP ($17.1 trillion) by the population (309 million). Use a calculator, anyone who can’t figure it out on their fingers (just kidding!).

If incomes were equally distributed in America, a family of four would earn $221,000 per year. Yes, I agree, it’s not a lot of money—some folks would really suffer trying to raise a family on so little—but try to understand that half of black families earn less than $35,000; half of white families earn less than $70,000.

We have a fairness problem in America that runs far and deep. It includes:

  1. Segregation by race and income;
  2. Unequal administration of legal protections and justice;
  3. No access to health care for tens of millions (despite ObamaCare);
  4. Discriminatory hiring, promotions, and firing based on race, political beliefs, and looks;
  5. Defense by a mercenary military isolated from the general population—a major contributor to the collapse of the Roman Empire, according to Edward Gibbon);
  6. Endemic corruption of politicians, church, civic, and business leaders.

Does anyone disagree with this list? Go to Florida and try to find a safe place to live. Gated communities dominate the new housing markets. The majority of Americans don’t have enough money to gain access to this private world.

As for legal protections, anyone who has suffered arrest and spent time in custody knows that indigent people rot inside our jails, because they can’t afford bail or high-priced private attorneys. It’s a no-brainer. Believe it or not, some of the incarcerated are innocent, but they are treated as guilty and forced to plea-bargain; many are unable to articulate a coherent defense. They end up with false criminal records that make staying out of future legal traps more difficult.

As for healthcare: Aided by the complicity of the Supreme Court, twenty-eight states refused to set-up health-care exchanges under ObamaCare. Twenty-one states (where five million low-income persons with no health care live) refused to expand access to the poor under Medicaid, despite it being fully funded and paid for by the federal government.

Tens of millions of poor remain outside the care of our state and national health care system of hospitals, medical specialists, and general practice doctors. Wealthy GOP donors hope to destroy health care for the poor and lower-middle class with the help of our newest president, because they don’t want to finance medical aid for indigent people—despite all the privileges and protections that they accrue by forcing a myriad of taxes on middle income folks (like social security and sales taxes), which the wealthy avoid for the most part due to their immense incomes. Also, many of the super-rich make their money in the stock market, where the capital gains tax rate places them in the lowest tier of tax-payers. It’s hard to believe, but it’s really true.  

This scene reminds me of the oft-told Bible story about the day Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments from God. He caught his people worshipping a golden calf. In this pic the calf is grey and the worshippers are white-supremacists. Charlottesville, VA, Sunday August 13, 2017 

Has anyone ever wondered why so many of the racist, alt-right, neo-Nazi, white-supremacists are clean-cut, shaved, symmetrical, and well-dressed men? A visitor from the Philippines who attends a weekly Bible-study with my wife said that after watching the Charlottesville riots, clean-cut white American men now scare her. The reason these fascists look the way they do is obvious, of course. They have good jobs!  Another reason is that they hide their nasty tattoos under expensive shirts, many of them.

Mega-millionaire business owners don’t hire people they feel they can’t trust. It’s that simple. Progressive, clear-headed men and women who care about fairness tend to dress and speak freely. They can be troublesome in a workplace, especially if they question unfair practices in pay, hiring, and promotions.

If you are wealthy and run a business, why would you ever hire anyone who thinks for themselves? Hire instead an ignoramus from the alt-right or the NRA. They follow their ideology like lemmings; discrimination against blacks, gays, women, and progressives doesn’t bother them.

Look at professional football, for an example. The billionaire owners of teams (many have the reputation of Neanderthals) hire players who have a PR (public relations) personality. Skill comes in second. Any high school coach in America could recruit a football team out of America’s prisons that could win a Super Bowl nine years out of ten. Yes, their players would be poor and in some cases, inarticulate.

In America, talent on the field of sport doesn’t work that way. Compliance is a player’s highest virtue, then charisma (as evaluated by billionaire owners), then talent. Hard work? Anyone can be forced to work hard, and most do who aren’t born wealthy. Any thinking fan knows it’s true.

Let’s move on. How come we don’t require people to fight for their country as a responsibility of citizenship? Everyone knows the reason. The wealthy don’t want to risk their kids in a potential combat where they might be wounded, maimed, or even killed.

In this photo from 2010, reservists are preparing for deployment to Iraq. They are dressed to protect themselves from chemical, biological, and nuclear attack.

And why should they? Hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged kids line up to sign-up for service “voluntarily”, because they need a job and, hopefully, an education they currently are unable to afford, even if they have a job. The military provides both, supposedly, but in recent years cut backs in benefits for non-officers have been enacted, because, once again, the wealthy don’t want to put up the money.

We hire a lot of kids from other countries to serve our military, both as “contractors” and as a “path to citizenship”. In conflict zones, like Afghanistan, the majority of soldiers on “our side” are foreign nationals. It’s the fastest route to failure according to Gibbon. Read his history, those who don’t believe it.

Many kids won’t re-enlist after their first tour. Military service, despite all the ads on TV, is a tour into hell for many of them. Living far from home and being under 24/7 control by officers who can throw anyone in the brig without trial for any reason is too much stress for most people.

The wealthy continue to degrade the benefits of service for the disadvantaged despite the fact that without a military to protect them, the wealthy could not hang onto their privileges. Common, everyday people are not as blind as the self-serving narcissists who refuse to do heavy-lifting, even as they order drones and the young alike into the killing zones of battle.

Moving to number six on the list—endemic corruption—let me ask this question. Is it honest to accept money for political favors? Just asking. Enough said. I’m not going to waste your time or mine discussing the obvious. An encyclopedia could be written about the history of corruption in the United States. At least one volume could be devoted to corruption during the twenty-first century, a short period of seventeen years.

Hillary Clinton warned America about the current president, but few believed her. Video.

The most honest man in the FBI, James Comey, helped the Russians wreck our last presidential election by responding to fake news reports planted by Russian agents. Comey behaved like Inspector Javert in the Victor Hugo novel, Les Miserables. He pursued the Democratic nominee relentlessly during her campaign.

He went for her jugular in the final week by reopening a closed investigation and holding a news conference to smear what little reputation and dignity she still possessed. He undercut Hillary Clinton in the final week of the 2016 presidential election. He changed the trajectory of our nation’s history in a way that won’t sit well with future generations.

Corruption disguised as virtue is vice. Any idiot can figure it out. And now our country is paying the price. We elected an unqualified buffoon to be our president. We hope against hope that someday he will change. Maybe someday he will. Who knows?

Let somebody else write about graft; about dishonesty; about slander; about lies; about corruption. I haven’t got the energy. Who wants to be killed for writing what everybody already knows is true? I don’t.

My general statement is this: the United States is hiding behind a pack of lies about its past, present, and future. It’s not so easy to tell the truth to people when large numbers of them start to read your stuff. Fortunately for me, few people see my essays. Yes, I’ve been threatened, but thus far the threats have been manageable.

I don’t know what the solution is. I do know that our current president is making a bad situation worse and less safe for average people. Character is destiny, some say, and I believe it. The president lies and slimes and slanders pretty much everyone except sycophants. He plays the bad boy on an almost daily basis. It’s not going to end well for him or us, if we refuse to do what’s right.

We are so screwed. Read my essay, RISK, those who don’t believe it.

Risk has little to do with who is president, but admittedly some presidents increase risk. The verdict is still out on our current president.

I heard Elon Musk say that our country is like an aircraft carrier with a small rudder. The president sits by the rudder—it’s about a foot wide and three feet tall—and tries to steer the carrier to the right. By the end of his term, the carrier will not have turned much. However, its forward momentum is unstoppable. Are we headed toward the correct horizon? Does anyone know for sure?

It’s not good, peeps, what’s about to come. My advice is to take things a bit more seriously and prepare as best as anyone can for whatever problems might arise from poor leadership and the neglect of minorities, the impoverished, and the disadvantaged that always seem to follow.

Billy Lee

Posted in Culture, Economics, Medicine, Opinion, Politics, Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

RISK

The man shown in this pic (from 2011) was active and working at age 106. He and hundreds like him have been the subject of scientific studies about human longevity. He was a kind and gentle person who enjoyed life, by all accounts; he wanted only to live as long as possible.

Everyone wants to live as long as possible, right? Well, maybe not everyone.

Someone confided in me that their nightmare was that they would never die; they would never get respite from an existence that terrified them, that depressed them, that hurt them, that disappointed and discouraged them; that humiliated them; that abused them; that made them wish they were never born.

Another friend confessed that she wished she had never been born, because she was afraid to die. The certainty of death made living not worth the trouble. Anxiety about the end of  life robbed her of joy. She found that she was unable to kick back and relax, because dark angels circled just outside her field of vision; one day, she was certain, the angels were going to pounce. The end would be brutal.

I remember hearing a story about a young mother who lay dying while her family knelt at her bedside. A scene of sweet-sorrow unfolded as the woman struggled to breathe in the presence of loved-ones. A worried husband, anxious toddlers, her parents, and a few close friends sang hymns to reassure and cast comfort. They clung to one another united by the belief that God would carry momma gently to heaven in his caring arms.

Momma didn’t experience death that way. She bolted up, away from her pillow. She stared wild-eyed at something behind her visitors; something no one saw. She screamed. No! No! No!  She dropped off the bed, slammed to the floor, and rolled onto her back with a loud crack—like a toppled refrigerator. She stared at the ceiling, face frozen, eyes open and crazed, except that now she was dead and too heavy for anyone to move.

Steve McQueen died at age 50 from cardiac arrest at a cancer treatment facility in Mexico in 1980. He made thirty movies; many were blockbusters.

Some people love life and don’t want to leave. I remember Steve McQueen, an actor from yesteryear who had everything to live for. He was a happy race-car enthusiast, a leading man in movies, incredibly handsome, kind, and grateful for every blessing his wonderful life showered on him.

He got cancer. Stateside doctors told him he had no chance. Death was certain. He traveled to Mexico to seek out a cancer recovery center he learned about from friends.

I remember hearing him weep during a radio interview, because, he said, the director of the center had saved his life. He thanked him again and again. He couldn’t say it enough. I felt touched. He loved life, and he had the voice of an angel. I would gladly have traded places with him.

Two days later, the newspapers and television news shows were reporting that he died. What went through his mind when he finally realized that his life wasn’t going to turn out the way he planned? 

For people who seek death, death is easy to find—if they have the courage to face what comes after; if the pain of living exceeds the risks of non-existence or the risks of being reborn as someone new; or the risks of hell or whatever they imagine might be the alternative to the pain of life on earth. Relief is as close as the closest gun, the nearest bridge, the bottle of medicine in the bathroom cabinet. 

I feel bad for people who have been ruined, I do. Far more people kill themselves than are killed by others. No one believes it, but it’s true. I don’t want to dwell on the ruined, because another class of people—a smaller group, I sometimes wonder—want to live.

These are the folks who never suffer from depression; never experience a major illness; never spend time in hospital or prison; never lose a child or spouse; never worry about the sparkle of a crooked tooth or the part on their head of radiant hair; they don’t worry about any lack of symmetry that might render them unattractive; or about getting their way in life, because they always do.

I want to talk about the powerful, beautiful, effective people who everyone seems to want to be. I want to talk about the happy people like Steve McQueen who will always chase a fantasy, because they want to live in the worst, most desperate way.

I want to talk about the people who freeze themselves in the hope that in some future time they will be thawed, and life will continue; I want to talk about the people who take 150 pills a day to prevent every ailment and strengthen every sinew in their bodies. I want to talk about the brilliant, optimistic people who expect that if they can just figure things out the right way, life awaits them for as long as they want it. It’s up to them. They will find a way to make it happen, because they always have.

Is it time for a reality check? Is this a good time to reveal some truths?—shocking truths, perhaps, for a few readers?  I want to predict our futures—all of our futures—as separate individuals with private lives; and as a species—a species anthropologists describe by the Latin mass noun, homines sapientes, (smart people), which they use among themselves to differentiate you and me from all the other groups of living things we rarely notice or even think about.  

Let’s smarten up for a few moments and defend our reputation among the kingdoms of the animals and the plants. Let’s think about best case scenarios for survival and whether we can make them come true. One statistic to keep in mind that is easily verified (and it might startle some readers): one-third of all deaths are not caused by aging.

So let’s move on. Who wants to start with species survival? Who would rather answer the riddle about how to lengthen an individual life?

Ok, the responses I think I hear in my head are nearly unanimous. People want to know how they themselves can live longer. Correct? People want to know how long they will live, if everything is set right.

So, why not start with a best case scenario for individuals? I promise to address the issues of survival for homines sapientes later, after a few more paragraphs.

Here are some simple, best-case-scenario assumptions. Assume that disease is eradicated. We reach a state under the auspices of ObamaCare (or maybe TrumpCare, who knows?) where no one dies in hospital anymore; all diseases have cures and can be prevented; in fact, disease is eliminated from the face of the earth—no more bacterial or viral infections; no malevolent genes gone haywire; no more Alzheimer’s or mental impairments; no more skin rashes or herpes or warts or annoying ear-wax that turns infectious.

Disease is gone. Now take another step. Make a leap of faith. Assume that the genetics of aging is solved and that no one grows old. No one deteriorates. Skin does not wrinkle; no more age spots or rotting teeth; loss of hair and muscle-mass becomes a thing of the past. Aches and pains and constipation and diarrhea and acid reflux—what be them? They gone!

Our long medical nightmare is over, to paraphrase the words of President Gerald Ford on the night he pardoned Dick Nixon so that no prosecutor could ever charge and convict him for being a crook and throwing an election.

OK. What now become the odds for our survival? How long can one person expect to live? I think everyone can see, there’s something we didn’t consider; one thing no one thought of; a missing piece in the puzzle of living-large that is going to leap up and grab each of us sooner or later—unless we live bundled by bubble-wrap in a bunker miles below the surface of the earth. We all know what it is, right?

It happens when we bike on a country road, and a candy-coking cell-talker in a Corvette runs us over. It happens when we climb Mount Everest (just to cross it off our bucket-list) and whoops! someone in the group forgot to tie their shoelaces. People see a video on the evening news—dead people buried in snow.

It happens when flying an aeroplane—a flock of geese smashes the windscreen. The pilot gets sucked out the opening—shredded by shards of glass.

We visit an amusement park to thrill ourselves on a ride that throws us upside down and—oops again!—an unscheduled stop; a mechanical malfunction. Two hours later, rescued, we’re vegetables. Homo sapiens don’t do well hanging upside down for long periods.

Yes, the one thing no one counted on is accidents.

Accidents kill a lot of people every single day. And nothing is going to change that fact, unless people decide to live in virtual reality and never get off the couch or go outdoors to walk their dog.

What exactly are the statistics of accidents?

Well, every year one person in a thousand dies in a screw-up by somebody, usually themselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but for the person who dies, it’s one death too many. Anyone who expects to live 25,000 years should do a statistical analysis to see what the chances are they’ll live that long. Why guess?

The way the math works is this: figure the chances of living deadly-accident-free for one year (it’s 999/1000), then multiply this number by itself for each year of life. Save time by using the exponent key on a calculator to enter years, anyone who doesn’t want to spend a week multiplying the same number over and over 25,000 times. The result will give the chances for survival over a span of that many years. Try some other numbers to make comparisons.

The bottom line is this: no one has any realistic hope at all of living more than 10,000 years. Of the seven billion humans alive today, just one person in 22,000 can expect to live to the age 10,000. A mere two-thousand people will survive to see year 15,000. There’s a small chance (one in ten) that a solitary person might make it to twenty-five thousand years, but they will be an outlier; a statistical anomaly. Who wants to be an anomaly? Not me.

In most cases; under the most realistic scenarios, the chances are that everyone alive today is going to be dead at age 25,000 because of accidents alone. They will die healthy, though. It might be consolation for some.

No one will make it to year 25,000. That’s my bet. It’s not going to happen ninety-percent of the time. Accidents happen.  

OK. Now that we know that our individual situation is hopeless, what about the survival of our species—the human race (for those who disdain the scientific term, homo sapiens)?

I am sorry to report that the survival odds for our species are actually far worse than the odds for our survival as individuals. This depressing fact means that we can totally ignore the individual survival scenario we just took so much effort to describe. If our species dies-off early, individuals are going to die early, too.

How can this terrible situation be possible? It seems so unfair.

I’ve been reading the book, Global Catastrophic Risks,—a collection of essays edited by Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic—first published nine years ago (in 2008) when species survival was more certain than it is now. These brilliant men collected essays written by other forward thinking geniuses who describe in delirious detail thirteen (or so) existential threats to the survival of humans. Some readers might want to review the list.

  1. Systems-based risks and failures
  2. Super-volcanism
  3. Comets and asteroids
  4. Supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, solar flares, and cosmic rays
  5. Climate change
  6. Plagues and pandemics
  7. Artificial intelligence
  8. Social collapse
  9. Nuclear War
  10. Nuclear Terrorism
  11. Biotechnology
  12. Nanotechnology
  13. Totalitarianism 

The authors argue that certain scenarios involving these threats will create an inevitable cascade of events that lead to the melt-down of civilization and a kill-strike against the human-species. I decided to assign a one in ten-thousand chance of occurrence to each of these thirteen catastrophes and crunch the numbers to understand how much danger people on earth might be facing. What I discovered scared me.

A super-volcano eruption in Toba, Indonesia 70,000 years ago reduced the population of humans on earth to less than 4,000. Volcanoes that we know about today, like the one under Yellowstone National Parkmight be larger and more dangerous.  

For one thing, it’s not possible to know if one chance in ten-thousand is an optimistic or pessimistic assessment of each of these risks. Nuclear war might be one in a hundred; climate change—one in fifty; asteroids—one in fifty-thousand; supernovae—one in a hundred million; artificial intelligence—one in ten. Who knows?

Can humans survive ten-thousand years without a pandemic or nuclear war? No one knows. Experts resort to heuristics, which erupt from biases even they don’t know they carry. I suppose a gut-check by an expert has more validity than a seat-of-the-pants guess by a pontificator. I will give you that. But the irony is that no matter who is right, no one will know, because we are all going to die.

Evidence in the fossil and genetic record already shows that at least three human-like species are known to have come and gone during the past several hundred thousand years or so, including Neanderthals and Denisovans. Extinction of intelligent, human-like species happens more often than not—three out of four times that we know of, maybe more, if scientists continue to dig and look.

My number-crunching shows that if my once in ten-thousand years risk assessments are anywhere close to being realistic, humans have no more than a one-in-four chance of avoiding extinction during the next one-thousand years. Our chance to survive approaches zero as the number of years reaches into the realm of five-thousand years and beyond. 

Humans have recorded their stories for five-thousand years. Some call these stories, history. Sometime during the next five-thousand years, history will end unless we can lower the odds of these catastrophes to much less than one in ten-thousand.

Fantasy Clocks designed by Richard Birkett. (Video)

We are truly stupid—we are dumber than earthworms—if we refuse to make the effort to increase our survival prospects by lowering these probabilities, these ratios, to one in one hundred-thousand or better still, one in a million or, even better, one in one-hundred million. Why not one in a gazillion?

How? That’s the big question. It’s urgent. The answer seals our fate.

We search the heavens. No one seems to be broadcasting from out there. All we hear is silence… and tiny little chirps, but not from crickets.

It’s the doomsday clock. It’s ticking.   

Billy Lee

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Renormalization

Our guess is that this graphic will be incomprehensible to the typical reader of Billy Lee’s blog. So, don’t worry about it. Billy Lee isn’t going to explain it, anyway. More important things need to be told that everyone can understand, and they will. The Editorial Board

I have a lot to say about renormalization; if I wait until I’ve read everything I need to know about it, my essay will never be written; I’ll die first; there isn’t enough time. Click this link to read what some experts argue is the why and how of renormalization. Do it after reading my essay, though.

There’s a big problem inside the science of science; there always has been. Experimental facts never match the mathematics of the theories people invent to explain them. The math which people use to express their ideas about the universe always removes the ambiguities that seem to underlie all of reality.

People noticed the problem as soon as they started doing science. The diameter of a circle and its circumference was never certain; not when Pythagoras studied it 2,500 years ago or now; the number π is the problem; it’s irrational; it’s not a fraction; it’s a number with no end and no pattern—3.14159…forever into infinity.

For a circle, either the circumference or the diameter can be rational (written as a fraction) but not both. Perfect circles and spheres cannot exist in nature. Why?  “π” is irrational. It can’t be written like a fraction—like a ratio—where one integer divides another.

The diameter of a circle must be multiplied by π to calculate its circumference; and vice-versa. No one can ever know everything about a circle, because the number π is uncertain, undecidable, and in truth unknowable. Long ago people learned to use the fraction 22/7 or, for more accuracy, 355/113These fractions gave the wrong value for π, but they were easy to work with and close enough to do engineering problems.

Fast forward to Isaac Newton, the English astronomer and mathematician, who studied the motion of the planets. Newton published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. I have a modern copy in my library. It’s filled with formulas and derivations. Not one of them works to explain the real world—not one.

Newton’s equation about gravity describes the interaction between two objects—the strength of attraction between the Sun and the Earth, for example, and the motion of the Earth that results. The problem is that the Moon and Mars and Venus and many other bodies warp the space-time pool where the Earth and Sun swim. No way exists to write a formula to determine the future of such a system.

This simple three-body problem cannot be solved using a single equation. It’s not so simple. More than three bodies makes systems like these much harder to work with.

In 1887 Henri Poincare and Heinrich Bruns proved that such a formula can’t be written. The three-body problem (or any N-body problem, for that matter) cannot be solved by a single equation. Fudge factors have to be figured in. Perturbation theory was proposed and developed. It helped a lot. Space exploration depends on it. It’s not perfect, though. When NASA lands probes on Mars, no one knows exactly where the crafts are located on its surface relative to any reference point on the Earth.

Even using the signals from the constellations of a half-dozen or so Global Positioning Systems (GPS) deployed in high earth-orbit by various countries, it’s not possible to know exactly where anything is. Beet farmers out west combine the GPS systems of two different countries to hone the courses of their tractors and plows.

On a good day farmers can locate a row of beets to within an eighth of an inch. That’s plenty good, but the two GPS systems they depend on are fragile and cost billions per year to maintain. In beet farming, an eighth-inch isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough.

Quantum physics is another frontier of knowledge that presents roadblocks to precision for the mathematically inclined. Physicists have invented more excuses for why they can’t get anything exactly right than probably any other group of scientists. Quantum physics is about a hundred years old, but today the problems seem more insurmountable than ever.

The sub-atomic world seems to be smeared and messy. Vast numbers of particles—virtual and actual—makes the use of mathematics problematic. This pic is an artist’s conception. Concepts such as “looks like” have no meaning at sub-atomic scales, because small things can’t be resolved by any frequency of light that enables them to be visualized realistically by humans.

Why? Well, the self-interaction of sub-atomic particles, as well as their interactions with the swarms of virtual particles that surround them, disrupt the expected correlations between any theories and actual experimental results. The mismatches are spectacular. They dwarf the N-body problems of astronomy.

Worse—there is the problem of scales. Electrical forces, for example, are a billion times a billion times a billion times a billion times stronger than gravitational forces at sub-atomic scales. Forces appear to manifest themselves according to the distances across which they are interacting. It’s very odd.

An infinity of scales pile up to produce unacceptable infinities in the mathematics, which erode the predictive usefulness of the math descriptors. Once again, researchers are forced to fabricate fudge factors. Renormalization is the buzz-word that describes several popular routes to the removal of problems with the numbers.

The folks who developed the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED), for another example, used perturbation methods to bootstrap their ideas into a useful tool for explanations. Their method produced annoying infinities, which renormalization techniques chased away.

At first physicists felt uncomfortable discarding the infinities that showed up in their equations; and they hated to introduce fudge factors. It felt like cheating. They believed that the poor match between math, theory, and experiment meant that something was wrong; they weren’t understanding the underlying truths they were working so hard to lay bare.

Philosopher Robert Pirsig believed that the number of possible explanations that scientists could invent for phenomenon were, in actual fact, unlimited. Despite all the math and all the convolutions of math, Pirsig believed that something mysterious and intangible like quality or morality guided our explanations of the world. It drove him insane, at least in the years before he wrote his classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

The newest generation of scientists aren’t embarrassed by anomalies. They have taught themselves to “shut up and calculate.” The digital somersaults they must perform to validate their work are impossible for average people to understand, much less perform. Researchers determine scales, introduce “cut-offs“, and extract the appropriate physics to make suitable matches to their experimental results. They put the horse before the cart, more times than not.

The complexity of the language scientists use to understand and explain the world of the very small is the most convincing clue, for me at least, that they are missing important pieces of a puzzle that may not be solvable by humans, no matter how much IQ any petri-dish of gametes might be able to deliver to the brains of the scientists in our future.

It’s possible that the brains of humans, which use language and mathematics to ponder and explain the world, are insufficiently structured to model the complexities of the universe around them. We aren’t hard wired with enough power to create the algorithms for ultimate understanding.

We are Commodore 64 personal computers (remember them, anyone?) who need upgrades to Sunway TaihuLight or Cray XK7 Titan super-computers to have any chance at all.

Nick Bostrom, author of SUPERINTELLIGENCE Paths, Dangers, Strategies

The smartest thinkers—people like Nick Bostrom and Pedro Domingos (who wrote The Master Algorithm)—are suggesting that an artificial super-intelligence can be developed and hardwired with perhaps hundreds or even thousands of levels—each level loaded with trillions of parallel circuits—that might be able digest all the statistical meta-data, books, videos, and other information (i.e. the complete library of human knowledge and understanding over all of history) to create a platform from which the computer will program itself to follow paths to knowledge far beyond the capabilities of the entire population of the earth.

This super-intelligent computer system might discover understandings in days or weeks (who knows for sure?) that all humans working together cooperatively for thousands of years might not have any chance at all to acquire. Of course the risk is that such an intelligence, once unleashed, might enslave the planet. Another downside is that it might not be able to communicate to humans what it has learned, much like a father who is a college math professor trying to teach calculus to the family cat.

The founder of Google and Alphabet Inc., Larry Page, (Larry graduated in the same high-school class as a member of my family) is rumored to be working to perfect just such an intelligence. He owns part of Tesla Motors, which was started by Elon Musk of SpaceX. Imagine a guy who controls a supercomputer teaming up with a guy who has the rocket launching power of a country. What are the consequences?

Entrepreneurs don’t like to be regulated. The temptations that will be unleashed by unregulated, unlimited military power and scientific knowledge falling into the hands of two men—even men as nice and personable as Elon and Larry seem to be—could spell for humanity over time an unmitigated… what’s the word I’m looking for?  

I heard Elon say that he doesn’t like regulation, but he wants to be regulated. He believes artificial super-intelligence may be civilization ending. He’s planning to put a colony on Mars to escape it’s power and ensure human survival.

Elon Musk

Is Elon saying that he doesn’t trust himself; that he doesn’t trust his friend, Larry? Are these two men asking us to save the world from themselves? I haven’t heard Larry ask for anything like that, actually. He keeps a low profile, God bless him, even as he watches everything we say and do in cyber-space. Think about it.

We’ve got maybe ten years tops; maybe less. Somebody better think of something fast.

Who could ever imagine that laissez-faire capitalism might someday spawn a technology that enslaves the world? Ayn Rand, perhaps?

We humans need to renormalize our aspirations—our civilization—before we generate infinities of misery that wreck our planet and create a future for humans no one wants.

Billy Lee   

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