Archive for January, 2009


The average person has first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, and so on. Furthermore, there are cousins once removed, cousins twice removed, cousins thrice removed, etc. If you are like me, once you get past second cousins or cousins once removed you have no idea who these people are, or were. But even if you have long since lost track, where the relationship actually exists there is, or was, a personality to fill each slot.

It’s a fascinating exercise to ponder the number of cousins one might have. Exact calculations are difficult because everyone’s situation is different, but if you could come up with a uniform scenario then maybe . . . Suppose every marriage was perfect and lasted a lifetime during which each couple always had exactly two children at exactly age twenty (fraternal twins) and only by their spouse. Furthermore, suppose the couples are always exactly the same age and everybody lives to be exactly 75 years old. In other words, these are the kind of improbable people that government programs are tailored to fit. With all the irregularities removed, calculating cousinhood for this uniform population becomes a possibility. I attempted this and came up with a set of numbers organized in the form of a matrix with the cousin number (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) across the top and the number of times removed (once, twice, thrice, etc.) down the side. The full matrix is included as Exhibit A for those who like to gaze at such things. I’ll just summarize a few interesting points here for your amusement. The total number of cousins gets quite large very quickly as the numbers increase in value. By the time we reach two digits (10th cousin 10 times removed) we find over a billion cousins in just that slot, and the cumulative number of cousins up to that level is substantially larger. It’s interesting to note these figures would only carry us back about two hundred years (about as far as United States history goes). Remember also that these figures are for two children per couple. The actual historical average in the U.S. is higher, and in many other countries the averages are significantly higher. On the other hand, there will always be cousins that stay single, childless couples, and those who die young.

Cousinhood Matrix

Cousinhood Matrix - Click for Larger Image

Each individual will have over one million cousins about their same age, and someone could easily have as many as 20 million cousins alive at any one time out to the 10th cousin number. At the time that George H. W. Bush was elected President of the United States, Burke’s Peerage in Britain determined that Bush was the 13th cousin twice removed from Queen Elizabeth, according to Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director. Actually, this is not surprising since by extrapolating a little on my cousin matrix, I calculate that the Queen would have 268,435,456 cousins in that same slot. Almost anybody of British extraction could make a similar claim.

Now, here’s something fun to consider. If you are married and you and your spouse have similar ethnic backgrounds, the probability that you are married to a fairly close (10th or less) cousin is pretty good. If your spouse is of a different race, you will still be cousins but at a higher number. At some level, everyone there is, or ever was, is your cousin. Cousinhood includes even those who happen to hold specialized titles such as father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, etc., and variations on those obtained by adding “grands” and “greats.” How can that be? Well, let me explain . . . If your spouse is really your cousin at some number, then your children are your cousins at the same number, but once removed, and vice versa. For example, if first cousins marry (that is legal in some states) then their children are also their first cousins once removed. And since children of first cousins are second cousins to each other, then the children of this couple are second cousins as well as brother and sister. All the other special relationships can be explained as cousins in a similar way.

Are you still with me? Now let’s really go to “fast backward.” Imagine a meter before you like the odometer in your car. This meter shows the “COUSIN LEVEL,” meaning both the cousin number and the times removed. The reading gets rapidly larger. On the right, the last rotor whirls about as fast as it can go and still be readable. The spread of cousinhood resulting from the rising cousin level is reflected in the following events. Human beings join the chimps and apes in cousinhood . . . then orangutans and lemurs. Next we join the other higher mammals! The meter is picking up speed. The first rotor is just a blur and the second is too! Cousinhood descends through lower mammals, joins birds and warm blooded dinosaurs, then reptiles. Now the meter is really singing! Vertebrates join non-vertebrates. Listen to that meter scream! The animal kingdom joins the vegetable kingdom; lichen, slime mold, protozoa, bacteria . . . and then . . . CLANK! . . . the meter comes to an abrupt halt at some immense number. Life is cousinhood. To the best of our knowledge, life has begun only once on this planet. We are all cousins under the Sun.

R. L. Mason

On the road in Alaska


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Sunday, January 25th, 2009 Cousinhood No Comments

Domestic Speculations

Robert T. Jones, Aerodynamicist

When I was a youth, in the years immediately proceeding and following adolescence, one of my best buddies was Ed Jones. Ed and his two sisters lived three doors from me in Palo Alto and I spent a lot of time at their house. Their father was Robert T. Jones, the famous Aerodynamicist. I didn’t realize how famous he was at the time. To me he was just their father and he worked for NASA, although the kids were fond of pointing out that their father had invented the swept back wing. Hanging out at the Jones’ house was a real education. Ed was a few years older than I and he had an old Model T. Ford truck that we were continually tearing apart and putting back together. In addition, we built countless model airplanes. In this latter endeavor we received the most expert instruction you could possibly imagine. There were also lessons in optics and electronics. Most of my instruction came to me second hand from Ed, but occasionally I got it straight from “R.T.” himself.

R.T. had a knack for making the strangest looking contraptions fly, and fly well. One in particular sticks in my memory. It was a flying wing, but more like half a flying wing. It was almost all wing and it was straight, but it flew on a bias. In flight, one end would lead by quite a bit and the other end would trail. Looking at it made you scratch your head and think, “How could such a configuration possibly fly?” but it did. R.T. called it an “oblique flying wing.” Many years later, after he retired from NASA and was associated with Stanford University, he spent time developing this concept further. What eventually emerged was a fairly complete design for a Mach 1.6 aircraft that could seat 440 passengers inside a wing with a span of 400 feet. Of course, you don’t see anything like that flying today. It was just too strange for the public to accept. As R.T. himself once wrote “artifacts created by humans show a nearly irresistible tendency for bilateral symmetry” (10). If one of these wings were to appear in the sky without warning you would immediately be struck by the almost “unearthly” quality of its appearance.

There probably are aircraft of various types and configurations under development at secret facilities, and no doubt they contributed from time to time to the total inventory of UFO sightings. The recent unveiling of the stealth bomber and fighter is an example of this kind of secret development.

Area 51

Among UFO enthusiasts are those that frequent the small town of Rachel, Nevada, located near area 51 and the “secret” base at Groom Lake. There you can sign up for a guided evening trek up into the Nellis Range over looking the base. I have never done this, but I understand that on Wednesday nights at a certain location, it can be a very interesting experience, or at least it used to be. The most common description of what was seen involves a ball of brilliant light that changed altitude in a stepped fashion, exhibited terrific accelerations, and made sharp turns at very high velocities. this has all the ear marks of a beam of some kind directed from either above or below –– probably below. But how could such a beam be made to exhibit a bright ball of light without hitting a target or passing through a layer of gas and thus causing fluorescence? I don’t know, but I am addicted to speculating about this kind of thing.

If there was a device similar to the linear accelerators described in the previous chapter that produced a particle beam of some kind, maybe there is a way to run something up and down that beam. Suppose this device produced a beam of protons or positive ions and accelerated them to high velocity. And suppose there was a way of superimposing a wave function on this beam. I envision this as looking like stop-and-go traffic on a freeway when viewed from above. And further, suppose there is a way of controlling the phase velocity of this wave. This gets me back to R.T. Jones again.

In the early days of television, when I was somewhere in the range of ten to twelve years old, I happened to walk into the Jones’s living room one day and noticed what I thought was a TV. not everybody had one in those days, and I commented on its presence. R.T. was nearby and he informed me that what I was looking at was actually an oscilloscope.

“What’s an oscilloscope?” I asked, stumbling over the pronunciation.

“Do you know what oscillation is?”

“Uh huh”, I replied with a nod, not wishing to appear ignorant.

He looked at me for just a moment and an almost imperceptible smile crept over his face.

“Well, oscillation is when something moves back and forth between two limits like the pendulum on a clock.”

I remember being embarrassed that he had seen through me so easily. He then turned on the scope and gave me a lesson in its use. the image that sticks in my head to this day was the standing sine wave that he produced on the screen.  He  made  it  proceed  to  the  right  slowly  at  first  then gradually faster until the wave was just a blur. He then slowed it down again until it was motionless again, all the while explaining about frequency and phase velocity. Anybody who has worked with an oscilloscope has seen what I have just described. Much later, when I worked for the Radiation Division of Varian Associates, I was impressed with the fact that the phase velocity of a radio frequency signal can be used to move particles down the length of an accelerator’s tube, and accelerate them in the process.

So, what if we pass a positive beam through a small synchrotron-like device that has electrons whirling around in it, and we pass the beam through the synchrotron along its axis of rotation. Would there be a way of hanging a ring of electrons on the positively charged beam? And could this ring be moved up and down the beam or be held steady at some location by adjusting the phase velocity? and since the ring of electrons would give off what is called synchrotron radiation from being constantly held to a circular path, would this electromagnetic radiation be in the visible portion of the spectrum? There are a lot of questions here and not many answers.

After thinking about this a little more, I realized the synchrotron is not necessary. All you need is a small linear accelerator arranged perpendicular to the larger positive beam. This linac would put out a stream of electrons at just the right velocity and distance from the center of the positive beam so that they go into a stable orbit around the stream of positive particles. The phase velocity of the positive beam could be adjusted so the positive peak of a standing wave (zero phase velocity) was at the intersection of the two beams while the orbit was being established. Once established, the phase velocity of the positive or carrier beam could be increased, sending the ring on its way. (see A Hard Look at UFOs)

After writing the above I decided to see if anybody else had come up with the idea of linking particle beams and UFOs and this led me to the web site authored by Tom Mahood entitled Bluefire (11). From his site, I gathered that Tom was at one time an area 51 groupie, but has since reformed and is now a physicist. This combination of attributes provides him with a unique perspective on the question of UFOs sighted over area 51. Tom speculates that a particle beam aimed up into the atmosphere would, depending upon the initial energy and velocity, produce a ball of plasma at some altitude, and he provides some impressive mathematics to back this up. Coming out of the accelerator at high velocity the beam would initially shoulder aside molecules of air, but would gradually attenuate to the point where it would eventually collide with these molecules and dump its remaining energy creating a ball of plasma. A good deal of the resulting electromagnetic radiation would be in the visual portion of the spectrum but it would also show up as a false bogie on radar screens, and he suggests that is where the military interest lies. Mahood notes a paragraph from David Darlington’s book, Area 51 — The Dreamland Chronicles[06]. Darlington, quotes Mark Farmer and because it is such a descriptive passage, I will quote it also:

“I’ve seen two of them out here,” Farmer divulged.
“One was a light that kept bouncing around and then just  went  away.  The  other  was  colored,  floating, glowing orb that popped up behind the jumbled mountains south of Groom Lake. It went straight up, then started jerking around and wobbling up and down — at times making right-angled, or greater than right-angled, turns then sitting still in a rock-hard hover. It became distorted when it moved part of it lagged behind the main object, then the trailing edge would catch up. I had a Celestron twelve-hundred- millimeter telescope, and I watched it for an hour and forty-five minutes. It wasn’t quite round; it was sort of squashed, and shimmering the whole time as if  it  were  surrounded  by  some  kind  of  field.  It  was crimson on top, blue-green on the bottom, and gold in the middle. I have no idea what it was” (12).

After reading his on-line essay “Particle Beams and Saucer Dreams,” (13) I had the feeling that Mahood is probably closer to established science than I am, but who knows what is yet to be established? I’ll touch on this kind of thing again in the next chapter, but from a different point of view. (Click here to read Mahood’s essay)

Historical Coincidence?

The first particle accelerator, a cyclotron, was built in the early 1930s, but they really didn’t proliferate until the invention of the synchrotron and the linear accelerator in the mid 1940s. I think it is interesting to note that the modern era of UFOs is generally considered to begin in 1947. As Tom Mahood speculates, the military interest in accelerators probably has to do with their ability to create a false radar target. Just how much development and distribution the resulting device has received is unknown, but I get suspicious whenever I read about UFOs being sighted in conjunction with large military maneuvers or naval exercises.

Robert Thomas Jones, May 28, 1910 — August 11, 1999 by Walter G. Vincenti /
Biographical Memoirs, National Academy of Sciences
[06] p. 237

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Sunday, January 25th, 2009 Chapter 4 (sample) No Comments

Teaching By Example

I no longer consider myself a Christian, having gone onto what I believe to be a larger view of things; but many of their teachings are well founded. In particular, I recall the method they chose to spread the word, and that was to teach by example. In their view, Christ led an exemplary life, teaching us by his example, and we were obligated to carry on in that same vein.

A few sects and denominations today choose more aggressive methods of proselytizing. There are those that ring your doorbell and push their literature at you, and those that trumpet loudly from various media pedestals. But my guess is that they alienate many for every one they convert. Proceeding to quietly do right by your fellow human beings and then letting the chips fall where they may seems to me a more effective way to gain respect, admiration, and possibly adherents.

In the over two hundred year history of our nation, all of our presidents have been men and at least, claimed to be Christians. It is doubtful that they could have been elected without those two designations. The day will come when that is no longer the case, but as of this writing it has yet to arrive. As Christians, many of them were exposed to, and understood, the advantages of teaching by example. They realized that not only is this a good rule of conduct on an interpersonal level for spreading a religious philosophy, but it is also effective on an international level for spreading a political philosophy.

The United States is a form of democracy and we believe that democracies in general are a highly beneficial form of government. We recommend them, but we have not, for the most part, aggressively pushed them on others. Today there are approximately 125 democracies in the world, of which we are the oldest, and I believe this is in no small part due to our example. We have provided an environment for our citizens that has liberty, opportunity, and a fair amount of justice. And although we are not perfect, our systems are continually improved through public debate and citizen participation. As a result, we have become a wealthy and powerful nation.

Other peoples of other nations have had a long period to observe our progress and witness our success. Many have decided that we are on the right track and worthy of imitation. Admittedly this is a slow process, but the progress has been steady and always the numbers increase. Sometimes this has been accomplished by revolution and sometimes by gradual reforms, but when complete, the people of the nation involved take pride in having brought about this change on their own, and rightly so.

In the few instances where a democracy has been imposed upon another nation, it was a result of defending ourselves or our allies against aggression from those nations. The aggressor nations were defeated and a democracy was installed. The defeated nations were in no position to object, having brought about the conflict in the first place. However, they came to appreciate their new form of government and are now among the most peace-loving nations on earth.

This brings up another benefit characteristic of democratic nations. They are usually nations that place a high value on peace. On becoming a democracy, they join a community of like-minded nations. Trade and cultural exchanges ensue and this provides a firm and stable basis for prosperity. By and large, democracies do not start wars. Wars are almost always started by nations with authoritarian governments.

The early Christians were relatively powerless. The only means they had at their disposal for spreading the word were persuasion and teaching by example. Using these methods, they were able to expand the movement rapidly throughout the Western world. Later, when Christianity became the established religion of powerful states, other methods were tried. In particular the crusades spring to mind. Powerful western nations attempted to impose Christianity on other people through military force. Their record of success was not impressive. Desirable ends do not justify undesirable means.

We need to keep this in mind when we are tempted to speed up the process of democratization in the world by imposing it where it does not currently exist. It will be more readily accepted and more highly valued where people bring about the change themselves. In the long run, nothing changes in society in a fundamental way unless individual minds change first. Circumstances can get out of balance in the short run when a government tries to force change from the top down, but if officials get too far out of line, they are voted out of office or there is a revolution.

Fundamental change is a bottom up process and converts are made one at a time. People must be convinced, and one of the best ways to do that is to show them a good example. At times this will mean we must endure what seems to be the interminable reign of some despot, but with the recent advances in worldwide communication, time is very much on our side. And while we wait, we can concentrate on becoming an even better example. This will not go unnoticed.

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Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 Teaching By Example No Comments