You are browsing the archive for 2019 April 10.

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Black Holes Were Such an Extreme Concept, Even Einstein Had His Doubts

April 10, 2019 in History

By Ian O’Neill

Einstein’s theory of relativity paved the way for black holes’ discovery, but the concept behind their existence was so bizarre that even the scientific visionary was not convinced.

More than a century ago, Albert Einstein stunned the world when he explained the universe through his theory of general relativity. The theory not only described the relationship between space, time, gravity and matter, it opened the door to the theoretical possibility of a particularly mind-boggling phenomenon that would eventually be called black holes.

The concept that explains black holes was so radical, in fact, that Einstein, himself, had strong misgivings. He concluded in a 1939 paper in the Annals of Mathematics that the idea was “not convincing” and the phenomena did not exist “in the real world.”

The first image of the shadow of the black hole in the center of M87 taken with the Event Horizon Telescope in 2019.

The unveiling of the first-ever picture of a black hole by the Event Horizon Telescope in April 2019, however, not only confirmed Einstein’s original theory, but also provided indisputable proof that the gravitational monsters are, in fact, real.

The Space-Time Theory

As described by American physicist John A. Wheeler, general relativity governs the nature of space-time, particularly how it reacts in the presence of matter: “matter tells space-time how to curve, and space-time tells matter how to move.”

Picture a flat rubber sheet (space-time) suspended above the ground. Place a bowling ball in the middle of the sheet (matter) and the sheet will distort around the mass, bending half way to the floor— this is matter telling space-time how to curve. Now roll a marble (matter) around the rubber sheet (space-time) and the marble’s trajectory will change, being deflected by the warped sheet— this is space-time telling matter how to move. Matter and space-time are inextricably linked, with gravity mediating their interaction.

Now, place a singularity—a theoretical point of infinite density—onto the sheet, what would happen to space-time? It was German theoretical physicist Karl Schwarzschild, not Einstein, who used general relativity to describe this hypothetical situation, a situation that would become the most extreme test of general relativity.


Gravitational waves are ripples in the curvature of space-time that propagate as waves traveling outward from their source.

At a certain threshold, Schwarzschild found that the hypothetical singularity would literally punch through space-time. In mathematics, singularities are interesting numerical …read more

Source: HISTORY

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USMCA: A Marginal NAFTA Upgrade at a High Cost

April 10, 2019 in Economics

By Daniel J. Ikenson

Daniel J. Ikenson

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump vowed to strengthen
enforcement of existing trade rules and negotiate better trade
deals than his predecessors had. With his national security tariffs
on steel and aluminum, his safeguard tariffs on washing machines
and solar components, his broad trade war with China, and the
looming specter of new barriers for automobile imports, President
Trump has delivered—for better or worse—on the first
promise. On the second, he has little to show.

On Sept. 30, 2018, American, Mexican, and Canadian negotiators
reached a deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA), which President Trump had described as “the worst
trade deal ever negotiated.” Two months later, Trump and his
Mexican and Canadian counterparts signed the “United
States-Mexico-Canada Agreement” (USMCA), which
modernizes—and revises in ways both good and bad—the
25-year old NAFTA. But before the USMCA can enter into force, it
must be approved by the legislatures of all three countries. This
will be a heavy lift.

Whether the U.S. Congress passes the implementing legislation,
which will be introduced by the administration after an assessment
of the deal is published by the U.S. International Trade Commission
on or around April 19, remained an open question at press time. But
considering the controversial substance of the agreement, the
vitriolic nature of America’s partisan politics, and the fact
that the presidential primary election season is rapidly
approaching, prospects for passage before the November 2020
elections are no better than 50-50, and fading.

NAFTA certainly enabled
more cross-border final goods trade, but it also facilitated the
development of a globally competitive North American production
platform, most consequentially in the auto sector.

Why did the president choose to renegotiate NAFTA? How does the
USMCA compare to the original NAFTA? How does it compare to other
important benchmarks? Why are its prospects for congressional
approval so uncertain? And what will happen if it doesn’t
pass?

Have We been Losing at Trade?

American presidents of both major parties from Franklin D.
Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama considered trade a
mutually beneficial endeavor, essential to global economic growth
and prosperity, and integral to promoting peace among nations.
President Donald Trump doesn’t share this perspective. He
sees trade as a zero-sum competition between Team America and
foreign teams—a win-lose proposition—where exports are
America’s points, imports are the foreign teams’
points, and the trade account is the scoreboard. To Trump,
perennial U.S. trade deficits mean that the United States has been
losing at trade for decades, and it has been losing because it has
negotiated bad trade deals.

It is in that context that the president deemed NAFTA a failure
and set out to revise its provisions …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Previously Unknown Human Species Discovered in the Philippines

April 10, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Beneath the rocky floor of Callao Cave on Luzon island in the Philippines, researchers have uncovered a number of fossils from what they believe is a previously unknown ancient human species.

Dubbed Homo luzonensis, the newly identified species inhabited Luzon more than 50,000 years ago, during the Late Pleistocene epoch. This means they shared the Earth with other relatively advanced hominins, including Homo neanderthalensis (a.k.a. , they trace the remains to three different individuals, including at least one juvenile.

The fossils found in the cave—including several foot and hand bones, a partial femur and teeth—shared some morphological features with more primitive hominin species such as Australopithecus and Homo erectus, as well as more advanced ones, including Homo sapiens and Homo floresiensis.

“What makes them a new species is actually the combination of all features taken together,” Détroit said in an email interview. “If you take each feature one by one, you will of course find it in one or several hominin species. But if you take the whole package, no other species of the genus Homo is similar, thus indicating that they belong to a new species.”

READ MORE: Did Humans Kill Off the Hobbits?

Molars and premlars found of the Homo luzonensis.

In particular, the teeth found in Callao Cave differ from those of other known hominin species. The premolars have two to three roots, while in Homo sapiens, premolars usually have only one root, or two at the most. These distinct premolars, as well as the tooth enamel and dentin (the hard bony tissue that makes up the body of the tooth) are similar to Australopithecus and more ancient species of the genus Homo, such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus.

On the other hand, the molars are very small and simply formed, like those of modern humans. “An individual with these characteristics combined cannot be classified in any of the species known today,” said Détroit.

The foot bones identified as Homo luzonensis also stand out for their combination of primitive and developed features, which indicates members of the species might have had a distinctive way of walking. The proximal phalanx (which forms the base of the toe) is curved, with highly developed insertions for the muscles involved in the flexion of the foot.

“These characteristics do not exist in Homo sapiens,” Détroit pointed out. In fact, the foot bones found in Callao Cave are …read more

Source: HISTORY

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NATO's German Problem: Who Needs Soldiers or Weapons?

April 10, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

The foreign ministers of America’s European allies visited
Washington to celebrate the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO)’s seventieth anniversary. Members engaged in an orgy
of self-congratulation over an alliance which remains better called
“North America and The Others.” One of the meeting
highlights was preparing to bring in the military behemoth of
(North) Macedonia, following the inclusion of equally mighty
Montenegro two years ago.

One discordant subject was Germany’s military outlays, or
lack thereof. Berlin had promised to hike expenditures to two
percent of GDP by 2024—subsequently downgraded to 1.5
percent—but new budget figures indicated that the real amount
would be lower still. Germany’s government evidently lacks
the political will to put Europe’s defense first.

Without a hint of shame, the German Foreign Office responded to
criticism by tweeting: “Germany wholeheartedly
supports @NATO. We will stand by our commitments. True solidarity
is measured in terms of commitment, not Euros.”
Unfortunately, a barrage of bullets and bombs would be more
effective than mere statements of commitments against an
aggressor.

Europeans should not rely
on Americans to spend, fight, and die for them.

Germany has been a “problem” for a century and a
half. Originally Berlin was overly-militarized and insufficiently
restrained. These failings were on dramatic display in World War
II. No wonder General Hastings Ismay, the former Churchill aide
tapped to serve as NATO’s first secretary general, allowed
that one purpose of the alliance was to “keep the Germans
down.”

Moreover, decades later when the Berlin Wall came crashing down,
the venerable Margaret Thatcher was not alone in opposing German
reunification. Some Europeans saw the specter of the Fourth Reich,
and one wit explained that he loved Germany so much he wanted two
of them.

However, the Federal Republic’s militaristic heritage has not
stirred in the years since; even what passes for Germany’s new
nationalistic, xenophobic right offers no politician who hints at
being Adolf Hitler reincarnated. Certainly, neither avuncular
Helmut Kohl, the first chancellor of a united Germany, nor Angela
Merkel, who has dominated German politics for more than a decade,
acted the part of dictator-wannabe.

Far from clamoring to create a military capable of turning the
country into a Weltmacht, the German people seemed to forget the
reason for establishing armed forces. According to a Pew Research
Center poll, four of ten Germans don’t want to defend NATO
allies from attack. For years among the Bundeswehr’s strongest
advocates were social service agencies, which benefited from
draftees choosing alternative service. Furthermore, in January the
Bundeswehr dispatched mountain troops to Bavaria to… shovel snow
from the roofs of homes after a big winter storm.

Berlin’s lack of interest in all things military
wouldn’t much …read more

Source: OP-EDS