Here are two kittycats, Kifli (left) and Szürke. Szürke is the cat who caused us many a sleepless night in the past two months, with his mysterious anaemia.

The good news is that he is holding steady, now nearly three weeks since his last transfusion. His red blood cell count is still not recovering the way it should, but we may have arrested the loss. My fingers remain firmly crossed.

Hard to believe but back in his heyday, Szürke was significantly heavier than his brother.

American news channels are abuzz with news about the revamped Obamacare Web site, healthcare.gov.

Moments ago, out of curiosity, I visited the site. To be precise, I wanted to search for news about healthcare.gov, so clicking on a link that actually took me to the site is something I did more by accident than by design.

Indeed, I only realized that I actually visited the site (and not just a news site page about the site) when I encountered the following error:

Ah, the irony.

It’s only November, for crying out loud, but winter has arrived with a vengeance.

Yesterday, the temperature was -21 centigrade (at least according to Microsoft; on the Weather Channel, it was “only” -18 I believe.)

Today, we are enjoying a balmy -12.

And winter is officially still more than three weeks away.

Brrrr.

While responding to a question on ResearchGate, I thought about black holes and event horizons.

When you study general relativity, you learn that a star that is dense enough and massive enough will undergo gravitational collapse. The result will be a black hole, an object from which nothing, not even light, can escape. A black hole is surrounded by a spherical surface, its event horizon. It is not a physical surface, but a region that is characterized by the fact that the geometric distortions of spacetime due to gravity become extreme here. Once you cross the horizon, there is no turning back. It acts as a one-way membrane. Anything inside will unavoidably fall into the so-called singularity at the center of the black hole. What actually happens there, no-one really knows; gravity becomes so strong that quantum effects cannot be ignored, but since we don’t have a working quantum theory of gravity, we can’t really tell what happens.

That said, when you study general relativity, you also learn that a distant observer (such as you) can never see the horizon form. The horizon will forever remain in the distant observer’s infinite future. Similarly, we never see an object (or even a ray of light) cross the horizon. For a distant observer, any information coming from that infalling object (or ray of light) will become dramatically redshifted, so much so that the object will appear to crawl to a halt, essentially remaining frozen near the horizon. But you won’t actually get a chance to see even that; that’s because due to the redshift, rays of light from the object will become ever longer wavelength radio waves, until they become unobservable. So why do we bother even thinking about something that provably never happens in a finite amount of time?

For one thing, we know that even though a distant observer cannot see a horizon form, an infalling observer can. So purely as a speculative exercise, we would like to know what this infalling observer might experience.

And then there is the surface of last influence. We may not see an object cross the horizon, but there is a point in time beyond which we can no longer influence an infalling object. That is because any influence from us, even a beam of light, will not reach the object before the object crosses the horizon.

This is best illustrated in a so-called Penrose diagram (named after mathematician Roger Penrose, but also known as a conformal spacetime diagram.) In this diagram, spacetime is represented using only two dimensions on a sheet of paper; two spatial dimensions are suppressed. Furthermore, the remaining two dimensions are grossly distorted, so much so that even the “point at infinity” is drawn at a finite distance from the origin. However, the distortion is not random; it is done in such a way that light rays are always represented by 45° lines. (Such angle-preserving transformations are called “conformal”; hence the name.)

So here is the conformal spacetime diagram for a black hole, showing also an infalling object and a distant observer trying to communicate with this object:

Time, in this diagram, passes from bottom to top. The world line of an object is a (not necessary straight) line that also moves from bottom to top, and is never more then 45° away from the vertical (as that would represent faster-than-light motion).

In this diagram, a piece of infalling matter crosses the horizon. It is clear from the diagram that once that happens, there is nothing that can be done to avoid hitting the singularity near the top of the diagram. To escape, the object would need to move faster than light, in order to cross, from the inside to the outside, the 45° line representing the horizon.

An observer traveling along with the infalling object can bounce, e.g., radar waves off that object. However, that cannot go on forever. Once the observer’s world line crosses the line drawn to represent the surface of last influence, his radar waves will no longer reach the infalling object outside the horizon. Any echo from the object, therefore, will not be seen outside the horizon; it will remain within the horizon and eventually be swallowed by the singularity.

So does the existence of this surface of last influence mean that the event horizon exists for real, even though we cannot see it? This was an argument made in the famous textbook on relativity, Gravitation by Misner, Thorne and Wheeler. However, I tend to disagree. Sure, once you cross the surface of last influence, you can no longer influence an infalling object. Nonetheless, you still won’t see the object actually cross the horizon. Moreover, if the object happens to be, say, a very powerful rocket, its pilot may still change his mind and turn around, eventually re-emerging from the vicinity of the black hole. The surface of last influence remains purely hypothetical in this case; it is defined by the intersection of the infalling object and the event horizon, something that never actually happens.

When you have a family member who is gravely ill, you may not have the stamina to pay attention to other things. When you have a family pet that is gravely ill, it’s almost as bad (actually, in some ways it’s worse, as a pet cannot tell what hurts and you cannot explain to the pet why unpleasant medication is necessary or discuss with the pet the available treatment options.)

As I’ve been dealing with a gravely ill cat in the past six weeks, I neglected to pay attention to other things.

I did not add a blog entry on October 31 with my drawing of a Halloween cat.

I did not comment on Remembrance Day. I am very fond of Remembrance Day, because it does not celebrate victory nor does it glorify war; on the contrary, it celebrates sacrifice and laments on the futility of war. This is why I am so unimpressed by the somewhat militantly pacifist “white poppy” campaign; in my view, they completely miss the point. I usually put a stylized poppy in my blog on November 11; not this year, as I spent instead a good portion of that day and the next at the vet.

I most certainly did not comment on that furious (and infuriating) wild hog of a mayor, Toronto’s Rob Ford, or for that matter, the other juicy Canadian political scandal, the Senate expense thing. That despite the fact that for a few days, Canadian news channels were actually exciting to watch (a much welcome distraction in my case), as breaking news from Ottawa was interrupted by breaking news from Toronto or vice versa.

I also did not blog about the continuing shenanigans of Hungary’s political elite, nor the fact that an 80-year old Hungarian writer, Akos Kertesz (not related to Imre Kertesz, the Nobel-laureate) sought, and received, political asylum, having fled Hungary when he became the target of threats and abuse after publishing an article in which he accused Hungarians of being genetically predisposed to subservience.

Nor did I express my concern about the stock market’s recent meteoric rise (the Dow Jones index just hit 16,000) and whether or not it is a bubble waiting to be burst.

And I made no comments about the horrendous typhoon that hit the Philippines, nor did I wonder aloud what Verizon Canada must be thinking these days about their decision to move both their billing and their technical support to that distant country.

Last but certainly not least, I did not write about the physics I am trying to do in my spare time, including my attempts to understand better what it takes for a viable modified gravity theory to agree with laboratory experiments, precision solar system observations, galactic astronomy and cosmological data sets using the same set of assumptions and parameters.

Unfortunately, our cat remains gravely ill. The only good news, if it can be called that, is that yesterday morning, he vomited a little liquid and it was very obviously pink; this strongly suggests that we now know the cause of his anaemia, namely gastrointestinal bleeding. We still don’t know the cause, but now he can get more targeted medication. My fingers remain crossed that his condition is treatable.

Our cat Szürke remains gravely ill and I don’t know if he will make it.

About two years ago, he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, a not altogether uncommon disease among older cats. At the time, we opted to treat his condition with medication (Tapazole); the alternative would have been radiological treatment, which works well but would have required him to spend a long time (couple of weeks, we were told at the time) in quarantine.

Szürke has been doing well although lately, he has been losing weight.

Then, on Sunday October 6, he started vomiting. Occasionally throwing up a furball is not exactly a problem with most cats. Vomiting a clear, foamy liquid eight times in an hour is.

The next day, we took Szürke to our local vet who diagnosed him with renal failure, noted that he was dehydrated, and his T4 level was also very low. We discontinued the Tapazole. Even more alarmingly, he was becoming a little anaemic, with a PCV level of 20 (normal, I believe, is between 30 and 50).

We brought Szürke home. He was doing okay, though his appetite was not great. A week later, on October 16, we went back to the vet for a recheck. The vet became very alarmed when Szürke’s PCV level was measured at 15. She immediately recommended that we take him to Alta Vista Animal Hospital, where he would get a transfusion.

Szürke spent two days at Alta Vista. When we brought him home, the diagnosis was still largely unchanged: the anaemia was believed to have been caused by advanced renal failure. The only thing odd was that his renal values were really not that bad. On the other hand, an ultrasound examination showed no other abnormalities that could have been responsible for his condition.

We brought Szürke home on Friday, October 18, with a prescription for Eprex, a subcutaneous injection that was supposed to stimulate his bone marrow and help him produce red blood cells. Szürke got his first injection on Saturday, but we never got to the second two days later, as by that time, Szürke stopped eating altogether. So instead of injecting him, I took him back to Alta Vista.

This time around, Szürke spent four days at the hospital. He received two more transfusions, as his PCV levels dropped to alarmingly low levels (the lowest, I believe, was 7.) On Tuesday, October 22, we actually visited him late at night, thinking that this was probably good-bye.

By this time, however, the diagnosis was different. For starters, a detailed blood test showed that his anaemia is likely regenerative: his reticulocyte count was higher than normal, in fact. I actually viewed this as both a ray of hope and as a message of sorts: if his little body has not yet given up fighting, how can I give up on him?

So the question then, was this: is his regenerative anaemia anemia due to a haemorrhage or haemolysis?

There were no obvious signs of haemorrhage. There was no blood in his vomit or his stool (though my wife and I noticed, and brought to the vet’s attention, that his stools were significantly darker than normal.) So the doctor’s first bet was that the anaemia is haemolytic, due either to an infection or an autoimmune condition. A biopsy was non-conclusive but it indicated a possible minor gastrointestinal infection. Still, the doctors were leaning towards an autoimmune condition as a more likely explanation.

I brought Szürke home on the 25th of October, with prescriptions for Prednisone, Omeprazole, potassium gluconate, Metronidazole and Sulcrate. He was also back on Tapazole, albeit at a much reduced dose. His PCV level after his last transfusion was 17. Yet three days later, when I took him back for a recheck appointment, his PCV was down to 12. At this time, after discussions with the doctor, we opted to discontinue to the Tapazole altogether, betting on the possibility that the autoimmune response was due to sensitivity to this medication. The Sulcrate was also discontinued (he responded very badly to my attempts to administer this liquid medication.) On the other hand, he began receiving cyclosporine in liquid form.

Nonetheless the next day, his PCV levels were further down, to 10, and he was vomiting, so I took him back to Alta Vista for his fourth transfusion. With his PCV back at 13, I brought him home. Two days later, on October 31, we went for a recheck and, surprise: his PCV was up to 17! Finally, some real hope, we thought. Also at this time, the liquid cyclosporin was discontinued in favor of a capsule, which was much easier to administer.

We were okay for a few days. The next visit was on Friday, November 4. By then, Szürke’s PCV was up to 20! However, his T4 levels were going through the roof, due to his untreated thyroid condition. On the vet’s advice, we began to give him an appetite stimulant (Mirtazapine) in the hope that this will be sufficient to make him eat a special, low-iodine diet (Hill’s Y/D) which would allow us to control his thyroid without medication.

For a few days, all seemed to go well but then his appetite dropped, despite the Mirtazapine. On November 11, I took Szürke to our local vet, who checked his PCV: a disastrous 11. I immediately discontinued the Y/D diet and started giving him whatever he liked… the thinking was that if these were to be his last few days on Earth, I won’t try to starve him with food he wouldn’t eat, and if there is still hope, the thyorid is a long-term concern, whereas the anaemia can kill him in days.

The next day, I discussed all this with the vet at Alta Vista who suggested another possible treatment: Chlorambucil (medication so dangerous, I’m advised to wear rubber gloves when handling the capsules. Scary.) The vet also reluctantly recommend another transfusion. By the time we got to Alta Vista, Szürke’s PCV was down to 9. When I brought him home very late at night, it was back to 12 as a result of the transfusion.

That was two days ago. Szürke is home today, and seemingly doing well. But that has always been the case; even when he was weak as a kitten, his happy disposition never changed, he never ceased being playful, never even stopped grooming himself.

He is eating moderately well. He is interested in the world around him. He is still accepting his medications without too much trouble.

But we still don’t really know what on Earth is wrong with him in the first place. So we are left with taking things one day at a time. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

I have been collaborating with John Moffat on his modified gravity theory and other topics since 2007. It has been an immensely rewarding experience.

John is a theoretical physicist who has been active for sixty years. During his amazingly long career, John met just about every one of the iconic figures of 20th century physics. He visited Erwin Schrödinger in a house where Schrödinger lived with his wife and his mistress. He was mentored by Niels Bohr. He studied under Fred Hoyle (the astronomer who coined the term “Big Bang”). He worked under Paul Dirac. He shared office space with Peter Higgs. He took Wolfgang Pauli out for a wet lunch on university funds. He met Feynman, Oppenheimer, and many others. The one iconic physicist Moffat did not meet in person was Albert Einstein; however, Einstein still played a pivotal role in his career, answering letters written to him by a young John Moffat (then earning money as a struggling artist) encouraging him to continue his studies of physics.

Though retired, John remains active as a member of the prestigious Perimeter Institute in Waterloo. I don’t expect him to run out of maverick ideas anytime soon. Rare among physicists his age, John’s knowledge of the science is completely up-to-date, as is his knowledge of the tools of the trade. I’ve seen physicists 20 years his junior struggling with hand-written transparencies (remember those, and the unwieldy projectors?) even as John was putting the finishing touches to his latest PowerPoint presentation on his brand new laptop or making corrections to a LaTeX manuscript.

More recently, John began to write for a broader audience. He already published two excellent books. His first, Reinventing Gravity, describes John’s struggle to create a viable alternative to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, a new gravity theory that would explain mysteries such as the rotation of galaxies without resorting to the dark matter hypothesis. John’s second book, Einstein Wrote Back, is a personal memoir, detailing his amazing life as a physicist.

John’s third book, which is about to be published, is perhaps his most ambitious book project yet. Cracking the Particle Code, published by the prestigious Oxford University Press, is about the decades of research in particle physics that resulted in the recent discovery of what is believed to be the elusive Higgs boson, and John’s attempts to explore theoretical alternatives that might make the Higgs boson hypothesis unnecessary, and provide alternative explanations for the particle observed by the Large Hadron Collider.

I had the good fortune of being able to read the manuscript earlier this year.  My first reaction was that John took up an almost impossible task. As many notable physicists, including Einstein, observed, quantum physics is harder, perhaps much harder, than relativity theory. The modern Standard Model of particle physics combines the often arcane rules of quantum field theory with a venerable zoo of particles (12 fermions and their respective antiparticles, four vector bosons, eight gluons and, last but not least, the Higgs boson). Though the theory is immensely successful, it is unsatisfying in many ways, not the least because it fails to account for perhaps the most fundamental interaction of all: gravity. And its predictions, while exact, are very difficult to comprehend even for trained theorists. Reducing data on billions of collisions in a large accelerator to definitive statements about, say, the spin and parity of a newly observed particle is a daunting challenge.

Explaining all this in a form that is accessible to the interested but non-professional reader is the task that John set out to tackle. His text mixes a personal narrative with scientific explanations of these difficult topics. To be sure, the technical part of the text is not an easy read. This is not John’s fault; the topic is very difficult to understand unless you are willing to invest the time and effort to study the mathematics. But John’s personal insights perhaps make the book enjoyable even to those who choose to skip over the more technical paragraphs.

There are two points in particular that I’d like to mention in praise. First, John’s book is amazingly up-to-date; as late as a few weeks ago, John was still making small corrections during the copy editing process to ensure that everything he says is consistent with the latest results from CERN. Second, John’s narrative always makes a clear distinction between standard physics (i.e., the “consensus”) and his own notions. While John is clearly passionate about his ideas, he never forgets the old adage attributed to the late US Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: John knows that he is only entitled to his own opinions, he is not entitled to his own facts, and this is true even if the facts invalidate a theoretical proposal.

I hope John’s latest book sells well. I hope others will enjoy it as much as I did. I certainly recommend it wholeheartedly.

Here is a new statistic.

In the first seven months of 2013, there were 25 reports of verbal or physical insults against Muslims on the streets of Quebec’s cities.

Then, the Parti Quebecois government introduced the notion of its “value charter”, aimed at banning the wear of religious clothing and overtly religious symbols by people employed in the public service.

In the past month, there were 117 instances of verbal or physical abuse reported by Muslims (in the overwhelming majority of cases, by Muslim women) who were insulted on Quebec streets.

In other words, Quebec nationalists, under the guise of protecting women’s rights, created a problem where none existed, and pitted communities against each other.

I am sick to the stomach by nationalism be it Hungarians, Jews, Russians, Chinese, or for that matter, Quebecois.

The other day, I bought a fine jar of “No Name” brand Polish pickles at Loblaws. They were great pickles. Nothing wrong with the quality or the taste.

However, there was something my wife noticed on the label that was, shall we say, surprising.

Can’t see it? Here are the relevant bits, enlarged:

Still, I may stick to the same brand. Not only are the pickles really tasty, but Canada, after all, does export plenty of food to India, including lentils. So it’s only fair for us to eat some Indian-made Polish pickles in return. Especially since they really are yummy.

I just spent a small
Fortune at the vet,
And all I got to bring home
Is this lousy cat.

Our cat Szürke’s packed cell volume (PCV) is up this morning. A ray of hope. Dare we hope? Or is it just that roller coaster thing again, and his PCV might come crashing down over the weekend, as it did before? If that happens, we’re really out of options.

My wife took the #7 bus yesterday on her way home from the Byward Market.

The bus had to take a detour, due to the ongoing construction on Rideau street.

Then it had to take a further detour, perhaps due to the construction, maybe some other reason (an accident?)

When I spoke to her, the bus was standing still on Chapel street, heading in the wrong direction.

Some 20 minutes later, when the bus was already on Laurier, I turned on continuous GPS tracking of her phone. Tracking information was collected roughly every minute.

All in all, it took her approximately 45 minutes to get home from the intersection of Chapel and Wilbrod streets.

According to Google Maps, the distance is 950 meters on foot, and it would have take 12 minutes to get home walking. Unfortunately, she had some heavy bags with her so walking was not really an option. Although, had she known what was about to happen, she could have gotten off the bus at Besserer and Chapel, only a 700 meter walk from home.

Construction season is so much fun.

Our second oldest cat, Szürke (his name means gray in Hungarian, as he is a gray tabby; but we often just call him Süsü, which means something like silly, because he’s a silly little lapcat), is gravely ill. (As is my bank account as a result of the veterinary expenses, but that is another story.)

Trouble is, we don’t know what’s wrong with him.

He has hyperthyroidism, that much we know; he has been getting medication for that for a couple of years already.

But most recently, he became severely anemic. The doctors at first suspected renal failure. But that does not seem to be the case. The problem is more acute, perhaps some gastrointestinal bleeding. Yet still, there is no obvious cause, hence no obvious treatment.

His red cell count keeps dropping. We visited him tonight in the veterinary hospital. We are prepared for the possibility that this was good-bye.

But we have not yet given up hope.

Four years ago, the Nobel peace prize was awarded to Barack Obama, despite the fact that he was still at the beginning of his presidency and it was not at all clear yet what his legacy would be with respect to world peace. Some accused the Nobel committee of political activism.

Last year, the prize was awarded to the European Union. Many were appalled that a faceless organization received the prize, but at least arguably, this organization is indeed responsible for lasting peace among nations that were once bitter enemies and fought each other in two world wars.

But now, they awarded the prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Another faceless organization, whose efforts have yet to bear fruit in Syria.

I do not mean to belittle the efforts of the OPCW, but why did they not award the prize to an actual person, namely Malala Yousafzai? With her fight for girls’ education, and her exceptionally forgiving attitude towards those who tried to murder her, she is the embodiment of what fighting for a peaceful world really means: courage and grace, and wisdom well beyond her years.

I hope she’ll get another chance next year.

Reader’s Digest recently conducted an interesting experiment: they “lost” 12 wallets, filled with about $50 worth of cash and sufficient documentation to locate the owner, in 16 cities around the world. The result: Finns in Helsinki are the most honest with 11 of the 12 wallets returned, whereas in Lisbon, Portugal, the sole wallet that was returned was, in fact, found by a visiting Dutch couple. Finns needless to say, are rejoicing: “we don’t even run red lights,” boasted a Helsinki resident. So what can we conclude from this interesting experiment? Perhaps shockingly, almost nothing. This becomes evident if I plot a histogram with the number of wallets returned, and overlay on it a binomial distribution for a probability of 46.875% (which corresponds to the total number of wallets returned, 90 out of 192), I get a curve that is matched very closely by the histogram. Unsurprisingly, there will be a certain probability that in a given city, 1, 2, 3, etc. wallets are returned; and the results of Reader’s Digest match this prediction closely. So there is no reason for Finns to rejoice or for the Portuguese to feel shame. It’s all just blind luck, after all. And the only valid conclusion we can draw from this experiment is that people are just as likely to be decent folks in Lisbon as in Helsinki. But how do you explain this to a lay audience? More importantly, how do you prevent a political demagogue from drawing false or unwarranted conclusions from the data? Is this a worthy do-it-yourself neuroscience experiment, or an example of a technology gone berserk, foreshadowing a bleak future? A US company is planning to ship$99 kits this fall, allowing anyone to turn a cockroach into a remote controlled cyborg. Educational? Or more like the stuff of bad dreams?

For me, it’s the latter. Perhaps it doesn’t help that I am halfway through reading Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, sequel to Oryx and Crake, a dystopian science fiction novel set in a bleak future in which humanity destroys itself through the reckless use of biotech and related technologies.

A cockroach may not be a beloved animal. Its nervous system may be too small, too simple for it to feel real pain. Nonetheless, I feel there is something deeply disturbing and fundamentally unethical about the idea of turning a living animal into a remote control toy.

To put it more simply: it creeps the hell out of me.

Hungary once had a proud national airline, MALÉV. I once worked for MALÉV, at least indirectly, when I built software simulators to calculate take-off distances and later, CO2 emissions for MALÉV’s fleet of Tu-154 aircraft. Sadly, MALÉV is no more: in early 2012, after the European Union declared that MALÉV received illegal subsidies from the Hungarian government, the airline went bankrupt and was liquidated.

Earlier this year, we saw some encouraging news: a private group of investors were trying to create a new national airline, designed to compete at the high end of the market. Their initial announcements were received with hope by some, with skepticism by others. The airline hit some bureaucratic hurdles as it was trying to get its newly leased small fleet of used 737s off the ground; their inaugural flights were repeatedly postponed.

But now, we learn that a prospective investor from the Middle East withdraw from the project, and as a result, the airline is unable to pay the salaries of its 70-odd employees for the month of September. In other words, for all practical intents and purposes, it is bankrupt. And this is probably a world first: a national airline that goes bankrupt without ever getting a single scheduled flight off the tarmac.

I just finished reading a fascinating book: Command and Control, by Erich Schlosser.

The subtitle may be somewhat more revealing: “Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety”.

It is a book about the safety (or lack thereof) of America’s nuclear weapons. And it was an eye-opening read.

Yes, I knew that there were some incidents in the past during which nuclear weapons were lost, damaged, or destroyed. Yes, I knew that there were incidents of false alarm, when early warning systems in the United States or the Soviet Union indicated an attack even though no such attack was under way.

But like many, I assumed that the weapons themselves were designed to be inherently safe. That by design, the weapons were secure against accidental detonation (even during a serious accident such as the crash of a bomber aircraft) or unauthorized use.

What I did not expect to read about were weapons that could be detonated by a stray electrical signal. A military leadership that resisted anything that could stand in the way of successful deployment of a weapon, including the installation of coded devices (“permissive action links”.) Or even when such coded devices were ultimately installed, in effect sabotaging them by using the code “00000000″ everywhere. What I did not expect to read about were accidents involving nuclear weapons where only a single switch, prone to failure, stood between the world and an accidental thermonuclear explosion.

The book uses a specific incident, the in-silo explosion of a Titan II missile in 1980, as a framework to tell its story. I was shocked by the events leading up to the accident as well as the chaotic, panicky reaction afterwards (including pathetic attempts to hide systemic errors by trying to blame low-ranking airmen for the accident).

The book is mostly about America’s weapon systems, but it is not meant to imply that foolish attitudes towards the deadliest weapon ever invented by humanity are uniquely American. A famous line in the movie classic, Dr. Strangelove, is when Dr. Strangelove yells at the Soviet ambassador in frustration, “Yes, but the… whole point of the doomsday machine… is lost… if you keep it a secret!” In the 1980s, the Soviet Union finished construction of the Perimeter system, an automated system designed to respond with a massive nuclear strike automatically in case the Soviet leadership was incapacitated and the system detected nuclear explosions on Soviet soil. In other words: a doomsday machine. The system is believed to remain operational to this date.

And they kept it a secret.

Here is an interesting theory: that the shutdown of the US government was, at least in part, caused by remarks made by Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

To be sure, Harper and his Foreign Minister, John Baird, said a lot of weird things recently, on Iran and other topics, earning Canada the distinction of being labeled a “right-wing gas bag” by The Huffington Post.

But it was Harper’s “we don’t take no for an answer” comment concerning the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that prompted Tom Steyer, a liberal-leaning San Francisco billionaire, to suggest that it may have played a part in the US government shutdown. The pipeline, after all, was one of the items on the original Tea Party laundry list of conditions for approving a continuing resolution.

One of my favorite programs on CNN is Reliable Sources, the channel’s press/media backgrounder. It used to be hosted by Washington journalist Howard Kurtz, who recently moved to Fox News, however, to host a similar program (Mediabuzz) there.

Since then, CNN has been using invited guest hosts to host the program. One of those guest hosts, Brian Stelter, appeared for the second time this past Sunday.

Near the end of his program, he delivered a scathing (well-deserved, but scathing) criticism of CNN itself, about the way the channel bent disclosure rules to accommodate hosts and guests on the new program Crossfire.

I wonder if they will invite him back. (Or maybe he doesn’t want to be invited back?)

Last week, U.S. Republican senator Ted Cruz was featured on television screens numerous times, on account of his rather pointless marathon 21-hour filibuster trying to derail Obamacare.

Whenever I saw his face on screen, I was taken aback by one thing: Just how eerily similar he looks to another senator from the inglorious past, senator Joseph McCarthy.

Apparently, the similarity is more than skin deep. I just happened upon a February article published in Forbes Magazine, which compares the actions of senator Cruz to the dirty politics of his infamous predecessor.