Aug 282015

The latest edition of The Globe and Mail‘s Report on Business magazine has a lengthy article discussing the economic performance of the Harper government. Short version: spin matters more than actual performance. Thus the Liberals lost the election in 2006 despite having one of the best economic track records in Canada’s history, while until recently, Mr. Harper has been able to portray himself as the savior of the Canadian economy despite the fact that its actual performance is the worst, at the very least, since the end of WW2.

To stress their point about propaganda and a bad economy, the print edition of the article had a wonderful illustration, depicting Mr. Harper in the classic pose of Joseph Stalin. For some reason, this picture didn’t appear to have found its way to the online edition, but never mind, that’s what scanners are for.

Of course, Harper’s economy is just one of the topics that I have written about in my Cats for Harper blog; sadly, disappointingly few people bothered to register, never mind vote. Hey, my liberal-minded friends! Get off your… tushies and start awarding the cats!

 Posted by at 11:56 pm
Aug 212015

Looks like just as I was about to heap more praise on Microsoft’s latest operating system, I ran into an issue of almost showstopper quality: half my programs don’t show up in the Start Menu, and the Start Menu itself is confusing, dare I say broken, even when it works as intended.

One of the Big Deals about Windows 10 was that it restored the Start Menu, taken away by the brain-dead design decisions that went into Windows 8.

But it is a different kind of a start menu. It combines the traditional Start Menu functionality with the tiles of Windows 8. But that’s okay… the tiles can be quite nice, once you get used to them.

What is a bit harder to get used to is how programs vanish from the Start Menu’s All apps option, or never show up there in the first place. Oh, and you cannot search for them either.

The cause: supposedly, some programming genius at Microsoft hard-coded a 512-program limit into the cache database that feeds this new Start Menu. (I say supposedly because some folks report issues even with fewer programs than 512.) What a …

A fix may or may not be on its way. It certainly hasn’t been released yet. I hope it will be released soon, but it still does not solve another, rather major annoyance associated with the new Start Menu: how it flattened multi-level menus.

In the old Start Menu, you may have had a folder named Games, under which you had, say, a folder named Betrayal at Krondor, with a command “Graphic mode setup”. Next, Myst Uru, with “Graphic mode setup”. Or Redneck Rampage, with “Graphic mode setup”. (These are some actual game examples.)

In the new Start Menu, you have the Games folder, under which you get

with no indication as to which is which.

What kind of a moron thought that this would be a good idea?

I have used Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 on a laptop for over two years now and I put up with its Start Menu-less nonsense, resisting the urge to install a third-party product that restores this functionality. But I am beginning to realize that a broken Start Menu is worse than no Start Menu at all. So…, here I come.

 Posted by at 2:32 pm
Aug 182015

I woke up this morning to the news that Mexican-Israeli physicist Jacob Bekenstein died two days ago, at the age of 68, in Helsinki, Finland. I saw nothing about the cause of death.

Bekenstein’s work is well known to folks dealing with gravity theory. Two of his contributions stand out in particular.

First, Bekenstein was first to suggest that black holes should have entropy. His work, along with that of Stephen Hawking, led to the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy formula \(S=kc^3A/4G\hbar\), relating the black hole’s surface area \(A\) to its entropy \(S\) using the speed of light \(c\), the gravitational constant \(G\), the reduced Planck constant \(\hbar\) and Boltzmann’s constant \(k\). With this work, the science of black hole thermodynamics was born, leading to all kinds of questions about the nature of black holes and the connection between thermodynamics and gravity, many of which remain unanswered to this day.

Bekenstein’s second contribution was to turn Morehai Milgrom’s MOdified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) into a respectable relativitistic theory. The MOND paradigm is about replacing Newton’s law relating force \(({\mathbf F})\), mass \((m)\) and acceleration \(({\mathbf a})\), \({\mathbf F}=m{\mathbf a}\), with the modified law \({\mathbf F}=\mu(a/a_0)m{\mathbf a}\), where all we know about the function \(\mu(x)\) is that \(\lim_{x\to 0}\mu(x)=x\) and \(\lim_{x\to\infty}\mu(x)=1\). Surprisingly, the right choice of \(a_0\) results in an acceleration law that explains the anomalous rotation of galaxies without the need for dark matter. However, in this form, MOND is theoretically ugly: it is a formula that violates basic conservation laws, including the consevation of energy, for instance. Bekenstein’s TeVeS (Tensor-Vector-Scalar) gravity theory provides a general relativistic framework for MOND, one that does respect basic conservation laws, yet reproduces the MOND acceleration formula in the low energy limit.

I never met Jacob Bekenstein, and now I never will. A pity. May he rest in peace.

 Posted by at 11:17 am
Aug 182015

Having grown up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, I had a thoroughly Marxist education in history during my grade school and high school years. A central tenet of Marxist history is the concept of “historical inevitability”: that great historic upheavals are a result not of individual heroism or foolishness, but of great socio-economic currents that create change.

I was reminded of this conflict between the “dialectical materialist” vs. the “romantic” view of history while I was reading a superb piece of historical science fiction, Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again. A story in which the protagonist time travels from 2024 to 1914 to change history, prevent The Great War, and make the world a better place. Things of course don’t exactly go as planned (or maybe they go according to plan a little too well?) but I cannot say much about the book without revealing the plot, so I won’t.

But the book, as well as one of the reviews I found on Amazon, made me think of how some of the most fundamental sequences of events in the 20th century were far from inevitable: rather, they were series of astoundingly improbable events, inept bungling that any half-competent publisher would reject as too incredible if submitted in the form of a manuscript of historical fiction.

First, the main event in Elton’s book: the Sarajevo assassination. Think of it: the Serbian organization, The Black Hand, positions not one, not two, but six separate assassins (some sources mention seven, but the seventh conspirator was the recruiter) along the arch duke’s planned route. Meanwhile, the arch duke arrives by train and immediately loses his security detail due to a mix-up as a result of which local police officers took their place in one of the cars.

The sequence of events begins when the first assassin fails to act. The second, too, fails to act. The third finally does act and throws his bomb, which bounces off the arch duke’s car, only to explode underneath the next car, wounding more than a dozen people. This would-be assassin swallows an expired cyanide capsule and jumps into the river, which happened to be only five inches deep at the moment… so he fails to die. The remaining three assassins, too, fail to act as the rest of the motorcade passes by them at high speed.

So then the Austrian general in charge changes the route for the afternoon… and fails to inform the arch duke’s driver. Who then makes a wrong turn, comes to a stop and stalls the car right in front of one of the would-be assassins from earlier that day, Gavrilo Princip. Princip was there ostensibly because he hoped to complete his mission during the arch duke’s return journey, but for all we know, he gave up already and was just getting a sandwich at Schiller’s Deli when the target was so conveniently presented to him. And then he took out his gun and managed to kill both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie with a single bullet each. And thus the life of an arch duke who believed in increased federalism, in modernizing the Monarchy, came to an abrupt end, along with that of his beloved wife, despised and routinely humiliated by the court in Vienna for being outside of the arch duke’s rank. Franz Ferdinand’s last words were, reportedly, “Sopherl! Sopherl! Stirb nicht! Bleib’ am Leben für unsere Kinder!” (“Sophie! Sophie! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!”)

And thus, world history changed and The War to End All Wars began a few short weeks later. Empires crumbled, murderous ideologies were born. A second world war and at least a hundred million deaths later, the world settled into the uneasy but surprisingly long-lasting peace of the Cold War, a peace that lasts to this day, bringing unprecedented prosperity to billions. Who knows what would have happened if Franz Ferdinand did not die on June 28, 1914?

The second bungled event that came to mind was the accidental fall of the Iron Curtain on November 9, 1989. (Astonishingly for me personally, just over three years after I left Hungary as a political refugee, having concluded that I saw no chance of “regime change” behind the Iron Curtain anytime soon, certainly not within a generation.)

The events that led directly to the collapse of the Berlin Wall began in Hungary a few months earlier, when my country of birth decided not to intervene as thousands of East German citizens crossed the border into Austria. Initially, the East German government responded by tightening its regime of exit visas, banning travel for its citizens first to Hungary and later, to Czechoslovakia. Nonetheless, unprecedented mass demonstrations followed in East Germany, with crowds rallying to the words “Wir wollen raus!” (“We want out!”) The East German government decided to take the bold step of allowing severely regulated private travel to the West.

The new regulations were to take effect the next day, but this was not communicated to Günter Schabowski, East Berlin’s party boss who was only handed a brief note announcing the changes moments before giving a press conference. Having made the announcement, in response to a question from a journalist, he stated that as far as he knew, the new regulations liberalizing travel are to take effect immediately, without delay, and involved border crossings along the Berlin Wall.

Almost immediately, crowds of East Germans began gathering at the Wall, demanding the opening of the gates. As no-one among East Germany’s leaders was prepared to order the use of lethal force, finally the commander of one of the border crossings yielded, and the border was thrown wide open.

Less than a year later, the state of East Germany ceased to exist.

What would have happened if Schabowski had been better informed? If the East German state had been able to assert its authority and managed to maintain order at its border crossings? Or conversely, what if they had the guts to give the order to fire? Would there have been a bloody revolution? Would Germany still be divided today? What would the European Union look like?

The date of November 9 is famous for another reason, by the way. It was on this day in 1918 that Imperial Germany ceased to exist with the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the ruler who probably bore the most responsibility for turning the 1914 Sarajevo crisis into an all encompassing World War.

Astonishingly, the last surviving member of the conspiracy to kill Franz Ferdinand, Vaso Čubrilović, lived to the ripe old age of 93 and passed away in the year of German reunification, in 1990.

 Posted by at 10:44 am
Aug 182015

I don’t think I ever did this before: putting an election campaign video in my blog. But I am truly disgusted by the Conservative Party’s negative advertising campaign (those “not ready” ads about Justin Trudeau). So here is the Liberal response:

Finally, here is the Justin Trudeau that we have been waiting for… I just hope he can be like this more often.

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Aug 172015

The Russian word nekulturny (некультурный), meaning uncivilized, uncultured, was used often in Soviet times by USSR citizens to describe disagreeable behavior, especially on behalf of foreigners. (Implying perhaps a mix of xenophobia and a sense of cultural superiority. Or whatever.)

Today, I feel compelled to use this word and accuse Mr. Putin and his crony government of being nekulturny.

You see, it is one thing to institute a retaliatory import ban in response to Western trade sanctions, even if it means hardships for your own citizens, in the form of rising food prices.

But to bulldoze tons of good quality food into a landfill? That is nekulturny indeed.

Are you trying to imply, Mr. Putin, just like your propagandist predecessors from Soviet times, that Russia has no poverty, no hunger, no soup kitchens? I don’t believe you. You see, even the richest countries have poor people: people who were unlucky, whose lives derailed for whatever reason. And Russia is far from being among the richest countries.

You could have confiscated all that food, punished all the illicit importers, and then like a benevolent tsar or dictator, you could have offered the freshly confiscated food to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food banks or orphanages, who would have welcomed your assistance with gratitude.

But no, you had to demonstrate that you are a macho tough guy. Shirtless in the Russian winter, fighting polar bears and flying jet fighters. And destroying food.

Nekulturny indeed, Mr. Putin.

 Posted by at 5:30 pm
Aug 152015

The more I watch Donald Trump’s performance as an American presidential candidate, the more I admire him.


Don’t get me wrong. I don’t identify with his views. I don’t want him to become President of the United States; in fact, I am quite certain that it would be a disaster for both the US and the world as a whole.

But I admire his performance, intellectually speaking, the same way one admires the flawless performance of a professional athlete or performer.

Trump’s performances are perfect. He radiates an “I am in it to win” attitude, making it clear that coming in second is not an option he would even contemplate. (Recently, a reporter asked Trump if he would consider a vice-presidential nomination should his bid for the presidency fail. Instead of answering, Trump just dismissed the journalist and moved on to the next question.)

His presence on the television screen is mesmerizing. He is not a politician reading a prepared speech in which he himself does not believe at some nondescript campaign location. He is having a conversation with you, the viewer, and he is passionate about everything he says. And he doesn’t care if his words are misunderstood or twisted.

In a certain way, Trump reminds me of Adolf Hitler. Not the Hitler of wartime or postwar caricatures, but the Hitler of the 1920s or 1930s, admired even by some of his opponents for his charisma, his abilities as a public speaker, the manner in which he almost hypnotized his audience. This is precisely what Trump does and oh, is he ever good at it!

And he is fearless and made of Teflon. It seems that no criticism can harm him. He even uses his billionaire status to his advantage (notably, his supporters are predominantly low-income) when he explains that because he is loaded, his campaign or for that matter, his presidency, will not be held hostage by lobbyists.

I have begun to consider seriously the possibility that not only will Trump be the Republican candidate but that he will actually beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. I like Clinton, but next to Trump, she will look like a junior apprentice in TV debates.

What will Trump’s America be like? I don’t know, but I expect the worst.

 Posted by at 12:47 pm
Aug 152015

In the last few days, I upgraded two of my laptops to Windows 10. So far, I have been most impressed by the results.

The first laptop is my current “travel” laptop, an ASUS X202E. It is a touchscreen notebook that originally came with Windows 8. I got it real cheap just over two years ago. It turned out to be a much better machine than I expected (despite Windows 8!) so I invested a little extra money and upgraded it with a solid state drive. I also upgraded it to Windows 8.1 when it became available.

The second laptop is closer to five years old I think, an old LG netbook with an Intel Atom processor and only 1 GB RAM, with Windows 7 Starter. I bought it because it was tiny (I like small machines) and real cheap. I used it for a few years as my travel laptop, great for presentations, e-mail, or connecting back to my main desktop via Remote Desktop, but not much else.

The Windows 10 upgrade became available on both machines a few days ago (although I had to fight with the LG netbook a little bit to make it happen; the reasons were unrelated, a bad driver that interfered with the machine in other ways, too.)

To make a long story short: the upgrade ran flawlessly on both machines.

On the ASUS, after the upgrade my touchpad was not responding, but before I could begin investigating the reason, a dialog popped up and informed me that the touchpad driver is being upgraded and indeed, after a reboot, the touchpad was working fine again. All my settings were properly preserved, including an add-on (8GadgetPack) that restored the Windows VISTA/Windows 7 style on-screen gadgets that I have become quite fond of, and which Microsoft removed from later versions of Windows, ostensibly for security reasons.

Encouraged by this, I also started the upgrade process on the netbook. My expectations were not high: I was quite prepared for it to fail on this somewhat obsolete machine. But no… it did not fail. It completed the upgrade sooner than I expected and once again, everything worked just fine. The netbook, of course, remains an underpowered machine, but after it finished configuring itself and its initial indexing tasks ran to completion, the machine became reasonably responsive.

All in all, kudos to Microsoft. This upgrade process through Windows Update far exceeded my expectations. And Windows 10 finally corrects the misguided design decisions of Windows 8. The best way to summarize my Windows 10 impressions is this: on a machine without a touch screen, you don’t miss the touch screen.

EDIT: I almost forgot one thing: the much-criticized privacy settings in Windows 10. Unsurprisingly, “free” comes with strings attached: by default, Microsoft collects a lot of information from your computer. Many of these settings can be turned off (make sure that during the installation process, you don’t accept the defaults) but there are concerns that even with the settings off, Microsoft collects some information that they really shouldn’t. How concerned should we be? After all, if you turn on the “OK Google” feature in your Chrome browser, Google becomes an invisible listener to every conversation in the room. So perhaps it’s true that the era of privacy is over. Still… I turned most of those settings off. Even if it does not protect my privacy, at least it saves a little bit of network bandwidth…

 Posted by at 11:29 am
Aug 102015

I was once a conservative voter. I voted for the Progressive Conservative party even when virtually no-one else did. I even voted for Kim Campbell back when the PC party was reduced to two seats in Parliament in an historic defeat.

But that was then. Today, we have a party that is conservative in name only: its label has been hijacked by right-wing radicals. The political sins of this government are innumerable, and I wonder if there are enough cats in the world for Mr. Harper (a cat lover) to adopt as a form atonement.

In the past few elections, I voted Liberal. I actually like our MP, Mauril Bélanger, and I was reasonably comfortable with the Liberal Party’s center-right stance.

On the other hand, I was quite disappointed with Mr. Trudeau’s stance on C-51 and his general lack of charisma. The NDP’s Mr. Mulcair, on the other hand, is quite charismatic, and to the extent that I followed it, his performance as Leader of the Opposition was impressive.

So, I hesitate. Liberal or NDP? I am also inclined to vote “strategically”, as I consider both these parties far preferable to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. But I’d still like to know what I am voting for.

Which is why, when the link showed up in my Facebook feed, I decided to complete a questionnaire by, only to find out that both the Liberal Party and the NDP are a close match for my political views:

So far so good, but the rest of this list of parties alarms me. A 75% match with the Green Party I can live with, but the Communists, at 70%? What’s wrong with me (or this survey)? If anything, I’d have thought that my views are more Libertarian, but there I only got a 44% match. As for the Conservatives though, the 7% match does not surprise me: as I said above, this party is conservative in name only.

Meanwhile, even as I mull over the pros and cons of voting Liberal vs. NDP, I continue dreaming about a center-right party that favors rational thinking over ideology…

 Posted by at 7:53 pm
Aug 082015

Today is International Cat Day (sadly, it is also the anniversary of the death of our beloved cat Szürke).

This means it is also a good opportunity to remind my (Canadian) friends of my Web site,, which documents the sins of Stephen Harper’s government, and offers a means to vote by assigning a number of cats (between 1 and 9) that Mr. Harper would need to adopt to atone for each particular political sin.

I chose this whimsical way to express my disagreement with Mr. Harper, in part, because I do not believe in the politics of hate. I do not dislike Mr. Harper; I dislike (some of) his policies, and these are numerous enough for me to hope for either a Liberal or an NDP victory this fall. (Yes, I know, be careful what you wish for and all that…)

In any case, my friends, shame on all of you who have not yet registered, or registered but not yet voted. (Needless to say, if you ran into any technical issues while trying to register or vote, don’t hesitate to let me know. Oh, and in case it needs to be said, only I see your e-mail addresses when you register, and I have no plans to use your addresses to sell you penile enlargements or Nigerian investments.)

 Posted by at 11:42 pm
Aug 082015

I was startled by this photo that appeared in today’s Globe and Mail:


I’ve heard about this bridge! Many decades ago, in Hungary. It was described to me as an international bridge between two islands, both owned by a Hungarian family who then declared the “no man’s land” in the middle of the bridge Hungarian territory.

Well… almost. The flag in the middle is indeed the flag of Hungary, but as for the rest…

The islands together are called Zavikon island (I guess the smaller island is just considered an appendage of the larger one) and they are indeed in the Thousands Islands region. They are indeed owned by a Hungarian family. However, both islands are north of the international border, i.e., they are both in Canada. So the flags on this footbridge are really symbolic, they do not reflect political reality. And no, you cannot claim the “no man’s land”, even if it exists along the international border between two states, in the name of a third.

I was nonetheless astonished to see that this bridge actually exists and that at least the part about the flags is, indeed, true.

 Posted by at 11:59 am
Aug 082015

This iconic photograph was snapped 60 years ago today from the window of a Boeing 707 prototype.

In case it’s unclear, that airplane is flying upside down. And no, it is not about to crash. It was just in the middle of an aerobatic maneuver called a “barrel roll”.

It was, at least for its test pilot, Alvin “Tex” Johnston, a perfectly normal demonstration of what his new airplane is capable of doing. His company’s CEO, Bill Allen, rather disagreed, but the 707 went on to become a great commercial success and the famous Seattle barrel roll became a matter of legend. I first heard about this barrel roll incident more than 30 years ago from my long gone friend Ferenc Szatmári, physicist, private pilot and storyteller extraordinaire.

Reportedly, Allen never really got over this incident; decades later, when he received a framed copy of the photograph above at his retirement banquet, the memento was accidentally left behind. Then again, if someone gave me a minor heart attack like that (after all, for Allen, the future of his entire company was at stake), I, too, may be inclined to hold a grudge.

 Posted by at 10:35 am
Aug 082015

So here is what some devout Muslims do in the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful, if you happen to hold and make public views with which they disagree: They hack you to death. All in the name of compassion and mercy, I am sure.

The latest victim of Islamic extremism is Niloy Neel, an atheist blogger from Bangladesh, who was hacked to death by a machete-wielding gang yesterday.

And Neel is not the first victim of this religion-inspired violence: He is the fourth victim this year, the fourth person killed for speaking out in favor of secularism, women’s rights, LGBT rights. No perpetrator has been charged yet in these murders, which indicates possible complicity on behalf of the authorities.

But my question is… why kill him? Did someone convince you that you will get 77 virgins in heaven or whatever if you did this? Is your faith (or is it your sexual identity?) really this unsecure that you must eliminate dissenting voices through murder? Or are you simply murderous thugs who use whatever excuse you can find to get your “fix”?

 Posted by at 9:18 am
Aug 072015

Frances Kathleen Oldham Kelsey died this morning. She was 101 years old.

Dr. Kelsey’s name is the subject of legend among thalidomide sufferers. Born in Canada, Dr. Kelsey moved to the United States, where eventually she became an employee of the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. The first file on her desk was about thalidomide, a drug that is now known to have caused many thousands of birth defects worldwide.

Concerned about the drug’s suspected side effects, Dr. Kelsey refused to approve it without full clinical trials. She was vindicated when the numerous birth defects caused by thalidomide came to light. The USA was thus spared a scourge that was inflicted by thalidomide on many other countries, including Canada.

Eventually, Dr. Kelsey was even recognized by the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy.

Dr. Kelsey’s Canadian recognition came much later. In 2015, she was finally awarded the Order of Canada. Her family asked that the award ceremony be moved up as her health was in rapid decline. Accordingly, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor, visited the Kelsey home yesterday. Dr. Kelsey was reportedly aware and was thrilled.

Frances Kathleen Oldham Kelsey died less than 24 hours later. But what an amazing life she lived.

 Posted by at 12:17 pm
Aug 062015

Signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is delayed again, and perhaps that is a Good Thing.

Unlike many protesters, I am not against a broad trade deal in principle. Free trade can be a good thing for all involved. And frankly, if the dairy or the auto sector has issues with the TPP (these, reportedly, were among the main obstacles) they have their armies of lobbyists to hash it out with politicians.

However, there is another aspect of the TPP that I find deeply troubling: its leaked provisions about intellectual property, specifically copyright.

Canada modernized its copyright legislation recently. The result is far from perfect, but at least it was a result that followed extensive debate and public consultation. The TPP threatens to introduce Draconian new copyright measures, negotiated in secrecy, and upsetting the balance, however imperfect, that was achieved by the current copyright law.

For this reason alone, I argue that the TPP must be rejected. Trade is a good thing, but if the price of trade is further criminalization of everyday behavior (like, ripping a legally purchased DVD to a hard drive for easy viewing, or heaven forbid, breaking a badly designed digital lock to facilitate legal, fair use of a work) then I say bugger off, stuff your deal where the Sun doesn’t shine.

One reason why I am seriously contemplating (for the first time in my life!) voting NDP in the upcoming election is precisely this: the Conservatives obviously like the TPP, and I don’t think the Liberals have the guts to do anything about it. The NDP might… or maybe not, but they are the best hope that there is.

 Posted by at 8:18 pm
Aug 062015

This morning, my copy of The Globe and Mail had a pair of postcard-like pictures on its front page:

These pictures are a rather graphic reminder of what happened exactly 70 years ago today: the destruction of Hiroshima, in the first ever use of a nuclear device as a weapon of war.

Thankfully, the last such use occurred only three days later, in Nagasaki. No atomic bombs were exploded in anger ever since. I don’t know how much longer our luck will hold, but I doubt anyone in the 1960s would have predicted a world with no nuclear confrontation for another half a century.

 Posted by at 12:27 pm
Aug 062015

Here are nearly all the parts from a recently failed fluorescent bulb, which I disassembled:

Most of these parts are perfectly good, mostly generic electronic components that often end up in the trash. All because of these:

Yes, a rotting electrolytic capacitor. The Great Capacitor Plague is supposedly a thing of the past, but bad capacitors still show up quite often. One cannot help but wonder about the possibility that this is not altogether accidental… after all, more frequent replacement of these supposedly long-lasting bulbs means more profit to manufacturers.

 Posted by at 12:09 pm
Aug 042015

A young Hungarian woman from Transylvania, Zsuzsa Nágó, who recently became a citizen of Hungary (the political calculation behind the citizenship regime of Hungary that allows ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries to acquire Hungarian citizenship easily is another story altogether) decided to renounce her Hungarian citizenship in protest against Hungary’s policies towards refugee migrants, including the recently started construction of a border fence.

I can only admire her decision. She puts me to shame: I maintain my Hungarian citizenship, in part, to enjoy the benefits of an EU passport. But I am also a citizen of Canada. For someone whose only other passport is Romanian, this step is a significant sacrifice.

Sadly, I agree with her reasons. And the comments she received from “patriotic” Hungarians (here is one of the milder ones: “Let her move to Afghanistan so that she can sell her pinko-liberal stories to the Muslims there…”) only reinforce my conviction that it is not just the politics of the day: racism and hatred are deeply rooted in Hungarian society.

Thankfully, there are exceptions. A commenter named Gabor wrote:

“I would not connect this with the presently reigning government although the fence was their idea. (And it may not even be the biggest issue.) What has been taking place here for decades is enough for many people to not want to be Hungarian citizens or sometimes even renounce their ethnicity. Anyway, the leadership is what the people deserve. On my part I mostly met decent and kind people in the countryside, ever since I’m alive. Here in the capital most people are selfish, narrow-minded, envious, ill-intentioned, petty and calculating. Just like the ones described by Attila Jozsef [pre-eminent 20th century Hungarian poet; translation is mine, I found a translation online but it was less than mediocre, completely gutting these lines of their real meaning]:

Oh, this is not how I envisioned order,
my soul is stranger here.
I did not believe in existence so easy
for those who sneak.
Nor a people that fears to make a choice,
eyes cast down, furtively ruminating,
finding cheer in plunder.

“Many fail to notice that this is the source of all problems. There is for instance Trianon [location where the Paris peace treaty was signed in 1919, depriving the Kingdom of Hungary of two thirds of its historical territory.] It’s not as if they divided a unified Hungarian people. That would not have been sustainable. They adjusted the political make-up of a divided, splintering country to match reality. True, perhaps they went a little too far, but fundamentally this is what it was. If it wasn’t, then Trianon would not have happened, or it would have been reversed long ago, not just in the imagination of the far right. And those who do not feel comfortable here leave, thus sustaining, even strengthening the present situation.”

Unfortunately, people like Gabor represent a minority. (No, I don’t agree with his characterization of the people of Budapest vs. the countryside, but other than that, I could have used very similar words.)

Meanwhile, Zsuzsa Nágó is heading back to Turkey, to continue helping those who are the most in need.

 Posted by at 11:51 pm
Aug 032015

Here is one of the most mind-boggling animation sequences that I have ever seen:

This image depicts V838 Monocerotis, a red variable star that underwent a major outburst back in 2002.

Why do I consider this animation mind-boggling? Because despite all appearances, it is not an expanding shell of dust or gas.

Rather, it is echoes of the flash of light, reflected by dust situated behind the star, reaching our eyes several years after the original explosion.

In other words, this image represents direct, visual evidence of the finite speed of light.

The only comparable thing that I can think of is this video, created a few years ago using tricky picosecond photography, of a laser pulse traveling in a bottle. However, unlike that video, the images of V838 Monocerotis required no trickery, only a telescope.

And light echoes are more than mere curiosities: they actually make it possible to study past events. Most notably, a faint light echo of a supernova that was observed nearly half a millennium ago, in 1572, was detected in 2008.

 Posted by at 5:35 pm