“Researchers capture first ‘image’ of a dark matter web that connects galaxies. Dark matter filaments bridge the space between galaxies in this false colour map. The locations of bright galaxies are shown by the white regions and the presence of a dark matter filament bridging the galaxies is shown in red.”

Flecks of Extraterrestrial Dust, All Over the Roof
by William J. Broad  /  March 10, 2017

“His book, “In Search of Stardust: Amazing Micro-Meteorites and Their Terrestrial Imposters,” due out in August, details the secret of his extraordinarily successful hunts. Its 150 pages and 1,500 photomicrographs, or photos taken through a microscope, tell how Mr. Larsen taught himself to distinguish cosmic dust from the minuscule contaminants that arise from roads, shingles, factories, roof tiles, construction sites, home insulation and holiday fireworks. As his book puts it, “To pick out one extraterrestrial particle among billions of others requires knowledge both about what to look for and what to disregard.”

The diminutive flecks to which Mr. Larsen, 58, has devoted himself represent the smallest parts of a cosmic downpour that has lashed the Earth for billions of years. Careful observers of the night sky are familiar with shooting stars — speeding bits of extraterrestrial rock that plunge through the Earth’s atmosphere, often burning up completely. The biggest can strike the ground, some forcefully enough to dig craters. In 2013, a relatively small rock exploded over the Russian city Chelyabinsk, releasing a shock wave that injured hundreds of people, mainly as windows shattered into flying glass.

But all that represents a tiny fraction of the downpour. Scientists say most of the cosmic material is remarkably small — barely the width of a human hair. Known as micrometeorites, they rain down on the planet more or less continuously but have proved remarkably hard to find. Some bits are so small and lightweight that they drift down to the Earth’s surface without melting. The dust consists of tiny remnants from the solar system’s birth, including debris from comets and from ages of smashups among planets and the big rocks known as asteroids. While most of the particles are interplanetary in nature, some contain grains of matter from outside the solar system, or true stardust. Their diversity makes them excellent windows on the cosmos.

These examples of space dust found on Earth are collected in a new book, “In Search of Stardust: Amazing Micro-Meteorites and Their Terrestrial Imposters,” and were found on buildings, parking lots, sidewalks and park benches.”

Scientists have found micrometeorites mainly in the Antarctic, remote deserts and other places far from civilization’s haze. Starting in the 1940s and 1950s, investigators tried to find them in urban areas but eventually gave up because of the riot of human contaminants. Significantly, it turns out that specialists trying to establish the cosmic origins of the tiny specks have tended to examine their chemical signatures rather than their overall appearance. That left a large opening for Mr. Larsen. Matthew J. Genge, one of the Geology paper’s four authors and a senior lecturer in earth and planetary science at Imperial College, London, used an electron microprobe at the Natural History Museum in London to determine the chemical makeup of Mr. Larsen’s finds and confirm their cosmic origin.

In an interview, he said that, over all, the grains that survive the atmospheric plunge and land on the Earth’s surface add up to more than 4,000 tons annually, or more than 10 tons a day. “He’s done a valuable thing in classifying the contaminants,” Dr. Genge said of Mr. Larsen’s work. “It has wide-reaching implications.” Donald E. Brownlee, an astronomer at the University of Washington who helped establish the field, called Mr. Larsen a true citizen scientist whose work will aid the global hunt for the tiny specks. “Your car is covered with cosmic dust,” Dr. Brownlee said. “We inhale this stuff. We eat it every time we eat lettuce. But normally, it’s incredibly difficult to find.”

“Jon Larsen looking for micrometeorites on a roof. He was an enthusiastic rock collector as a child in Norway but became a professional musician. His quest for space dust began in 2009.”

Mr. Larsen came to what he calls Project Stardust as a jazz guitarist in Norway, perhaps known best as the founder of Hot Club de Norvège, a string quartet. His group helped spur the global revival of gypsy jazz. As Mr. Larsen tells the story, he was an enthusiastic rock collector as a child but did so well as a musician that he set aside his early scientific ambitions. Then, in 2009, at a country house outside Oslo, he was cleaning an outdoor table when a bright speck caught his eye. “It was blinking in the sunlight,” he recalled. He touched the fleck. “It was angular in some way, kind of metallic but so small — a tiny dot.”

Intrigued, Mr. Larsen suspected it was a cosmic visitor and began to look for more. He collected dust samples from Oslo and cities around the globe, moonlighting as a scientist while vacationing or touring with his jazz group. He took samples from roads, roofs, parking lots and industrial areas Put indelicately, he collected hundreds of pounds of dreck — sludge from drains, gutters and downspouts, the dregs of civilization that most people try to avoid. “Still, I didn’t find a single micrometeorite,” he recalled. “It was very frustrating.” Mr. Larsen then changed tactics. Rather than looking exclusively for cosmic dust, he taught himself how to classify the dozens of different kinds of earthly contaminants, starting a process of elimination that slowly narrowed the candidates and raised the chances that some tiny fraction of the urban debris might turn out to belong to the cosmos. The breakthrough came two years ago. In London, Dr. Genge studied one of the gathered particles — from Norway, not Timbuktu — and confirmed that it was indeed a traveler from outer space. Mr. Larsen quickly identified hundreds more. “Once I knew what to look for, I found them everywhere,” he said.

In the Geology paper, the scientific team reports the discovery of about 500 micrometeorites — collected mainly from roof gutters in Norway — and tells of the detailed analysis of 48 of the extraterrestrial specks. The team includes two of Dr. Genge’s students, Martin D. Suttle of Imperial College and Matthias Van Ginneken of the Université Libre in Brussels. The team described the cosmic dust as the youngest collected to date, because gutters tend to get cleaned fairly regularly. Also, urban surfaces are recent arrivals in the global landscape compared to polar ice and ancient deserts.

“Varieties of space dust, barely the width of a human hair. These photomicrographs were made with a special camera setup that magnifies the dust grains nearly 3,000 times”

In his travels, Mr. Larsen recently visited with Michael E. Zolensky, an extraterrestrial materials scientist in Houston at the Johnson Space Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They not only talked shop but also went up to the roof of the large building that houses rocks from the Apollo moon program. “It was pretty cool,” Dr. Zolensky said. “The curation building is now a collector of cosmic dust.”

In an interview, Mr. Larsen described his method — sorting through the contaminants in a process of elimination — as “something that anybody can do. It could and should become part of teachings in schools, an aspect of citizen science.” Dr. Brownlee of the University of Washington agreed. He said that, while many schools try to find cosmic dust particles in programs meant to make science classes more inviting and accessible, few if any succeed. “It could help a lot,” he said of Mr. Larsen’s method. “For education, it’s pretty cool.” Dr. Genge of Imperial College said Mr. Larsen’s techniques, if adopted widely, might also open a new lens on the cosmos.

The gravitational pull of the planets, he noted, appear to tug on the dust clouds of the solar system and slowly change their orbits. He said a wave of new terrestrial finds could help scientists better map the clouds, raising more questions for science about the structure of the universe. “I consider my microscope a telescope,” Dr. Genge said. “It can give you a pretty big picture.”

Yale-led team puts dark matter on the map
“A 3-D visualization of reconstructed dark matter clump distributions in a distant galaxy cluster, obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope Frontier Fields data. The unseen matter in this map is comprised of a smooth heap of dark matter on which clumps form.”

Team puts dark matter on the map  /  March 1, 2017

“A Yale-led team has produced one of the highest-resolution maps of dark matter ever created, offering a detailed case for the existence of cold dark matter—sluggish particles that comprise the bulk of matter in the universe. The dark matter map is derived from Hubble Space Telescope Frontier Fields data of a trio of galaxy clusters that act as cosmic magnifying glasses to peer into older, more distant parts of the universe, a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.

Yale astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan led an international team of researchers that analyzed the Hubble images. “With the data of these three lensing clusters we have successfully mapped the granularity of dark matter within the clusters in exquisite detail,” Natarajan said. “We have mapped all of the clumps of dark matter that the data permit us to detect, and have produced the most detailed topological map of the dark matter landscape to date.” Scientists believe dark matter—theorized, unseen particles that neither reflect nor absorb light, but are able to exert gravity—may comprise 80% of the matter in the universe. Dark matter may explain the very nature of how galaxies form and how the universe is structured. Experiments at Yale and elsewhere are attempting to identify the dark matter particle; the leading candidates include axions and neutralinos.

“While we now have a precise cosmic inventory for the amount of dark matter and how it is distributed in the universe, the particle itself remains elusive,” Natarajan said. Dark matter particles are thought to provide the unseen mass that is responsible for gravitational lensing, by bending light from distant galaxies. This light bending produces systematic distortions in the shapes of galaxies viewed through the lens. Natarajan’s group decoded the distortions to create the new dark matter map.

Significantly, the map closely matches computer simulations of dark matter theoretically predicted by the cold dark matter model; cold dark matter moves slowly compared to the speed of light, while hot dark matter moves faster. This agreement with the standard model is notable given that all of the evidence for dark matter thus far is indirect.”

Saturn’s Weirdest Moon Is Full of Electric Sand
by Rae Paoletta   /  3/29/17

“A new study from Georgia Tech, published on March 27th in Nature Geoscience, sought to shed light on the massive and mysterious sand dunes engulfing Titan. Through laboratory experiments, the researchers found that under Titan-like atmospheric conditions, sand grains collide and become electrically charged, clumping together and remaining clumped for an incredibly long time. While wind-blown sand on Earth can also become electrically charged, the electrostatic forces are typically ephemeral and much weaker. The team compared the adhesive quality of the sand on Titan to packing peanuts and cats. “If you grabbed piles of grains and built a sand castle on Titan, it would perhaps stay together for weeks due to their electrostatic properties,” Josef Dufek, the Georgia Tech professor who co-led the study, said in a statement. “Any spacecraft that lands in regions of granular material on Titan is going to have a tough time staying clean. Think of putting a cat in a box of packing peanuts.”

To reach this conclusion, the team created a modified pressure vessel and inserted naphthalene and biphenyl grains—hydrocarbon compounds similar in composition to what the sand is probably like on Titan. On Earth, naphthalene and biphenyl are considered toxic and are used moth balls and citrus fruit wrappings, respectively.  The team then added Titan-like “wind” by rotating the tube for 20 minutes in pure nitrogen environment, since that’s what the moon’s atmosphere is almost entirely composed of. Overwhelmingly, the sand stuck together, which doesn’t happen on Earth unless you add water to the mix. Speaking of Earth, our sand is mostly silica-based, and didn’t have the same sticky quality when the researchers used it to repeat their experiments.

“Radar imaging from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows dunes stretching across the Shangri-La Sand Sea of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Research suggests the dunes’ shape and orientation are influenced by powerful electrostatic charges.”

“These non-silicate, granular materials can hold their electrostatic charges for days, weeks, or months at a time under low-gravity conditions,” study co-author George McDonald, said in a statement. The new study offers the latest indication that although Titan looks astonishingly similar to Earth—it’s the only other world in the solar system with surface oceans, for one—many of the processes shaping its surface are truly alien. “Titan’s extreme physical environment requires scientists to think differently about what we’ve learned of Earth’s granular dynamics,” Dufek said. “Landforms are influenced by forces that aren’t intuitive to us because those forces aren’t so important on Earth. Titan is a strange, electrostatically sticky world.”




‘The Zero Marginal Cost Society’, by Jeremy Rifkin
Review by Richard Waters / Financial Times / March 21, 2014

“Machines are about to change what it means to be human. According to social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, they will undermine our sense of private property, take away our jobs and turn us into free agents in a new global “sharing economy”. For good measure, they will also destroy capitalism before the middle of the 21st century. If you’re already thinking that The Zero Marginal Cost Society belongs to the genre of techno-futurism that resorts to extreme predictions to attract attention, then you’d be right. The value of this book, however, doesn’t lie in the accuracy of its specific forecasts, but rather in the extrapolations of current trends that enable Rifkin to reach them. On that measure, this is a thought-provoking read that pushes some of the most important new technologies to their logical – and sometimes scary – conclusions.

Take the machines that underpin the book’s central argument. They will be self-replicating, capable of producing their own spare parts and propagating themselves indefinitely. They will be powered by an alternative energy source like the sun, allowing them to run more or less forever. And they will be connected by the coming “internet of things”, a self-organising network that will allow them to operate as part of a new pervasive intelligent infrastructure. These machines will also be fully automatic and require no human labour to operate. As a result, they will throw off products at virtually no cost, save the minimal one of supplying the basic raw materials.

This gets to the heart of Rifkin’s argument. If the marginal cost of producing each additional item falls to essentially nothing, then everything becomes free. In their pursuit of profit, businesses will have irrevocably undermined their own margins: capitalism will have destroyed itself. But don’t despair. Rising in its place, Rifkin argues, will be a civilisation based on a new and more fulfilling communitarianism, free of the hang-ups that have characterised the materialistic individualism of the late capitalist age.

Though only 300 or so pages, this is sometimes a dense book. Besides detours into subjects such as the economic history of the human race from earliest times, there are sections that pack in extensive descriptions of some of the key technologies. They include 3D printing; open-source software; the internet of things; the sharing economy; the online courses that are reshaping education; and the artificial intelligence enabling machines to replace many types of human labour. An extensive bibliography shows that Rifkin has read widely and compressed the results into his latest tome – though, to be fair to his previous work, he has also written entire books himself on several of the themes that converge here. That makes this something of a grand unifying theory of his thinking over four decades.

Three of Rifkin’s predictions serve to illustrate both the breadth and the finality of his arguments. One is that the “sharing economy” (think letting out your spare room on Airbnb or summoning a car on Uber) will overthrow some of the biggest companies on the planet. It will only take between 10 and 30 per cent of a particular market to shift to these self-help networks, argues Rifkin, for the thin profit margins of giant companies to shrink to nothing.

A second prediction is that a decentralised network of alternative energy sources will replace the existing vertically integrated, carbon-based energy industry. It will be made up of “prosumers” generating their own power and networked together through a smart grid that routes power to where it is needed. By the middle of this century, says Rifkin, 80 per cent of electricity will be generated this way – an estimate he claims is conservative.

A third trend is the elimination of work, as the machines take over. According to Rifkin, workers – and the profitmaking companies that employ them – can look forward to one last hurrah. This will cover the 40-year period it takes to build the world’s smart, self-replicating infrastructure. After that, it will be the end of history for labour: apart from a few people needed to programme and monitor the machines, it’s all over for the wage slaves and salarymen.

This all sounds ominous. But Rifkin reaches an optimistic conclusion. He anticipates a world of plenty where individuals will lead more fulfilling lives than they do now, with their material wants taken care of and their days of toil at an end. Fulfilment, he argues, will come from building “social capital”. Freed from the need to earn a living, people will get closer to the things that really matter: collaborating – and empathising – with other people.

There are obvious quibbles to be had with much of this. One is that capitalism has proved pretty adaptable so far. When markets are commoditised and profits evaporate, capitalists have been good at either monopolising industries or finding new sources of value to build on top of the commoditised markets of the past. Just because, from the blinkered present, we can’t see what the markets of the future will be, it doesn’t mean they won’t exist.

A second quibble is with Rifkin’s assumptions about how human nature will change to accommodate the new realities he describes. After all, if everything is free, won’t that lead to an even greater materialism that wrecks the planet for good? The way Rifkin sees it, replacing scarcity with abundance will spell the death of materialism. When everything is in plentiful supply, why gather and hoard? Rather than outright ownership, the humans who populate his future will be content with access to material goods, many of which will be shared – just as they are already becoming accustomed to accessing digital goods in a world of infinite supply.

The millennial generation, as he sees it, is already hankering for this more collaborative, altruistic society. He also sees an automatic stabilisation that brings the human race into a permanent equilibrium with the planet. As living standards rise, birth rates in poorer parts of the world will fall: the global population will gradually fall back to a sustainable 5bn (though it isn’t clear why Rifkin picked this level). Alternative futures seem equally plausible. Wealth and income inequality could become more accentuated, as a winner-takes-all capitalism takes hold. The millions emerging from extreme poverty in developing countries could find themselves in a world of limited opportunity. The loss of employment may create a permanent – and growing – underclass. How we deal with the consequences is up to us.”

by Jeremy Rifkin  /  June 6, 2014

“A new economic system is entering onto the world stage. The collaborative commons is the first new economic paradigm to take root in recent years and is allowing hundreds of millions of people to produce information, energy, and goods and services at near zero marginal cost and exchange them with each other in a sharing economy. Not surprisingly, the emergence of this new economic system is coming at a time of low growth, rising unemployment and greater inequality. The triggering agent that’s precipitating this great economic transformation is zero marginal cost. Marginal cost is the cost of producing an additional unit of a good or service after fixed costs have been absorbed.

The near zero marginal cost phenomenon wreaked havoc across the information-goods industries over the past decade as millions of consumers turned prosumers and began to produce and share their own music via file sharing services, their own videos on YouTube, their own knowledge on Wikipedia, their own news on social media and even their own free ebooks on the World Wide Web. The zero marginal cost phenomenon brought the music industry to its knees, shook the film industry, forced newspapers and magazines out of business, and crippled the book-publishing market. Meanwhile, 6 million students are now enrolled in free massive open online courses that operate at near zero marginal cost and are taught by some of the most distinguished professors in the world. They are receiving college credits, forcing universities to rethink their costly business model.

Now, a powerful new technology revolution is evolving that will allow millions — and soon hundreds of millions — of prosumers to also make and share their own renewable energy, and an increasing array of 3-D printed physical products and services, at near zero marginal cost. The communications Internet is converging with a fledgling energy Internet and nascent automated transport and logistics Internet, creating a new technological infrastructure for society that will fundamentally alter the global economy in the first half of the 21st century.

Billions of sensors are being attached to every device, appliance, machine and contrivance, connecting every thing with every human being in a seamless neural network that extends across the entire economic value chain. Already 14 billion sensors are attached to resource flows, warehouses, road systems, factory production lines, the electricity transmission grid, offices, homes, stores and vehicles, continually monitoring their status and performance and feeding big data back to the communication Internet, energy Internet and logistics and transportation Internet.

It is estimated that by 2030 more than 100 trillion sensors will connect the human and natural environment in a global distributed intelligent network. Business enterprises and prosumers will be able to connect to the Internet of Things and use big data and analytics to develop predictive algorithms that can speed efficiency, dramatically increase productivity, reduce the use of natural resources and lower the marginal cost of producing and distributing renewable energy and 3-D printed physical products to near zero. Then they will be able to share what they’ve made with others on a vast global collaborative commons, just as billions of prosumers now do with information goods.

Hundreds of millions of people are transferring bits and pieces of their economic life from conventional markets to the global collaborative commons. Forty percent of the U.S. population is already actively engaged in the collaborative sharing economy. Some 800,000 individuals in the U.S. are now using car-sharing services. Each car-share vehicle eliminates 15 personally owned cars. And millions of apartment dwellers and home owners are sharing their dwellings with millions of travelers, at near zero marginal cost around the world, via online services like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, weakening the traditional brick-and-mortar hotel industry.

In a zero marginal cost society, extreme productivity decreases the amount of information, energy, material resources, labor and logistics costs needed to produce and distribute economic goods and services, once fixed costs are absorbed. And the goods and services that are produced at near zero marginal cost are redistributed and shared over and over again on the collaborative commons, dramatically reducing the number of things sold, meaning fewer resources are used up and less global warming gases are emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere. The shift from the exchange economy in the conventional marketplace to the shareable economy on the collaborative commons offers the possibility of dramatically narrowing the income divide and democratizing the global economy in the first half of the 21st century.

Global companies, operating in the profit-driven capitalist marketplace, will likely remain far into the future, albeit in an increasingly streamlined role, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing them to flourish alongside the collaborative commons as powerful partners in the coming era. The capitalist market, however, will no longer be the exclusive arbiter of economic life. People are entering a world partially beyond markets where they are learning how to live together in an increasingly interdependent global collaborative commons.”




“This electrostatic generator (Van de Graaf generator) atom-smasher was built at the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C., and used between 1920 and 1940. This structure was also the talk of ‘death-rays’.”


FBI wanted Tesla’s ‘death ray’ invention for War Dept, documents show / 29 Sep, 2016

“The FBI has finally published its cache of files relating to Nikola Tesla, 73 years after “two truckloads” of his property were seized by the US government following the renowned inventor’s death. The declassified documents have been released under the Freedom of Information Act and revealed the FBI and government’s serious interest in the death ray – a particle beam weapon which Tesla claimed to have invented. The long-awaited release also contains information on Tesla’s ball lightning experiments and an FBI plot to arrest a family member who they believed was trying to get his hands on Tesla’s treasure trove of documents. Serbian-born Tesla is most famous for designing the AC electricity supply system. He was also known for his foresight, predicting the smartphone and video calling.

“Also called the “Peace Ray” and “teleforce,” Tesla’s macroscopic particle beam projector was first mentioned publicly in “Invents Peace Ray,” New York Sun, July 10, 1934″

Tesla died at the age of 85 in a New York hotel suite on what was believed to be January 7, 1943. However, one of the newly-released documents, a letter dated January 12, 1943 states that an inquiry established Tesla actually died on January 8. It also detailed how the government office of Alien Property Control seized all of Tesla’s property, sealed all articles and brought them to the Manhattan storage warehouse in New York City.

The letter expressed concern that, as Tesla was a naturalized US citizen, they may not have jurisdiction over his property but felt confident they could keep the material from any other agency for at least two days. In 1951 an American court declared that Sava Kosanovic, was the rightful heir to the property and the material was transferred to Belgrade and is now housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade.

Also among the documents released is a letter addressed to J Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the FBI, highlighting an article about Tesla’s death ray invention, suggesting it could be of “vital importance” to the War Department, “as well as that of other nations now controlled by insane dictators”.

It also recommended the “constant guarding” of Tesla to ensure his protection against “alien enemies” who may be interested in “the secret of such an invaluable instrument of war and/or defense”. Another document shows the FBI’s concern that a nephew, Sava Kosanovic, whom they said Tesla “intensely disliked” was trying to gain possession of “these important documents and plans”. The Bureau also feared that he would “make such information available to the enemy”.

A memorandum in the FBI records dated January 9, 1943, stated that Tesla had performed many experiments in connection with the wireless transmission of electrical power, “commonly called the death ray”. A protege of Tesla, Bloyce Fitzgerald, said in an interview with a government official that Tesla told him just a month before his death that these experiments had been completed and perfected. Fitzgerald said he was also aware of a revolutionary type of torpedo designed by Tesla.”

Nikola Tesla’s Connection to Donald Trump
by Paul Ratner  /  July 31, 2016

“As unpredictable as the current U.S. Presidential elections have been, a striking historical sidenote lies in their connection to the famous Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla. A few days after Tesla died on January 8th, 1943, his possessions were seized by officials from the amazingly-named government Office of Alien Property.

MIT professor John George Trump in June 1952

About 3 weeks after that, all of Tesla’s things and documents were given a thorough examination by a group of FBI agents that included none other than John G. Trump, the uncle of Donald J. Trump. Trump’s uncle was, by all accounts, a very accomplished and intelligent man, an M.I.T. Professor of Engineering, who helped design X-ray machines for cancer patients and did radar research work for the army during World War 2. John G. Trump’s analysis of Tesla’s papers concluded that: “Tesla’s “thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character,” but “did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.”

But such official dismissal of the significance of the papers Tesla left behind understandably did not sit well with many folks throughout the next 73 years. As if the government would be willing to admit that it found plans for, let’s say, the Death Ray that Tesla was working on in the last years of his life. That kind of situation is ground zero for conspiracy theories. The papers have partially been released but are still really hard to track down. What became of Tesla’s most secret tech is still potentially a mystery if you are inclined to believe that sort of thing. Who has the papers? Did Tesla really develop the Death Ray?

The three founders of HVEC stand by the company’s Emperor tandem test facility. L-R: Robert Van de Graaff, Denis Robinson, John Trump.

Donald Trump himself often refers to his Uncle, invoking John Trump’s intelligence as a sort of voucher for his own genetic and historical pedigree. “My uncle used to tell me about nuclear before nuclear was nuclear,” Trump said in one interview, according to the New Yorker magazine. This would likely be referring to hydrogen bombs rather than the first nuclear bombs as Trump was born in 1946, after the Atomic Age was already upon us. Trump also recalled to the Times how the uncle “would tell me many years ago about the power of weapons someday, that the destructive force of these weapons would be so massive, that it’s going to be a scary world.”

Certainly, expected talk from someone entrusted by the government to look into game-changing, doomsday weaponry.  John G. Trump’s brilliance and his connection to the intellectual history of the country make him, in Trump’s view, a kind of guarantee that he himself is smart. As he mentioned to the Boston Globe: “My father’s brother was a brilliant man. We have very good genetics.”  Similarly, he told to NBC about his uncle to point out that: “I mean it’s a good gene pool right there” – [Trump pointed to his head] – “I have to do what I have to do.”

The physicist John Trump, in a high-voltage research lab at M.I.T. He was the younger brother of Donald Trump’s father, Fred.
Physicist John Trump, in a high-voltage research lab at M.I.T.

Donald Trump’s Nuclear Uncle
by Amy Davidson  /  April 8, 2016

“In September, 1936, a reporter for the Associated Press watched the unveiling of a new kind of X-ray machine, said to be able to generate a million volts of power. The scientist operating the device was John G. Trump, a professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Trump was working the controls and explaining how high-speed electrons ran along a porcelain tube to a “water-cooled gold target,” when suddenly “two of the high-voltage sparks hit him squarely on the nose.” And yet, according to the A.P. account, the direct strike caused him only “slight discomfort.” Professor Trump told the reporter, “That’s an advantage of this machine. It’s completely grounded and those sparks can’t kill you.”

MIT professor John George Trump.

“My uncle used to tell me about nuclear before nuclear was nuclear,” Trump said in one interview, “before nuclear” referring, perhaps, to the development of hydrogen bombs, rather than basic atomic bombs (which occurred when Donald was about six years old), or perhaps just to that netherworld where things wait until Trump judges them to be fashionable or flashy enough to exist. He mentions his uncle so often, and in such extravagant terms—“brilliant,” “one of the top, top professors at M.I.T.”—that it seems worth asking what the professor and his arcane knowledge mean to him. There are two different sets of answers, which might be put into the category of foreign and domestic.

But first, it’s worth noting that John Trump really does seem to have been a brilliant scientist. He was at M.I.T. for decades, and the X-ray machines he helped design “provided additional years of life to cancer patients throughout the world,” as the Times put it in his obituary, in 1985. Trump was involved in radar research for the Allies in the Second World War, and in 1943 the F.B.I. had enough faith in his technical ability and his discretion to call him in when Nikola Tesla died in his room at the New Yorker Hotel, in Manhattan, raising the question of whether enemy agents might have had a chance to learn some of his secrets before the body was found. (One fear was that Tesla was working on a “death ray.”)

As Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth recount in “Tesla, Master of Lightning,” Professor Trump examined Tesla’s papers and equipment, and, in a written report, told the F.B.I. not to worry: Tesla’s “thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character,” but “did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.” Professor Trump may have neglected to make that sort of distinction clear to his nephew.”

Staff of Alien Property Custodian’s office. A. Michel Palmer stands front row, third from left.

The U.S. Confiscated Half a Billion Dollars in Private Property During WWI
by Daniel A. Gross  /  July 28, 2014

“Posselt was a young editor and translator who emigrated from Austria-Hungary in 1914. His nationality—like that of millions of German-speaking immigrants in the United States during World War I—attracted suspicion and anger from nationalistic Americans. In the course of the war, the federal government registered around half a million “enemy alien” civilians, spied on many of them, and sent approximately 6,000 men and a few women to internment camps. Perhaps more strikingly, it seized huge troves of private property with dubious relevance to the war effort, ultimately amassing assets worth more than half a billion dollars—close to the entire federal budget of pre-war America.

“Federal agents had been looking for a good reason to arrest Posselt: they’d searched his home around a dozen times in the year prior. Now that they had one, they sent him to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, one of four main internment camps built during the war. Even after they found the poem, though, they didn’t charge him with any particular crime. “Posselt is not accused of any conspiracy but is only accused of guilty knowledge,” noted one report. “He is very bright in his writings, and might cause trouble if released.”

War had dressed the Department of Justice in decidedly bigger britches, partly thanks to two bills passed into law by Congress in 1917, the Espionage Act and Trading with the Enemy Act. Both were designed to mobilize domestic legal efforts in support of the war, and both are still on the books. The Espionage Act, for instance, is currently being used to prosecute government leakers including former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In Posselt’s case, Department of Justice reports simply made general reference to the Espionage Act and recommended internment for the remainder of the war.

Inside a barracks for lower level detainees

Most reports of American WWI internment camps describe relatively benign conditions, including rigid schedules and military discipline, but few instances in which prisoners were underfed or overworked. Posselt wrote about the experience in the magazine American Mercury several years after the war, and the worst experiences he described were a handful of suicides, several dozen transfers of prisoners to asylums, and outbreaks of disease that came near the end of the war.

“In Hot Springs, North Carolina, residents of an alien internment camp active from 1917 to 1918 built an authentic German village. They used tobacco tins to construct the church.”

But on the whole, far from decrying the inhumanity of conditions at Fort Oglethorpe, Posselt described an odd collection of imprisoned intellectuals. They were allowed to organize courses taught by interned professors of biology, mathematics, literature, and languages. Several dozen musicians, many of whom had been recruited from Europe to join American orchestras, regularly performed to help keep up morale. In another camp, captured sailors built themselves a small village designed to look authentically German.

A cabin built in Swiss style in the alien internment camp in Hot Springs, North Carolina 

Even so, the internment of immigrants required a remarkably low standard of evidence. The historian Adam Hodges, for instance, discovered that local law enforcement used federal internment policies to justify the arrest of labor organizers and perceived political radicals. At the federal level, one high-profile case involved the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Karl Muck. Despite newspaper reports that he was a patriotic German, Muck was in fact a citizen of neutral Switzerland. He was accused of refusing to play the Star-Spangled Banner at a concert (a charge later shown to be false) and disparaging the American government in love letters. Muck was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, along with 29 members of his orchestra, and the famed conductor was ultimately deported.

America certainly wasn’t unique in its imprisonment of civilians during the war. If anything, its policies seem relatively lax compared to those of England, for example, where at least 30,000 enemy aliens were interned starting in 1915. In Germany, several thousand British citizens and large numbers of French and Russian citizens were sent to camps, according to an American legal history written just after the war. (These figures are separate from the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were captured during combat.) Internment supposedly prevented immigrants from spying or joining the military of their home countries, but given that women and children also experienced imprisonment in Europe, the basic rationale was easily manipulated. In many countries, members of government not only had public approval for these policies—they faced public criticism if they didn’t support internment.

A typical German house in the internment camp village

In retrospect, American internment policies are troubling, but they’re dwarfed by a quieter and more sweeping practice of property seizure. Under the Trading with the Enemy Act, President Wilson appointed an “Alien Property Custodian” named A. Mitchell Palmer to take control of property that might hinder the war effort. Among other things, this meant all property belonging to interned immigrants, regardless of the charges (or lack thereof). “All aliens interned by the government are regarded as enemies,” wrote Palmer, “and their property is treated accordingly.”

The basic argument was that property seizure prevented immigrants from financially or materially supporting enemies of America. Under Palmer’s direction, the Office of the Alien Property Custodian grew to employ hundreds of officials and used several high-profile cases of espionage and industrial sabotage to defend its work. German chemical companies in the United States were particularly vulnerable to seizure: not only did dye and pharmaceutical companies divert raw materials from the war effort, they could also in theory produce explosives.

The agency’s powers were remarkably broad, however. In Munsey’s Magazine, Palmer described the Alien Property Custodian as “the biggest general store in the country,” noting that some of the companies seized were involved in “pencil-making in New Jersey, chocolate manufacture in Connecticut, [and] beer-brewing in Chicago.” There were small holdings seized from individuals, too. “Among them,” he continued with an odd hint of pride, “are some rugs in New York; three horses near Joplin, Mississippi; [and] a carload of cedar logs in the South.” (Historians will probably never figure out why Palmer wanted those rugs in New York.) The historian Adam Hodges found that even women who were American citizens, if married to German and Austro-Hungarian immigrants, were classified as enemy aliens—and they alone lost a combined $25 million in property to the government.

“Late in 1918, Palmer (right) reported managing almost 30,000 trusts with assets worth $500 million. He estimated another 9,000 trusts worth $300 million awaited evaluation.”

The war ended in November 1918, just a year after the passage of the Trading with the Enemy Act. In that time, the Alien Property Custodian had acquired hundreds of millions of dollars in private property. In a move that was later widely criticized—and that political allies of the Alien Property Custodian likely profited from directly—Palmer announced that all of the seized property would be “Americanized,” or sold to U.S. citizens, partly in the hopes of crippling German industries. His attitude echoed a wider sentiment that the Central Powers deserved to pay dearly for the vast destruction of the war. In one high-profile example, the chemical company Bayer was auctioned on the steps of its factory in New York. Bayer lost its U.S. patent for aspirin, one of the most valuable drugs ever produced.”