Monday, July 26

Micro-Hands, Micro-Evidence, And Micro-Waves

It doesn't happen very often that a mere chance utterance ends up subverting the secrecy surrounding what one would have thought were the most clandestine matters pertaining to the security of the Nation. For example, there was the dropped cigar case, containing Gen. Robert E. Lee's detailed plans for the approaching Battle of Antietam, the sheerly accidental finding of which by a lowly Union Army private fundamentally altered the outcome of the battle, contributing to the Federal victory and thereby convincing President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Now we have Kellyanne Conway's ill-advised oh-by-the-way reference to "microwaves" as the medium former President Barack Obama used to spy on the goings-on in Trump Tower during the run-up to the 2016 Election. Since the secret is out, I can follow in the steps of Snowden and Manning and divulge what I managed to piece together from multiple sources, both classified and public, in the Government and from science. I cannot vouch for the truth of what follows, but Ms. Conway's "microwave" allusion is a telltale clue to what senior advisers in the Trump Administration, including President Trump himself, evidently thought was going on. (However, since actual evidence is strictly optional in our Post-Modernist / Post-Factual Age, this limitation is a minor impediment, at worst.) Anyway, bear with me. This takes a bit of telling.

In 1964, two engineers for Bell Telephone, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, were inspecting and performing maintenance on the large, building-sized microwave antenna at Holmdel, NJ, that is used to relay and transmit phone calls from multiple points on the planet. Penzias and Wilson were puzzled, however. No matter how diligent they were in cleaning, adjusting, and maintaining the antenna, there always remained a background of static, a kind of gentle, whispering sigh of extraneous noise, rather like the supposed ocean noise one hears when one puts a seashell up to one's ear -- the sonic equivalent of "snow" on the television screens of that era. They even went so far at one point as to go over the big antenna inch by inch, cleaning out the pigeon droppings that had accumulated over the years since the last maintenance cycle. (Your gratitude for my skipping over the tempting array of pigeon-excrement-related puns is duly noted and acknowledged ... you're welcome!) The source of the static -- for want of a better term -- was as enigmatic as its existence:  no matter how Penzias and Wilson steered and oriented the antenna, they could discover no source, no directional bias, for the noise, which therefore seemed evenly distributed over the entire sky.  The source was seemingly ... well ... everywhere!

I will skip the technical details and cut to the chase:  it finally turned out, after exhaustive research by Penzias, Wilson, and others, that that persistent soft hiss of static was the radio-frequency noise generated by the stupendous heat of the Big Bang that occurred (we know now) about 13.7 billion years ago. The Big Bang itself generated temperatures so high that writing out the temperature at the moment of Creation without using exponential notation would require a number of zeros as long as this paragraph. But in the succeeding 13.7 billion years, the expansion of spacetime itself, discovered by Edwin P. Hubble in the 1930s, had "stretched" the wavelength, so that the leftover thermal energy corresponded to a temperature not much above absolute zero:  approximately 3 degrees Kelvin, to be precise. (In 13.7 billion years, the cosmic expansion had "stretched" the heat radiation from needing a whole "Skeptics"-column-paragraph-full of zeros to express it to needing only a single character: 3.) No wonder there was no point-source for the noise:  the "source" was the entire Universe itself! Penzias and Wilson were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 for their discovery.

Penzias and Wilson, with the Holmdel microwave antenna in the background

(This ancient heat was spread over the entire Universe with remarkable uniformity. Cosmologists refer to the "isotropy" of the 3K background. But there are miniscule variations across the sky that escaped detection until the last couple of decades -- referred to as the "3K-background anisotropy" -- and that probably correspond to quantum-level fluctuations in the initial Big Bang, micro-micro-anomalies that eventually formed galaxies and galactic clusters. But let's not get lost in the weeds.)

Image of 3K background anisotropy

What does all this have to do with President Trump's allegations about former President Obama's surveillance activities directed toward Trump Tower? Good question! And thanks to Kellyanne Conway's politically inauspicious Freudian slip -- equivalent to the Union soldier serendipitously finding the errant cigar case in that fateful September of 1862 -- we now have a high-level answer: literally everything! That is, the archaic 3K background thermal radiation has everything to do with the allegations of surveillance on Trump Tower.  Despite fine-tooth-comb searches into former President Obama's alleged activities directed toward the surveillance of Trump Tower, the FBI and the formidable staffs of congressional committees have uncovered no evidence whatsoever of any such surveillance. No tapped wires. No tapps ... excuse me ... no taps at all. Only a superabundance of double quotes enclosing ... precisely nothing. The absence of evidence is unpresidented ... dammit! ... excuse me again ... unprecedented.

WHITEbody radiation
BLACKbody radiation

But instead of dispositively refuting President Trump's claims of Mr. Obama's nefarious spying, this absence of evidence is alleged to be actually confirmatory. Why? Because -- so go the reasoning and conclusions of Mr. Trump and his senior advisers -- Mr. Obama has apparently discovered a way, the technical details of which are still unknown, to use the 3K microwave background radiation emitted by the entire Universe to spy on Mr. Trump and his Administration. There are no microphones, no wires, no high-tech cameras, etc., nor are any such needed. The entire Universe is one Great Cosmic Wire Tapp ... aw hay-yull! ... one Great Cosmic Wire Tap! Of course, there are no mics, no wires, no transmitters, no receivers, etc., etc. anywhere ... because they are everywhere!

And one more highly suggestive clue as to how Mr. Trump & Co. may have cabbaged onto the 3K-background possibility.  The technical term for the 3K background radiation left over from the Big Bang is "blackbody radiation".  (What is "blackbody radiation"? That is not important for present purposes. But if you are interested, check here.) What could be more enticing for a group of conservative Republicans who did not deign to repudiate the support of the KKK and various other racially motivated alt-right organizations -- the kinds of folks in Congress who suggested that Mr. Obama, while in office, might do well to serve fried chicken and watermelon at White House soirees -- what could be more tantalizing than to suggest that the former President had hit upon a way to use blackbody radiation to spy on Messrs. Trump, Bannon, Sessions, & Co? The poetic justice alone of the idea would render such a possibility positively elegant to the point of erotic rapture, were not such conservative folks thus inclined so terrified of matters sexual! At least publicly.

That's all for now.  I have not yet decided what to do with this Watergate-scale story. Certainly I am going to turn it over to a news organization that commands resources and professional credibility far beyond my own modest powers and attainments.  Maybe George Stephanopoulos?  Cokie Roberts? George F. Will? Martha Raddatz? Paul Krugman? Chris Matthews? Rachel Maddow?

Hey ! I got it! Jake Tapper!

James R. Cowles

PS -- In case it needs saying for the record ... the foregoing material on the Big Bang, the Antietam cigar case, the Penzias / Wilson collaboration, and the 3K background radiation is all true, but the rest is a farrago of sheer satire.

Image credits:
Kellyanne Conway ... Gage Skidmore ... CC BY-SA 3.0
Donald Trump ... Gage Skidmore ... CC BY-SA 3.0
Image of 3K background anisotropy ... NASA ... Public domain
Penzias and Wilson ... Author illegible ... Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
Trump golfing ... Patrick Semansky, LA Times ... CC BY-SA 3.0
Obama in surf ... Conservative Outfitters ... CC BY-SA 3.0
Obama in microwave oven ... South China Morning Post, Tribune News Service ... Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International



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