10 April 2006

The Changing Center of the Pendulum: The Ubergangsschicht Effect

Understanding current US politics is no easy task. Understanding the history of events would obviously be the best place to start to try ot be able to project potential outcomes. History, afterall is the best teacher. But WHO really has that kind of time? My belief: The Ubergangsschicht do. Who are they? Well, read on.

There has always been a clash between the physical science and the political science types in academia. The physical science guys have always wanted to try to assign numerical values to political trends and this has not always worked out successfully. Indeed, I know of a number of political science folks who feel that the show "NUMB3ERS" is absurd and believe that certain social trends cannot and SHOULD not try to be explained in formulae. However, since my major in University was Political Science and I now currently work in an engineering field I think I might have found a way to at least attempt to translate, in a very very rudimentary form, how politics works: for engineers.

Newton's First Law of Motion
I. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

Let's compare US politics to a pendulum. We've all seen a pendulum swinging in a museum.

Let's pretend that the pendulum is going to swing right back across the center. In a static enviroment, Political trends are like that pendulum. A simple pendulum consists of a mass (called the bob) attached to the end of a thin cord, which is attached to a fixed point. When the mass is drawn upwards and let go, the force of gravity accelerates it back to the original position. The momentum built up by the acceleration of gravity causes the mass to then swing in the opposite direction to a height equal to the original position. This force is known as inertia.

Some History
Gravitational forces are thought of as involving a gravitational field that affects space around any mass. The strength of the field around an object is proportional to its mass and diminishes with distance from its center. For example, the earth's pull on an individual will depend on whether the person is, say, on the beach or far out in space. The image of an astronaut floating in space illustrates this point.

An object at rest stays that way unless acted on by a force. The difficult notion is that an object in motion will continue to move unabated unless acted on by a force. Things do appear to slow down of their own accord unless constantly pushed or pulled.

In the late 1500s, Galileo began to study the behavior of falling bodies, using pendulums extensively in his experiments to research the characteristics of motion. At the time, virtually all scholars still followed the belief of Aristotle that the rate of fall was proportional to the weight of the body. Galileo showed that this conclusion was erroneous based on the fact that air resistance slowed the fall of light objects. (Hence a feather and a lead weight fall at the same rate in a vacuum).

An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.

In easily verifiable experiments or demonstrations it can be shown that the period (swing) of a pendulum is independent of the pendulum's mass. It depends instead on the length of the pendulum. This would suggest that objects fall at a rate independent of mass. The greater the amount of the unbalanced force, the more rapidly a given object's speed or direction of motion changes; the more massive an object is, the less rapidly its speed or direction changes in response to any given force.

(In politcs, this woul dbe polling data and approval ratings)

Imagine you are in a museum located at the north pole and that the museum has a Foucault Pendulum suspended from the ceiling at a point exactly over the pole. When you set the pendulum swinging it will continue to swing in the same direction unless it is pushed or pulled in some other direction. (This is due to a basic law of nature called Newton's First Law.) The earth, on the other hand, will rotate once every 24 hours underneath the pendulum. Thus if you stood watching the pendulum, after a quarter of an hour or so, you would be likely to notice that the line of the pendulum's swing has changed to a different direction. This would be especially clear if one marked the position of the line of swing in the morning and had the pendulum knocking down pegs arranged in a ring at the center.

If you are standing on the floor of a building housing a pendulum (which is connected to the earth), you will naturally think that the floor is stable and the pendulum is moving. This is because we naturally assume that the base on which we stand is stable unless our eyes or sense of balance tells us otherwise. If our base moves slowly or accelerates smoothly, we are easily fooled into thinking that another object we see is moving. You have probably experienced this in a car, a train, or an airplane, that begins to move very slowly and smoothly, and for a split second you think that a nearby car, train, or even a building, seems to move. Thus, after thinking for a while about the total situation you might be willing to agree that what you are seeing is a real demonstration that the earth is rotating under the pendulum and that the line of swing of the pendulum just appears to rotate.

(please note that other things can cause the same affect but that is mainly only experienced by college students in the wee hours of the morning and for different reasons)

So, if you recall what you saw in the musuem, the pendulum swings back and forth, always crossing the the center, and knocking down the pins around the outside because of the rotation of the earth. In politics in The United States, the center is ever chainging. The pendulum doesn't always cross the center because a new center evolves. What causes this you ask? The Ubergangsschicht.

In August of 1904 a professor named Ludwig Prandtl presented a simple 8 page, 10 minute, presentation entitled, "Uber Flussigkeitsewgung bei sehr kleiner Reiburg" ( On the motion of fluids with very low Friction") Prandtl's paper proved the first conceptual illustration of the boundary layer, or Ubergangsschicht, in a flow diagram. It allows aerodynamicists to simplify the equations of fluid flow by dividing the flow field into two areas: one inside the boundary layer, where viscosity is dominant and the majority of the drag experienced by a body immersed in a fluid is created, and one outside the boundary layer where viscosity can be neglected without significant effects on the solution.

In other words, picture placing a model aeroplane in a fast moving stream, the water FLOWS over the wings and body. What Prandtl basically said was that the fluid will flow over the body and adapt it's course but that there is a subtle 'BOUNDARY LAYER" (Ubergangsschicht) that is a very thin layer just at the surface that is differenent and is slower moving due to FRICTION. Only at the boundary layer is the friction felt as the remaining flow moves in a "percieved" natural fashion with the mainstream.

Now I should have the attention of all the military types! Friction, as we all know, defined by Clauswitz:
"Everything In war is very simple, but the simpest thing is difficult The dificulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is unconceivable unless one has expenenced war. " -Carl Von Clausewilz
In his great work ON WAR, Clausewltz struggled with this concept that he called “friction”. He used this term to describe things that happen in battle that cannot have been foreseen or planned for and which cause the commander to make dectsions about events that he did not anticipate. (this is drawn from an white paper from the Col. Paul Manley, USAFR, referenced below and a worthwile read on the topic)

In US politics, FRICTION affects the pendulum. The center point that the pendulum normally crosses is changed. The friction in this case is the very small boundary layer. That friction actually CAUSES THE CHANGE. So, everything moves around the wing and body, in this case an interuption in the "normal" course of the pendulum, which is casued by the friction at the boundary layer. There are no major changes in the flow but the subtle amount of friction, caused by the boundary layer affect the center of the pendulums swing.

In the United States, probably due to the diverse ethic groups we have permitted to immigrate over the years, the pendulum swings out one way and then swings back toward the center after reaching it's apex....but not quite the same center. Sometimes, it takes 4 years, sometimes 8. Sometimes if is only affected by microeconomic effects within a congressional district That is, a congressman who didn't get enough pork, or perhaps too much pork and got caught, or just flat our got gerrymandered out of his redistricting so that a larger number of the other party became part of his district and he or she became unelectable. There are many factors that can affect the pendulum.

What causes the Ubergangsschicht? (and now we're talking pure politics) Well, it's:

Newton's Third Law of Motion
III. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction

As the pendulum of politics is pushed LEFT and RIGHT due to the point and counterpoint dialogue the real cause of the subtle shifts are caused by the Ubergangsschicht. A person, or group of persons, who have the ear of someone. That someone tells two friends and so on and so on...

Forces of Nature
"The force is hard to detect unless at least one of the objects has a lot of mass."

Who are the Ubergangsschicht? Well, they are YOU. You are that boundary layer. YOU can affect world events. Each one of your bar conversations, each one of those subtle conversations with your neighbors affect the boundary layer until the conversation becomes part of the main Flow. The Ubergangsschicht actually push the direction.

In sum, it goes back to one of my very favorite quotes:
"In War, it is not men, but the MAN who counts" -Napoleon

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity." Einstein

I've plagarized some stuff here. Each one of the following is a worthwhile read in and of itself.
Of course, I've made my own edits for effect

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