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Showing posts from April, 2006

The Iranian Dilemma

Dennis Ross, who held key State Department posts under the first Bush and was a special mid-East envoy for Clinton, has a nuanced discussion of the threat posed by Iran's attempt to gain nuclear weapons in today's Washington Post. His bottom line is that war against Iran would be very bad and so would Iran getting nuclear weapons. War would be difficult and expensive, possibly even calamitous for the US, but a nuclear Middle East would also be pretty bad. In either case, their is a significant threat that Mid-East oil might be lost for a long time, with huge economic effects.

His suggestion is that the US engage in direct talks with Iran, which would provide leverage to force Europe to agree to sanctions.
While one can argue that the Europeans were trying to negotiate something like this with the Iranians, they were never able to put together a package of credible sanctions and inducements, because the United States was not really a part of the effort. True, this country has …

Teacher Appreciation Week

My wife, a teacher, says that this week is teacher appreciation week.

Is there a physicist appreciation week?

Hmmm. I wonder what I should get for Luboš?

Real Time

Newsweek has an interview with Al Gore on his new movie and book, An Inconvenient Truth. The online only story is entitled "At some point, reality has its day." Most of the story is not new to those who follow the climate debate, but there are some nice quotes. On the deniers and the Exxon Mobil connection:
...I think that it’s an example of the Upton Sinclair quote that “It’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding.” The behavior of ExxonMobil is disgraceful. They finance in whole or in part 40 organizations that put out disinformation on global warming designed to confuse the American people. There has emerged in the last couple of decades a lobbying strategy that is based on trying to control perceptions. In some sense it’s not new, but it’s new in the sophistication and the amount of resources they devote to it. It’s not new in the sense it’s the same thing the tobacco industry did after the surgeon general’s report …

January, 2002: Success, Big Time

It is not widely appreciated that the foreign policy George Bush has been pursuing since late 2001 has been an unqualified success - for some. Who, exactly? Consider one data point: in January of 2002, the price of a barrel of crude oil was $18 (See, e.g., this NYT story).

So who loves you George? Saudi Arabia, Vladamir Putin, Exxon Mobil (first quarter profit, $8.4 billion), Chevron ($4 billion), etc. A very bad day for the lamb might just be a pretty good one for the lion.

Fearing Truth

Every tyranny suppresses speech and the press. Every tyrant fears the truth. The more bureaucratic tyrannies, like Communism and the Roman Catholic Church, established elaborate apparatus to suppress dissent.

The founders of the United States well understood this and so freedom of speech, religion, and the press are incorporated into the Bill of Rights.

This post was prompted by this fragment from a recent Lumo post:
Pure science is studied because the human beings have an inherent desire to learn the truth.
As it happens, I would like to agree with the sentiment, but as I said in a comment on that post:
From where I sit it looks like most people are mainly interested in shoving their version of "the truth" down other peoples throats. That applies to Muslims, Christians, atheists, and some string theorists.
Dependable whack-a-mole that he is, Lumo promptly reinforced my point by deleting the comment.

So why is it that tyrants fear dissent? Because their rule is built on lies.

Fundamental Science

Lubos has this post up on the debate over funding particle physics, and it's a typical Motl mix of insight and mischief, but I don't want to comment on that here yet. Instead I want to mention this question that his post drew in the comments from Rae Ann:
Have there been very many products of pure science that haven't eventually become applied and/or recreational?

A very good question with a "yes, but" answer. Fundamental science has a tendency to become important for applications, but sometimes the incubation time can be pretty long. The thirty-something year old standard model in physics might be considered recreational for students, but so far it doesn't seem to have had any important technological implications. General relativity took 70 years or so to become relevant for GPS. Electricity and magnetism took a few hundred years from the initial investigations before technological relevance (but much less time after Maxwell finished up the theory). I re…

Book 'em Dano!

It's nice to be rich, must be what Rush Limbaugh is thinking right now, and I suspect that his lawyer is feeling the same. He has apparently reached a deal with authorities on his drug charges whereby he will pay $30k in fines and court costs in return for getting a chance to escape with a clean record (no conviction) if he can stay clean for 18 months. Still, it's nice to know that he does now have an arrest record.

Passing Gas

The President and the Congress are both passing gas on the theme of "obscene" oil company profits. Investigations of oil companies are being launched. Now there are no doubt many entirely legitimate reasons to investigate Exxon Mobil & friends, but making big profits is not one of them.

Fortunately, we may be confident that almost all concerned are deeply insincere in their efforts. They probably have neither the desire, intent, nor ability to do anything about high gas prices.

The system is supposed to work like this: scarcity -> high prices -> conservation + investment in exploration & alternatives -> lower prices and so on.

Now if they wanted to investigate big oil for corrupting government and spreading lies about climate, I would be right on board.

WHOA! NEVERMIND! Of course this is just the classic Jack Abramoff - Tom Delay shakedown in action - investigate oil -> worried oil execs -> big protection payoffs to our elected reps. Stupid me.

Military Revolution: Here Come the Arthrobots

A major transition in military technology is underway, and it's quite possible that it will be as revolutionary in it's impact as tanks, aircraft, and the rifle. Possibly even more revolutionary than metal weapons and armor. I'm talking about the rise of the robots.

Unmanned aerial weapons platforms made their debut in Afghanistan, and their kin have multiplied vastly in Iraq. It is now pretty clear than an unmanned jet fighter or bomber can outperform manned ones, and the twenty-first century combat aircraft will mainly be unmanned - or, at least initially, remotely manned. Unmanned ground vehicles too saw action in Afghanistan and also multiply.

These first steps into military roboworld are somewhat crude variations on existing manned platforms, but much more radical departures are already well into development. Mechanical arthropods are a current favorite. We know that very tiny arthropods are capable of very sophisticated behaviors, despite their tiny brains. Pre…

Langlands and Witten

What? Now physicists are going to be expected to know algebra and number theory?

hep-th/0512172

hep-th/0604151

Iran

Drudge headline: Israel: Iran 'worst threat to Jews since Hitler'... .

The Telegraph Story, it turns out, is quoting Iraeli Defense minister Shaul Mofaz. What I found remarkable was how moderate this Israeli hardliner is by comparison with the stuff now coming from inside the beltway. A nuclear Iran is indeed a major threat to Israel, especially if we take seriously the kind of rhetoric coming from Amadinijad. It could also be a major geopolitical nuisance for the US, not to mention some of it's other neighbors.

The threat, in short, is just the sort of thing deserving careful diplomacy, collaboration with all the stakeholders, and intensive negotiation. Alternatively, from the standpoint of Karl Rove, it's a convenient hook on which to hang some jingoistic rhetoric and a midterm election campaign.

It is a situation fraught with peril, though only perilous for the US because of our dependence on mideast oil. I can imagine a lot of bad outcomes, but none of the othe…

You are getting warmer.

Wolfgang, commenting over at Scott Aaronson's Shtetl Optimized, disses global warming: [stop the presses: HE DENIES ALL]
I like to focus on *what* Lubos has to say and not *how* he says it. And I think he makes some important points:
e.g. the hockey stick debacle and the way the 'global warming' community handled it.
Or the fact that critical exponents of temperature variation observed in the real world does not match with the computer simulations. In other words CGMs overstate trends.

Hockey stick debacle? The critics barely layed a glove on it. At most they showed that the tree ring data was not particularly conclusive about temperatures 800-1000 years ago, which to me, is pretty peripheral in any case. I agree that the way the GW community handled it was not particularly impressive. I don't understand the critical exponents argument well enough to have an opinion.

I would also like to point out that the connection CO2 and 'global temperature' is not as direct as …

Conspiracy Theory

One of the enduring puzzles of the Iraq War is why. The fake reasons for the war have been utterly discredited. The most popular conspiracy theories are that we invaded Iraq to grab its oil or to protect Israel. The best arguments against these are the stunning incompetence with which those objectives have been pursued.

A dinner companion offered a contrary theory. What if the whole idea was to take a bunch of oil production off the market? That has in fact happened, and look who is raking in the dough. Exxon Mobil had the greatest corporate profit ever, by anybody, last year. Other oil interests have done similarly well. Maybe, he suggested, that is why Cheney has fought so hard to keep the deliberations and even the composition of his "energy panel" so secret.

My first instinct is to think such a theory is crazy. Are these guys really that depraved?

Consider the first Gulf War. As Saddam escalated border tensions, US officials six times told the world that the borde…

Addicted to Pain

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are we attracted to nasty and maybe crazy people?

Well, sometimes they are just too amusing to ignore. Consider this Luboš Motl post:
So far, Prof. Einstein, much like Honda's ASIMO, only knows how to walk, serve tea, and compute spin foam amplitudes, so it is not terribly useful.
ROTFLMAO!

He adds:
But they hope to teach Einstein quantum mechanics and bosonic string theory next week and how to climb stairs in a few years.
Which still leaves me wondering whether they ever plan to teach him anything useful - though the stairs might be a start.

The Fire Next Time

For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.

..........................Deuteronomy 32:22
Is the end nigh, if we don't change our ways? (and I don't mean Angela Merkel's.)

And are enviromental alarmists prophesying it? So RA has claimed.

Well I suppose some are. There are ecowacko's afterall. But I didn't think that it seemed too likely that any mainsteam scientists were, so I did a little research.

Eventually, of course, the Sun will expand and first fry and then engulf the Earth. That doesn't sound good, but we should have at least a few hundred million years to prepare for it, so I'm not planning to panic soon. The biggest die off we know about was the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which killed off most species and presumably almost all individuals. According to the Wikipedia article
For some time after the event, fungal s…

Apocalypse Now

I love the smell of Republicans spontaneously combusting in the morning.

Or evening.

Environmentalism is Dead

Lubos cites a Harvard Crimson story with the title as above. The undergraduate who wrote it is no doubt destined for a highly profitable future flacking for various agents of the Devil - he demostrates a nice mastery of the classic big lie technique. The pattern goes as follows: Doom was predicted because of pollution in LA, eutropification of Lake Erie, DDT, or whatever. Here we are 40 years later and all those things are better, so all the alarm was for nothing. Of course, the truth is that the alarms led to action, action that was fought as bitterly by the polluters of 40 years ago as the deniers fight action on global warming today. Depite the opposition, government took action, auto and lake pollution were minimized, use of DDT was banned, and the predicted recoveries happened . Of course this reality is 180 degrees out of phase with the message, but if you are addressing deluded nuts and idiots, who cares?
The patient had such severe angina that he was confined to a wheelc…

Quantum Gravity Without Strings

A new paper (hep-th/0604120) by Fotini Markopoulou and another (gr-qc/0602037), recently revised by Gary Horowitz and Joe Polchinski, explore some quantum gravity without strings. Markopoulou is strongly associated with Loop Quantum Gravity, though that's not her theme here. Polchinski, by contrast, is a card carrying member of the jihadist wing of the string theory mafia, while Jacobson has feet in both camps but seems to be more concerned with GR and black holes.

Fotini Markopoulou's paper probably has aspects to offend most of the prejudices of our favorite string jihad button man, since she is female and propounds a theory that is discrete, spin foamy, and background independent. Her abstract: We review quantum causal histories starting with their interpretations as a quantum field theory on a causal set and a quantum geometry. We discuss the difficulties that background independent theories based on quantum geometry encounter in deriving general relativity as the low e…

Cue the Orchestra

Jeff Masters of Wunder Blog has a long article on Lindzen's WSJ anti global warming editorial. He takes a rather balance approach, reminding us of Lindzen's many accomplishments and honors, but he doesn't think Lindzen makes a case. Interestingly, he points out that Lindzen's editorial was just one of three appearing at about the same time, and reminds of a a previous orchestrated campaign of denial:
The fossil fuel industry has spent tens of millions of dollars on many such campaigns in the past. The most notorious of these campaigns was launched in 1991, when the Information Council on the Environment (ICE), a creation of a group of utility and coal companies, launched a PR campaign whose goal was to "reposition global warming as theory rather than fact". The campaign targeted "older, less-educated men" and "young, low-income women" in electoral districts who had a congressperson on the House Energy Committee. The PR campaign hired four…

Propagation of the Faith

Carlo Rovelli and some coauthors have a couple of new papers out, including this one on constructing the Graviton propagator in loop quantum gravity and another on Relational EPR.

Luboš Motl has weighed in on the first of these, and predictably enough, is not impressed. I took a look, expecting the usual rant, long on bombast and short on analysis, but that's not quite what I found. Instead, he provides a short description the semiclassical approach to GR and then a paradigm for writing down a propagator.
We needed several completely necessary assumptions and steps to be able to talk about a propagator at all, namely

the choice of a completely serious and fixed background (classical solution) around which we expand the existence of a unique quantum state corresponding to this background (even if we do thermal physics, there exists a unique state but it is a mixed state)

the existence of continuous (or at least effectively continuous) degrees of freedom in which the action can be Ta…

Arghh!

I just watched a bit of Peter Jackson's butchery of The Two Towers. It was painful. The sad thing is that the guy actually shows flashes of great talent. The opening scenes in the Shire (in Fellowship), the signal fires in Return of the King seem like genius.

A certain crudity, ham-handedness, and lack of subtle taste poison his work for me. I had a somewhat similar feeling about King Kong, which was an excellent movie till they approached the Island.

In particular, I really hated the stupid scene where Gandalf heals the King of Rohan. Maybe the battle of Helm's Deep will be a little better.

SMA

Brad Delong has a habit of nominating Don Luskin for the title of stupidest man alive, so it came as a bit of a shock to me when he declared the contest over and John Derbyshire the winner. Since I previously had a post declaring that "John Derbyshire is Not an Idiot," I thought I should say a bit about the discrepancy. Brad's post was prompted by the fact that Derbyshire, himself an illegal immigrant (status: since legalized) is happy to join the anti-immigrant hysteria. Derbyshire is unembarrassed at his own hyprocrisy.
A couple of readers to this effect: "Aren't you a bit embarrassed to be laying in to illegal immigrants, having confessed that you yourself were once an illegal immigrant?" No. I look on it as being sort of like the reformed drunk at a temperance meeting.

Brad, I think, got carried away, and many of his commenters agree. Derbyshire, they say, is "callous," "amoral," "loathsome," "hateful, selfish, and s…

Our Stern Alarums: Richard III

Now is the Winter of our discontent made
glorious Summer by anthropogenic global warming...

Do alarms help funding? My first reaction was "Well duh!"

The American government funded physics, especially particle physics, very generously after World War II. So did a bunch of other governments. Was this because our leaders had a passionate desire to understand the strong interaction?

Not exactly. Radar and nuclear weapons made a big impression on everybody during WWII. Clearly that physics stuff might be important. Physicists parlayed that impression into 45 years of prosperity after the war, and that generous funding continued long after most physicists realized that new developments in particle physics were unlikely to have much strategic military impact. Similarly, our efforts in the space race were fueled by the fear that the Russians would get a strategic advantage. Quite likely some similar psychology fueled the disastrous stone statue arms race that ultimately dest…

Lindzen Again

I try not to get my science from the editorial pages - probably least of all the WSJ editorial page, and for that reason, I wasn't too interested the scientific arguments Lindzen advanced there - I had seen them all before, from him and others. I was interested in his theory of alarmism (more on that in another post) and in his claim of the persecution of skeptics, expecially the clearly implied (but not clearly stated!) notion that Tennekes was fired for speaking out against the global warming theory. A couple of other targets he mentioned as having been driven out of climate science appear not to have been, but I have yet to see anything clear on Tennekes.

Others have commented that Lindzen himself consults for oil and coal companies at $2500/day, and at least one has claimed that he tried to hide that fact in Congressional testimony. On his scientific record, Lindzen seems to deserve to be taken seriously. If he was untruthful on this key point though, I can safely consign h…

Our Hero?

Richard Lindzen of MIT, sometimes described as the most prestigious of global warming dissenters, has a fire-breathing Wall Street Journal Editorial. Most of it is the usual, but there is also this:
But there is a more sinister side to this feeding frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis...

Sadly, this is only the tip of a non-melting iceberg. In Europe, Henk Tennekes was dismissed as research director of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Society after questioning the scientific underpinnings of global warming. Aksel Winn-Nielsen, former director of the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, was tarred by Bert Bolin, first head of the IPCC, as a tool of the coal industry for questioning climate alarmism. Respected It…

The Opposite of Liberal

is not "conservative." From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
befitting free men, noble, generous," from L. liberalis "noble, generous," lit. "pertaining to a free man," from liber "free," from PIE base *leudheros (cf. Gk. eleutheros "free"), ...

Clearly the opposite should be befitting a slave, ignoble, and mean spirited. How about dogmatic and authoritarian?

Bush Lies Revisited

Since some have claimed that Bush was not a liar, but merely confused, WaPo's Joby Warrick reviews the evidence that Bush already knew the infamous "mobile bioweapons labs" weren't any such thing when he made the claim that they proved that weapons of mass destruction had been found.
On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing …

Torture: Invention Wanted

Because my wife and I come from different religious traditions, we had this crack-brained idea that we would expose our children to a variety of religious experiences as they grew up. For the most part, this consisted of torturing them and ourselves with various highly mainstream religious services, but since my wife felt drawn back to her roots, we attended a lot of Passover Seders - the kind sponsored by the local temple at a hotel. If you are lucky, you will be seated with your surgeon and a middle-aged couple visiting from Mars. If you are unlucky - and I invariably am - you will be seated with a local political candidate, a retired insurance executive from New Jersey, and your surgeon's embittered teenaged children.

Passover commemorates the Children of Israel's miraculous escape from something or other, followed by 40 rollicking years in the desert. In commemoration, the Seder also lasts approximately the same four decades. Most of the service is spent reading fragme…

Whew!

According to David Stout in the NYT, President Bush has called reports that he plans to start a nuclear war "wild speculation."

Josh Marshall notes that this statement might be more credible if it were coming from someone who had not proven to be a serial liar.
It's not just that the president has now earned a well-deserved reputation for lying. It is because he and his chief aides lied to the country about a more or less parallel situation -- the build up to war on Iraq -- only four years ago. We now know that the fix was in on the Iraq War as early as September/October 2001. And the president and his crew kept up the charade that no decisions had been made long after those claims became laughable.

Nevermind

Bob Carter reveals that global warming stopped in 1998.

Consider the simple fact, drawn from the official temperature records of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, that for the years 1998-2005 global average temperature did not increase (there was actually a slight decrease, though not at a rate that differs significantly from zero).


Yep. That should prove it alright. A period of a whole eight years, most of which were among the hottest recorded, in which there was little or no increase, has got to be conclusive.

Where does Murdoch get these bozos? In Bob's case, it appears to be the Geology Department at James Cook University, Queensland.

Scary Movie Too: The Gambler

From Kevin Drum:
Here's Seymour Hersh on what George Bush thinks:

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

....One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites....

As usual, Hersh's piece is based almost entirely on anonymous sources, so take it for what it's worth. But it warrants reading regardless. It may or may not be a bluff, but the PR campaign for an air strike against Iran is clearly moving into high gear.


It sounds a little like a plot for a bad movie. The scary thing for …

String Theory as a Religion

An exchange from the comments to a post on Luboš Motl's reference frame:
There are better ideas under study about the role of time in quantum cosmology, by people who have thought deeply about the problem for years and know just where naive ideas of the sort described fail and what needs to be done to transcend them. Why don't Nima and you invite some of them to visit and talk? Among those whose ideas about time in quantum cosmology are worthing thinking about are Julian Barbour, Louis Crane, Chris Isham, Fotini Markopoulou, Carlo Rovelli, Raphael Sorkin. They don't agree with each other, but they agree on the failure of naive, wavefunction of the universe w/out unitarity kinds of ideas.

One would expect that if one of them began speculating about beyond the standard model phenomenology the first 10 ideas they had would appear naive to Nima, why shouldn't the reverse be the case.


Thanks,

Lee
Lee | 04.08.06 - 5:56 pm | #

----------------------------------------------------…

Corporate Socialism

The essence of Capitalism is that the investor bears the risks and reaps the rewards of his investment. The essence of the Corporation is limited liability. The government, in granting a corporate charter, effectively subsidizes investors by limiting their liability to their investment. If the corporation borrows a lot of money and loses it, the investors are only out what they put into the corporation, whereas if they had done the same as individuals, they would be liable for the whole debt.

In effect, the government has socialized risk and subsidized investment, and in that sense, the Corporation is an anti-capitalist device. If I recall correctly, Adam Smith didn't like them.

Necktie Party: The Morning After

I'm no lawyer, and I don't know how vindictive a guy Eric Pianka is, but if I was a libel lawyer for one of the wingnut or other outfits who ran with Mim's little story, I might already be planning for a larger slip down at the yacht club.
Commenter Levi has a link to this story: Wingnuts in full, abject retreat on Pianka. The story has links to a couple of transcripts, which you should read for yourself, but it seemed pretty clear to me that what we read earlier was a gross distortion of the tone and substance of Pianka's remarks.

Crazy Talk

Some of you are familiar with my fondness for fringe science. My latest infatuation is this new paper:
quant-ph/0604008

Unlike many of my enthusiasms, this one has impeccable bloodlines. The author, Gerard 't Hooft, is a Nobel Prizewinner and one of the deepest thinkers in Physics. The subject, although somewhat disreputable, also has excellent heritage, having been championed in one form or another by Planck, Einstein, Schroedinger, and Bell. In The mathematical basis for deterministic quantum mechanics, 't Hooft takes a shot at a hidden variables theory of quantum mechanics.

Many physicists have been bothered by the paradoxical seeming qualities of quantum mechanics, and a lot of prominent ones have tried to fix it up. Even Feynman, who didn't believe in trying to fix up quantum, said something like If quantum mechanics doesn't bother you, you're crazy.

't Hooft's idea is that information loss can make an honest quantum theory out of a deterministic …

Denial isn't just another ecologically damaged river in Egypt

Rae Ann - I'll be looking forward to you explanation that the environmentalism movement does not try to exclude and/or villify humanity.

You really think that is why the great majority of your fellow Americans are concerned about the environment? The Faux News planet is a strange one indeed.

The environmentalists I know, and I know a bunch of them, are motivated by a desire to preserve a livable world for their children and grandchildren. Many or most of them also hope to preserve as much as possible of the beauty of the natural world that has meant so much to them.

Edward O. Wilson, who represents the environmental mainstream, put it somewhat like this in a recent talk I attended: The world is in the midst of a major extinction event. We can't save everything, but we should aim to bring the human race through it as well as possible and bring as much of the natural world with us as we can.

Jared Diamond is similarly an environmental realist, who recognizes that we can't …

Principles of Environmentalism

I claimed in a previous post that Luboš was quite wrong about the principles of environmentalism, and said that I would explain later. I'm a bit short of time, so I will just state the cardinal principle of environmentalism:
Don't Piss in the Soup
All other environmental principles derive from that idea.

Necktie Party

The Conservatives own all three branches of government and control most of the media, but lately have hit a bit of a rough spot, due to a lot of prominent leaders potential or proven criminality. The fact that the American people are figuring out how badly they screwed up the Iraqi occupation doesn't help either.

But hey! They still know how to organize a lynching! One of the most important things about a lynching is that it doesn't really matter whether the lynchee is guilty or not. Unlike those messy legal proceedings, there isn't really any need to assemble evidence, assess the credibility of the witnesses, etc. I wasn't really planning to blog on this story, at least until the facts became a little more evident, but what with both Luboš and Rae Ann already at the party, how could I say home.

I first became aware of the Pianka affair when Drudge started flogging it a few days ago. I wasn't too interested - it looked pretty much like your standard Alien abduction w…

Domino

Another domino has fallen in the vast criminal conspiracy otherwise known as the Republican Party. Tom Delay was the mastermind of the K-Street project, under which tens or hundreds of millions of dollars flowed from Indian tribes, the Russian military and other sources into party coffers. Not incidentally, a lot of it stuck to the fingers of Republican Party officials and their aides. Now that Delay has resigned to spend more time with his lawyers we should not forget that he was at the center of a much larger pattern of corruption. It seems likely that the dozen or so Republican Congressmen already known to be tainted are only a sample of the whole.

And before any Republicans write in with the wing-nut response du Jour - "Democrats do it too" please be prepared to cite a contemporary example. If you are having trouble, let me give you a hint: Cynthia McKinney has a wierd hairdo, and is always doing something strange. PS: to demonstrate comparability, you will need t…

The Deluded

Via Josh Marshall, this piece in The New Yorker by Steve Coll looks at one side of the delusions of the Iraq War:
After the fall of Baghdad, three years ago, the United States military began a secret investigation of the decision-making within Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The study, carried out by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, drew on captured documents and interviews with former Baath Party officials and Iraqi military officers, and when it was completed, last year, it was delivered to President Bush. The full work remains classified, but “Cobra II,” a recently published book about the early phases of the war, by the Times reporter Michael Gordon and Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, has disclosed parts of the study, and the Pentagon has released declassified sections, which Foreign Affairs has posted on its Web site. Reading them, it is easy to imagine why the Administration might resist publication of the full study. The extracts describe how the Iraq invasion, more than any ot…

Why is There Sex?

Scott Aaronson has perhaps the ultimate reality bites post, but rather than address that, let me address a subsidiary question asked in his blog: Why is there sex?

The answer, alas, is quite boring: Creatures without sex couldn't evolve as fast, and hence failed to colonise new ecological niches, such as multi-cellularity.

Choices

My conservative friends like to tell me that poor people are usually poor because they make bad choices. I'm skeptical about the generality of the principle, but it's not hard to find examples. Dropping out of high school, getting caught in criminal activity, heavy drug use, getting pregnant at age 16, majoring in art history - all these things are likely to negatively impact your liftime earnings.

Societies make bad choices too. Germans made a bad choice when they followed Hitler into World War II, and the French made a bad choice when they invested in the Maginot line instead of tank divisions and fighter aircraft. Most egregiously, the person who cut down the last palm tree on Easter Island made a choice which doomed the whole society to mass starvation and collapse. Jared Diamond reports that when he started teaching the contents of his book Collapse, every group he taught wondered what that guy was thinking. We will never know, of course, but some societal mistakes a…

Pride and Prejudice

I'm always a sucker for Jane Austen, and I've been a Keira Knightly fan since Bend it like Beckham, but I didn't get around to seeing the new Pride and Prejudice until last night. It seemed to vanish from the theatres in a flash, and perhaps that's just as well, since after ten minutes of frustrating failure to understand the dialog, I resorted to starting over with subtitles. That worked out well, especially since having the wide-screen version on my narrow-screen TV left plenty of blank space to put them on.

Casting the utterly gorgeous Ms. Knightly as the "plain" Miss Bennett seems a bit odd, especially when the dialog calls her just that, but in fact it works out pretty well. Mr. Darcy must fall in love with her for her wit, mind, and character, but the camera has its own reasons, and they look equally convincing. Since Mr. Darcy spends an inordinate portion of the movie in mostly silent brooding, Elizabeth Bennett must carry the movie, and indeed sh…

Analogies

The Lubomaster has this post drawing parallels between Jill Carroll, the reporter who was held prisoner by murderous thugs in Iraq, and some Conservative Parlimentarian who may or may not have changed her mind on global warming, but who, so far as we know, had not been held in isolation by people who had already murdered her interpreter. I don't think I understood his point, but I understood a bit more about why I rarely understand his point. His brain is clearly operating on a different brane, one where logical relations and analogies work differently than on this one.

Environmental Disaster

Modern environmental disaster has already struck in a number of the World's countries: Haiti, Rwanda, Burundi, The Sudan, and others. First world countries have so far escaped, but few are home free.

Australia is about the size of the United States, has about twenty million people, and is almost certainly already overpopulated, according to Jared Diamond. Despite the tiny population, almost all of whom are concentrated in a few large cities, serious and potentially catastrophic environmental degradation threatens on many fronts. The litany is familiar: Deforestation, soil erosion and salinization, desertification by overgrazing, exhaustion of critical resources.

How could such a large and lightly populated continent be so endangered? Its environment is exceptionally fragile, and many years of systematic mismanagement of resources have taken their toll. Australia has the least biological productivity of any continent, due to a double geological and climatic whammy. The rock i…