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Showing posts from April, 2008

Dark Matter

Julianne of Cosmic Variance is an astronomer who works primarily with galaxy formation, but admits to tinkering with dark matter from time to time. The linked post tells us all we need to know about the physics of chocolate and how to produce it in the ideal crystalline form.
Money quote:
Science. It works, bitches.

Magneto-Mentallic Fields

One mystery of science unexplained by the standard model or string theory is the origin and dynamics of the magneto-mentallic field that rigorously excludes any comprehension of irony from the (otherwise very clever) brain of Luboš Motl. It seems that humorist and novelist Bruno Maddox has written a column for Discover magazine Three Words That Could Overthrow Physics: “What Is Magnetism?”
claiming that science has yet to come up with an acceptable explanation of magnetism. This column became the occasion of a whole flood basaltic eruption of righteous outrage from Lumo, denouncing Maddox and suggesting that he might be isomorphic to Lee Smolin, Peter Woit, Karl Marx, and all the other demons of the Lumonic underworld.

To be sure, the article was spotted earlier by Bee of Backreaction. She sensed that it might be humorously intended, but she wasn't amused either.
Maddox may not know much physics, but as the son of physicist, science writer, and longtime Nature editor Sir John Maddox,…

Revenge and Remorse

Jared Diamond's thought provoking essay on civilization and revenge in the 21 Apr New Yorker managed to sneak by me for a while. Since Diamond is writing it, it's pregnant with insights into human nature and culture, but it left me wanting to argue.

The principal focus is a war of revenge fought between two clans in the New Guinea highlands.
In 1992, when Daniel Wemp was about twenty-two years old, his beloved paternal uncle Soll was killed in a battle against the neighboring Ombal clan. In the New Guinea Highlands, where Daniel and his Handa clan live, uncles and aunts play a big role in raising children, so an uncle’s death represents a much heavier blow than it might to most Americans
. . .

Daniel told me that responsibility for arranging revenge usually falls on the victim’s firstborn son or, failing that, on one of his brothers. “Soll did have a son, but he was only six years old at the time of his father’s death, much too young to organize the revenge,” Daniel said. “On t…

Pimpin' Ain't Easy

Just in case there is still somebody on the planet who didn't get the word, Miley Cyrus, AKA Hannah Montana, is the billion dollar a year mainstay of Disney's preteen empire. At age fifteen, though, she has nearly reached the sell-by date for her six to fourteen demographic.

Her canny parents have made plans for a transition. Following in the footsteps of Britney, Lindsey, and others, they apparently figure it's time to skank her up a bit for the older kids. A little bra flashing, plus some semi-porn via Vanity Fair and Annie Liebovitz ought to be just the trick - no pun intended.

Naturally enough, many parents of her current fans are outraged, but that's part of the plan too.

Somebody really ought to prosecute her parents.

News Alert!

Acting on a telephone tip from an anonynmous female claiming to be an abused student, Arizona police today raided the secretive compound of fundamentalist mathematicians practicing polygony. According to the tipster, girls and boys as young as thirteen living in the compound had been forced to practice triangulation and other forms of polygony. In many cases, even young children had been exposed to quadralaterals, pentagons, and even dodecadons, often by adults several times their age.

Because so many of the children had been exposed to the same polygons, generic geometric testing may be required to sort out the damage to each. Authorities believe that the children are too indoctrinated to cooperate with police. Many are willing only to state name, rank of symmetry matrix, and cereal preference.

Lawyers for the cult state that the public has yet to hear their sides of the dispute.

Teaching Math

Modern fads in math teaching tend to lean heavily on so called manipulatives - the theory being, apparently, that the hands are the window to the math brain. Kenneth Chang reports in The New York Times that Ohio State U reseachers have cast doubt on this theory.
An experiment by the researchers suggests that it might be better to let the apples, oranges and locomotives stay in the real world and, in the classroom, to focus on abstract equations, in this case 40 (t + 1) = 400 - 50t, where t is the travel time in hours of the second train. (The answer is below.)

“The motivation behind this research was to examine a very widespread belief about the teaching of mathematics, namely that teaching students multiple concrete examples will benefit learning,” said Jennifer A. Kaminski, a research scientist at the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State. “It was really just that, a belief.”
. . .
In the experiment, the college students learned a simple but unfamiliar mathematical system, essent…

The Restoration

You don't have to be a historian to notice a nasty monarchist streak creeping into American politics. Kennedies, Bushes, and now Clintons, each with their enthusiastic partisans. The unsophisticated, so I suspect, cling to monarchy out an attachment to a real or imagined past, and some sheep-like devotion to a leader symbol.

Watching James Carville, Lanny Davis and Terry McCauliffe slime their way across the tube the other day, I felt sure that I saw something more sinister at work: the naked lust for power. Of course that's the kind of creatures they are - you can't really blame a snake for being slithering or a cockroach for scuttling in the dark.

I really expected much better from Paul Krugman, though, but I surely didn't get it. I have often proclaimed him the best of columnists, but his offering today is both shallow and dishonest. His latest attempt to help resurrect Lady Voldemort offers this:
Mr. Obama was supposed to be a transformational figure, with an alm…

Timely Thought from Senator McBush

Elisabeth Bumiller reports in The New York Times:

Senator John McCain took direct aim at the Bush administration on Thursday as he stood in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the area hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and declared the handling of the disaster “terrible and disgraceful” and pledged that it would never happen again.

Dutiful stenographer as always, Bumiller forgets to mention that when the debacle was occuring, McCain was having cake with Bush. She does mention that his concern for New Orleans was not enough to keep him from voting against aid for the stricken city. His concern somehow became manifest when he started running for President.

Ignorance for Dummies

Bob Herbert's New York Times column addresses the perennial problem of American education failures. It is actually possible to get a pretty good elementary and high school education in America, but not nearly enough of the students are getting it. Herbert cites the usual suspects:
An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds . . .

“We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world,” said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as “actually pretty scary, alarming.”

. . .

Mr. Golston noted that the performance of American students, when compared with their peers in other countries, tends to grow increasingly dismal as they move through the higher grades:

“In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are sco…

Not Working

It's clear that whatever the world was planning to deal with CO2 emissions isn't working. The biofuels fiasco, combined with the imminent decline of cheap, relatively clean oil is driving the world to dirty, polluting, and carbon heavy tar sands and coal. The world's economies are gasping and flopping like Permian fish surfacing to escape the anoxic depths.

Whatever our intentions, it looks like we are going to get a lot more CO2 in the atmosphere before we get any less. Denialists who live long enough will get a chance to see if their scepticism is justified.

Lie Groups

My praise for the accessibility of Galois theory in Robert Gilmore's new book Lie Groups, Physics, and Geometry: An Introduction for Physicists, Engineers and Chemists in this earlier post may have been a bit too fulsome.

Further study shows that his development depends on knowing something of group representations, character theory, and character tables, subjects frequently absent from elementary treatments and often found pretty deep in others (page 846 of Dummit and Foote, for example), though Hammermesh will get you there more quickly.

The Undead

It looks like Hillary will get her double digit result, or nearly get it, in Pennsylvania, so the undead corpse of her candidacy will stagger on for a few more primaries. Oh well.

If nothing else, it could demonstrate that race and slime are still potent weapons against Obama - which might reinforce Hillary's storyline that he can't win.

Art and Life

It's not news that life imitates art.

It's a continuing grief that life has such lousy taste. From The Guardian:
The American TV drama, 24, featuring counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer, inspired lawyers at Guantánamo, who were instructed to come up with new interrogation techniques.

Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, a military lawyer at the detention centre, said Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, "gave people lots of ideas". She told Philippe Sands, author of Torture Team: "We saw [24] on cable ... It was hugely popular."

Sands writes: "She believed the series contributed to an environment in which those at Guantánamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline - and to go further than they otherwise might."

The US military criticised the award-winning series last year, saying it encouraged soldiers to see torture as a justifiable weapon against terror suspects.

Bauer, who resorts to breaking a suspect's fingers, suffocation an…

Arghh!

I suffered through Tim Russert and two other morons spending a good chunk of an hour bashing Obama this morning, and incidentally trying to defend the Gibson/Stupidopolous "debate." Part of their defense was the notion that if Obama became President he would have to deal with that sort of thing every day.

Say what? When, exactly, has an elected President had to deal with this stuff? Only in the media's moronic debates when seeking election. Presidents speak to the media on their own terms, not the media's. Nobody illustrates this better than W, who rarely communicates to the country at all.

Russert: "Hillary being coronated."

What an illiterate moron.

War Profiteers

David Barstow, writing in today's New York Times has a definitive story on how the Pentagon captured and manipulated the news media in the Iraq war. Donald Rumsfeld and Tori Clarke carried out an elaborate "Psyops" war against the American people by deploying a vast horde or so-called "military analysts" to television, the press, and radio. These people, mostly retired military engaged in lobbying for Defense contracts, received favored access and special perks as long as they spouted the official propaganda.

There were clear quid pro quos: those who deviated from the official line lost access.
Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for…

Motl Independence

I know I should quit Lubos, and I have tried, but I just can't. The comedic possibilities are just too good to pass up.

Lubos saw a NYT story about some algae that actually seem to do pretty well on a diet of increased CO2. This was a good enough excuse to push his favorite theory that CO2 is a vitamin. So he wrote:
250 million years ago, when the land was dominated by dinosaurs, the oceans were controlled by coccolithophores, one-celled marine plants (a kind of phytoplankton).
This is a pretty funny statement for a few reasons, but mostly because 250 million years ago was right (1.5 million years) after the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the most drastic such in the fossil record. So Lumo is going on about how CO2 makes for an ideal ocean, but at that time oceanic life had been utterly devastated, with 96% of species extinct. Even more amusing is the fact that the P-T extinction is associated with, and may even have been caused by, a huge pulse in atmospheric carbon.

The first th…

Creative Destruction II

Schumpeter seems to have popularized the notion of creative destruction in economics, but the concept has an ancient pedigree. Ancient cultures often symbolized it through human sacrifice and other sacrificial ceremonies. The process itself is everywhere evident in the universe, in life and death and in the sometimes gradual but frequently catastrophic processes of geology and astrophysics.

The Maya took the concept literally enough that they more or less destroyed most of their possessions, including buildings, every fifty-two years. Smaller sacrificial acts, including human sacrifice were annual or even more frequent.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event, the most dramatic in the fossil record, killed off something like 90% of all species, and probably all but a tiny fraction of individual animals. It took at least ten million years for species diversity to recover, but when it did its composition was quite unlike that of the previous history of animal life on the planet. The ca…

Edward Norton Lorenz, 1917-2008

Edward Lorenz discovered that long term weather prediction is impossible and helped create the new science of chaos. Kenneth Chang has a nice obit in the New York Times
Dr. Lorenz published his findings in 1963. “The paper he wrote in 1963 is a masterpiece of clarity of exposition about why weather is unpredictable,” said J. Doyne Farmer, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico.

The following year, Dr. Lorenz published another paper that described how a small twiddling of parameters in a model could produce vastly different behavior, transforming regular, periodic events into a seemingly random chaotic pattern.

At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972, he gave a talk with a title that captured the essence of his ideas: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”

Lorenz's worked reawakened interest in deterministic dynamical systems. Although Poincare had discovered key elements at the…

L33+ $n06$

Another bit of idiotic campaign crap, courtesy of McCain/Clinton and the usual media morons: the "elitist" charge against Obama. In its origin the word "elite" means chosen or elect, which is what all the candidates aspire to be. They were all members of various elites anyway: The Clintons as Yale Law grads, the Obamas as Harvard Law grads, and McCain as the fifth dumbest Annapolis grad in his class. McCain, thanks to his recipe plagiarizing, drug stealing, beer barroness wife, is very wealthy, the Clinton parlayed the Presidency into great wealth, and the Obamas are now well off thanks to sales of his books.

Even the Idiot is a Harvard and Yale grad, not to mention the scion of a wealthy family of crony capitalists and klepto-profiteers.

So when I hear Clinton, McCain, or the resident hag of the NYT talk about Obamas elitism and her own bowling trophy, I reach for my air sickness bag.

Taking the Pledge

Among the many stupidities of modern politics are the various "pledges" that morons like ABC's Gibson like to press candidates to make. I wish the candidates had the courage to just say: "I would be very foolish to make any detailed promises to an idiot like you that would constrain my future actions on behalf of the United States. I can tell you what my plans are today, and I can tell you my understanding of the situation, and I can tell you that I will use my best judgement to do the right thing for the country. Those who say otherwise are pledging *not* to use their best judgement, but to obey some promise to a reporter. I won't do that."

Unfortunately, none of them was willing to be that brave.

Have WIMPs Been Found?

We can be pretty sure they, or something equally odd, is out there somewhere, but you got to be good looking, cause they sure are hard to see. A team of physicists working in Italy has extended their claim to have seen WIMPs in a deep underground detector:
A team of Italian and Chinese physicists on Wednesday renewed a controversial claim that they had detected the mysterious dark matter particles that astronomers say swaddle the galaxies in halos and direct the evolution of the universe.

The team, called Dama, from “DArk MAtter,” and led by Rita Bernabei of the University of Rome, has maintained since 2000 that a yearly modulation in the rate of flashes in a detector nearly a mile underneath the Gran Sasso mountain in Italy is the result of the Earth’s passage through a “wind” of dark matter particles as it goes around the Sun. Other groups of hunters of dark matter have just as consistently failed to find any evidence of the putative particles.

At a meeting in Venice, Dr. Bernabei rep…

Adventures in Pushy Parenting

If you are the sort of parent who interviews your children's potential teachers and studies their records like a horse player studies a racing form, you might be a pushy parent. Teachers like parents who are engaged, but dread and despise the Pushy Parent, so it's important for the pushy parent to try to operate in disguise, pretending to be just an engaged and helpful parent.

I recall one day observing my son's kindergarden class playing Red Rover - you, remember, that game where you line up on two sides and call over a member of the other side, while holding hands tightly clasped each to each. If the rover can't break your line, he or she becomes a new member of your team, but if the line breaks you lose a member to the other team.

After a while I noticed that although many children got called, my son was not among them. Gradually a bit of indignation built up in the pushy parent, but he managed to stay under cover. Finally, with the other team having gained almost…

Poisoned Again

The Bush regime implemented a highly efficient method for injuring, poisoning, and otherwise endangering Americans - appoint regulators who are incompetent, corrupt, and in the pockets of special interests. The Supreme Court blessed this arrangement by ruling that once government regulators had ruled on safety, individuals would have no further recourse against those who poisoned them.

BPA, a practically ubiquitous plastic found in everything from plastic bottles to dental fillings, has long been suspected of being potentially hazardous. A new study reinforces those fears.
The National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, released a draft report today that says exposure to the chemical may be linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, early puberty in girls and such behavioral changes as hyperactivity. It urged further study.

The report marks a significant departure from earlier positions taken by the government, which had maintained there was a negligible hum…

Feeling Really Peaked

Paul Krugman looks at oil, and now I am getting nervous.
There are two basic facts that would seem to explain a lot about what’s happening to oil prices.
First, Gross World Product growth has accelerated — from 2.9 percent in the 90s to almost 5 percent in recent years, according to the IMF. All of this is because of growth in emerging economies, largely China.
Second, world oil production has stalled — after growing around 1.6% a year in the 90s, it’s been basically flat . . .

. . . This is what peak oil is supposed to look like — not Oh My God We’ve Just Run Out Of Oil, but steady pressure on the economy and the way we live from rising energy prices and their consequences. And it doesn’t matter much whether we’re literally at the peak, or whether production can rise by a few million more barrels a day; unless there are big sources of oil out there, we’ll be feeling peakish for the foreseeable future.


It seems quite possible to me that there really still is quite a bit of oil out there,…

Bellatrix Lestrange

Regular readers know that I'm a big Harry Potter fan, and consequently Jo Rowling fan as well. I'm not a fan of her lawsuit against Steven van der Ark's Encyclopedia, though. She testified yesterday, and her testimony seemed both incoherent and dishonest. More importantly, if she wins it will be a huge victory for corporate oligopoly against independent commentary and critique.

Her central contentions don't look very good to me: that it would hurt sales of her encyclopedia - vastly improbable, and that it was poorly written - irrelevant. Her contention that the author frequently used her own words directly sounds more substantial, but of course I haven't read the book.

Sanctimonious Joe

The disintegration of Lieberman's reputation would be pitiful if he weren't so contemptible. Josh Marshall:
There must be something wrong with me that I can still be surprised at how low Joe Lieberman (Joe-CT) can sink. Via Think Progress, Joe getting interviewed on Fox ...

NAPITALIANO: Hey Sen. Lieberman, you know Barack Obama, is he a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case in today's New York Times? Is he an elitist like your colleague Hillary Clinton says he is?
LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, I must say that's a good question. I know him now for a little more than three years since he came into the Senate and he's obviously very smart and he's a good guy. I will tell ya that during this campaign, I've learned some things about him, about the kind of environment from which he came ideologically. And I wouldn't...I'd hesitate to say he's a Marxist, but he's got some positions that are far to the left of me and I think mainstream America.

Feeling Peaked

Kevin Drum looks at Russian oil production and finds intimations of the apocalypse.
PEAK OIL WATCH....Over the past few years Russia has been a relative bright spot on the oil scene, expanding its production by over a million barrels per day between 2002 and 2007. But it looks like Russia is now due to join Norway, Mexico, and the UK as countries that have hit their peak and are about to go into decline:

Russian supply in the first three months of this year fell for the first time this decade, averaging 10 million barrels a day, a 1% drop from the year-earlier period...."There isn't a lot of supply coming on right now, so this [lack of non-OPEC growth] is framing the whole narrative of the market," said Roger Diwan, a financial energy adviser at PFC Energy in Washington.
...
...it's true that both the Saudis and the Russians have megaprojects due to come online over the next year or two, so it's not as if they're just twiddling their thumbs. Overall, though, oil …

Paging Dr. Malthus

There isn't really a shortage of food in the world. The corn going into one ethanol fillup for an SUV could feed a person for a year. What there is is a shortage of food that poor people can actually afford. That shortage is in part a consequence of well-intentioned follies like the ethanol biofuel program, but it's also reflects the growing appetites of newly prosperous Chinese, Indians and others.

The world's food supply is such that meat for the well off translates into hunger or starvation for the poor. The current malthusian crisis would have happened sooner or later even if we all gave up ethanol and meat, and the only long term solution is fewer mouths to feed.

The high price of food, oil, and other resources is a signal that we are approaching the limits of the Planets capacity to support us. There will probably be future times of less serious want, but more serious want is inevitable unless the world moves aggressively to limit population.

I won't try to pre…

Does Life Begin at Conception?

That was one of the questions asked at the "compassion forum" last night, and I wasn't too impressed with the answers from Hillary and Barack. I don't know why they can't give an accurate answer, something like:
Of course not! Conception is the union of two human cells that are already alive, descended in an unbroken line of living cells for billions of years.

The question you weren't bright enough to ask, is this: At what point does that merged cellular material deserve to be treated as a living "person" with individual rights. When it is a blastosphere, more or less hard to distinguish from a worm or a fish of the same stage of development? When it has a heart and a nervous system? When it looks human with a heart and a brain? Or when it escapes the womb.

The most sensible thing is conclude that there is no single moment when the developing human is suddenly touched with the magic potion, and the transformation of a fertilized egg into a huma…

The Last Superhero: 1911-2008

Dennis Overbye, writing in The New York Times has a nice obituary story of John Archibald Wheeler, dead at 96. Wheeler's career began in the heroic age of physics, when he worked with Neils Bohr on the liquid drop model of the nucleus, and he and his students helped transform the study of general relativity. Richard Feynman was perhaps his most famous student, but many others made their mark on physics.

Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of Dr. Wheeler, “For me, he was the last Titan, the only physics superhero still standing.”...

Among Dr. Wheeler’s students was Richard Feynman of the California Institute of Technology, who parlayed a crazy-sounding suggestion by Dr. Wheeler into work that led to a Nobel Prize. Another was Hugh Everett, whose Ph.D. thesis under Dr. Wheeler on quantum mechanics envisioned parallel alternate universes endlessly branching and splitting apart — a notion that Dr. Wheeler called “Many Worlds” and which has bec…

Evariste Galois and His Theory

Like any math groupie with any pretensions to self-respect, I have long been somewhat familiar with the story of Evariste Galois. It's hard to imagine that there could be a more romantic tale in mathematics - Galois making his great discoveries as a teenager, frustrated in his attempts to get his work published, and dead in a duel at twenty - over a woman, no less (or maybe politics).

I have also been vaguely familiar with the content of his theory: he was the first to use the mathematical terminology group, played a key role in the development of group theory, and developed the eponymous Galois theory that established the impossibility of solution by radicals of the general polynomial equation of degree five or higher.

Despite having taken a couple of elementary courses in modern algebra, I found my teachers managed to stop before they actually got to Galois theory. Dean, for example, makes it the subject of his final chapter, and ditto the classic text Birkoff and MacLane. Dummit …

Air Chaos: Bushworld Strikes Again

Mathew L. Wald and Micheline Maynard, writing in The NYT this morning, lay out how the current air chaos followed from Bush's lack of governance. Like the crisis in the financial markets, Katrina, and so much else, the airline troubles resulted not so just from his personal incompetence but also from his attempt to implement conservative ideology. Randites like Alan Greenspan and their many fellow travelers in Bushworld believe in market magic - they think that government regulation isn't needed.

In the case of the airlines, things reached a critical point when whistleblowers pointed out that deregulation had reached the point where the law was being flouted.

What happened?

One answer is that some whistle-blower inspectors for the Federal Aviation Administration disclosed that they had been discouraged from cracking down on Southwest Airlines for maintenance problems, and they found a sympathetic audience with some Washington lawmakers.

That prodded the F.A.A. to order a nati…

Merit Pay

Brad DeLong is usually as pithy as he is erudite, but I really can’t follow his analysis of a bit of “Crunch” here:

Let me join Alan Viard in beating up on Jared Bernstein for the undefined term "merit" in his first basic principle:

TPMCafe Talking Points Memo Let's Talk "Crunch": Economic outcomes are generally thought to be fair, in the sense that market forces dole out rewards to those who merit them. But that’s not always the case. Power, whether it’s based on political clout, wealth, class, race, or gender, is also a key determinant of who gets what.
"Merit" can, I think, mean three things:
1. Marginal productivity--the amount by which, given who you are where you are with the resources you happen to own, total collective product would be reduced if you and your resources were to suddenly vanish from the scene.

2. Optimal incentives--because we want people to take local actions that advance our global goals, we have set up a system that provides pe…

Retirement

I ran into a former colleague at the gym the other day. After a bit of chit-chat she asked: "How are you enjoying retirement?"

Hmmm. That gave me pause for a minute. Not as much, I hope, as I would if I were actually retired. But I just explained that they hadn't thrown me overboard yet.

It's definitely another reminder that I'm getting old. I always figured that I would be one of those "Oh, you're already retired" types. No luck, I guess. And I'm rapidly moving into the "You haven't retired yet?" category.

Imperial Wedding?

Among the bizarre happenings signalling the end of days: A rumored Microsoft-News Corp joint venture. I suppose there could be some advantage in having all your Anti-Christs in one basket.

The Suprema

Can we just get rid of this absurd idea that Colin Powell, John Ashcroft, George Tenet, and Condeleeza Rice were anything but fully culpable members of the Bush criminal gang? David Kurtz of TPM links to this ABC story by Jan Crawford Greenburg, Howard L. Rosenberg and Ariane de Vogue.
It seems that they, together with Cheney and Rumsfeld constituted the Suprema (the so-called National Security Council's Principals Committee) that authorized, prescribed and specified the details of the CIA's torture program.
In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a…

The Man

Who's the man every guy wants to be and every girl wants to be with? Not your humble correspondent, alas, but probably George Clooney. Ian Parker has a long (ten section), mainly worshipful portrait in The New Yorker. While Parker does manage to say that Clooney's apparently effortless charm is a bit more studied than effortless, he does come off as a paragon: funny, loyal to his friends, artistically serious and morally serious - the kind of guy you want to envy but can't.

The looks, the voice, and the charm are all essential ingredients for this celebrity, of course, but it helps a lot that he seems deserving.

If you're a fan, read it. If not, you might be before you finish.

Tough Times

Feeling the pinch of the recession? Thinking about a little retrenchment? If so, you will no doubt be comforted to know that not everybody feels your pain. The market for super luxury yachts and flying palaces has never been better.

The WSJ reports (subscription) that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, perhaps feeling a bit cramped in his two-throne room 747-400, has plunked down $300 million for a new Airbus 380, plus a comparable amount to have it suitably outfitted. The rest of the high end market is booming too - customizers can't keep up with the demand.

Who says Bush world can't be fun?

Big Train Coming

Suppose you had half a trillion bucks burning a hole in your pocket, didn't feel like starting a stupid war, and were looking for a really good investment opportunity. How about building a high speed global railway? Fuel prices keep driving up the cost of flying, and that's just going to get worse.

With the aid of a tunnel under the Bering strait one could reach every continent except Antarctica and Australia, and you could get pretty close to Australia. Of course, even at 200 miles an hour it's a long way from Seattle to Beijing, but think of the comfort factor, and freight could move a lot faster than by ship.

If you build on that scale, it might be sensible to increase the form factor for the railway cars, scaling each dimension up by a factor or two or so. Oil and gas pipelines, as well as superconducting electrical power lines could use the same right of way. Add a few branch lines and everywhere would be close to everywhere else.

Faith Based Science

Science for Conservatives

I was browsing the web site of a former Harvard prof, when I noticed a key scientific paradigm shift. It assorted rather nicely with the ads the site carries for ESP, refutations of Einstein's relativity, etc.

The core of the paradigm shift is the recognition of a fundamental principle of Republican science - the need to free oneself from the tyranny of those pesky facts. The trouble with physics, says our prof, is a dependence on some "myths," four of them which he mentions. Most are inoffensively trivial, like number two:
Myth: If I cannot settle or understand a question, no one else can do it either.Now I can't recall meeting anyone quite that arrogant, and I suspect that this particular myth is believed in by fewer adults than believe in the tooth fairy, but maybe somebody does believe it. Three and four are similar.

Myth number one is more substantial:
Myth: Reliable answers to questions about Nature can only be obtained by a direct experime…

Global Hunger

The recent run up of world food prices is threatening to starve millions. Don't miss Paul Krugman's New York Times column on the subject this morning.
There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, leading to angry protests from farmers — and making things even worse in countries that need to import food.

How did this happen? The answer is a combination of long-term trends, bad luck — and bad policy.

Let’s start with the things that aren’t anyone’s fault.

First, there’s the march of the meat-eating Chinese — that is, the growing number of people in emerging economies who are, for the first time, rich enough to start eating like Westerners. Since it takes about 700 calories’ worth of animal feed to produce a 100-calorie piece of beef, this

He also notes the effect of energy prices, climate change, and bad policies.
Unfortunately, it is highly plausi…

The Evil that Bush Does

One of the things that evil does is destroy the good - not only good works but the good that is in ordinary people. One big element of the vast tapestry of evil woven by George Bush is what he has done to our institutions, our government, and the Army. Alyssa Peterson's tragedy is one thread of that, told here by Greg Mitchell on the Huffington Post.

Doubt, Strings, and CO2

When is it OK to doubt the experts?
Let me rephrase that: Does it ever make sense to doubt the experts?
We are often faced with conclusions from scientists or other experts which seem profoundly counterintuitive or offensive to our general world view. So when should we listen to our intuition and when should we just bow to those considered "experts?" The answer, as always, is "it depends." Consider a few test cases.
One of my fellow graduate students once told me about his clever scheme for extracting otherwise unavailable energy. It had only one problem - it didn't square with the second law of thermodynamics.
Was he crazy to doubt the experts? Yes, I think he was. There are so many lines of logic and so much experimental evidence for the second law that it is almost certainly unassailable. I seem to recall that he never did get his degree, but he did become a successful engineer and rather wealthy - but not from his energy extraction scheme.
The vast majority of c…

Cap and Trade: A Modest Proposal

The world's attempt to wean itself from carbon is not going so well. It probably doesn't help that the biggest emitters (the US and China) aren't playing, but Andrew C. Revkin, writing in The New York Times argues that a concensus is building that our current attempts aren't working. He cites an article by Jeffrey Sachs in Scientific American for a start. Sachs:
Technology policy lies at the core of the climate change challenge. Even with a cutback in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a decline in carbon dioxide emissions and an expanding global economy. If we try to restrain emissions without a fundamentally new set of technologies, we will end up stifling economic growth, including the development prospects for billions of people. The key is new low-carbon technology, not simply energy efficiency.

Economists often talk as though putting a price on carbon emissions—through tradable permits or a carbon tax—will be enough to deliver th…

Crow Chow

I hate to give up on a story before I know the end of it. This causes me some grief, like that I get every time I go to see a new Harry Potter movie - or buy the latest DVD.

When Tolkien more or less created the modern epic fantasy, the success of The Lord of the Rings launched a thousand imitators, not all of which are utterly bad - though of course many are. I have indulged in a few of them, and once in, I'm usually caught. Robert Jordan had to write about four lousy books in a row (in the Wheel of Time Series) before I gave up on him.

My latest indulgence is George R R Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series. The first book was pretty good - the guy can write and he created some interesting situations and characters. Book four, A Feast for Crows got quite a lot of hype (from Time, among others), but I'm pretty disappointed.

Magic has more or less disappeared from the series, and the cardboard characters are getting a bit old, but the worst feature of the book is the sheer blo…

Torture Incorporated

We now know that the tortures at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were orchestrated from the very top. Lawyers for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld all went to Guantanamo to brief the commander on the torture authorization memos they had ordered from Justice Department (irony!) lawyer John Yoo. The commander of Guantanamo took the message to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.

When the Abu Ghraib pictures came out, Rumsfeld covered up high level involvement and let low ranking GIs take the fall. Cheney and Bush and their lawyers (Addison, Gonzalez, Yoo) of course knew what they were doing.

They all deserve jail for this despicable betrayal of our soldiers alone. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that any will. The profound cowardice of our Congress makes impeachment impossible, and Bush's magic pardon pen will probably spare the rest in any case.

Rebellion Then and Now

A certain amount of rebellion is probably an essential part of growing up, but being an old fuddy-duddy, I confess myself not disappointed by a current trend. It seems that while girls of the previous generation had to risk disease, degradation, death, and portrayal by Tom Wolfe in order to establish their street cred in the sexual revolution, the current generation can do the same merely by expressing their intent to preserve their virtue.
Not expecially germane to the topic or the story, but my favorite line from the story was: It seemed to Fredell that almost no one had sex in Colorado Springs. Janie Fredell is an advocate for sexual abstinence at Harvard, a situation apparently somewhat similar to being a Christian missionary in Northern Pakistan.