Showing posts from January, 2006

Bayes Bogus?

Mr. Spock, of the original Star Trek, was pretty much the perfect straight man. He never got the joke, and he never got the girl. Which is why, I suppose, that Jim kept him on despite his limitations as a first officer. I am thinking here of his complete incompetence at elementary probability calculations. Whenever some dangerous mission was contemplated, Spock would portentiously announce some six or eight digit probability of failure, with success being somewhere out there in tens or hundred thousanths of a percent. Undeterred, Kirk would set out, usually taking with him the pilot, the ship's doctor, and the only key to the officers' bathroom. Naturally Spock was always wrong, but nobody ever complained or sent him back to remedial statistics. I'm sure he must have somehow become confused about Bayesian inference. Using Bayes theorem to compute probabilities is of course perfectly legitemate and absolutely necessary for most statistical reasoning, but the Bayesian

"...Ah, alas, earwax."

said Albus Dumbledore as he bit into what he had thought was a nice toffee Barty Bots Every Flavor Bean. Rowling doesn't mention whether it was the wet or dry type. According to this NYT article by Nicolas Wade: Earwax may not play a prominent part in human history but at least a small role for it has now been found by a team of Japanese researchers. Earwax comes in two types, wet and dry. The wet form predominates in Africa and Europe, where 97 percent or more of the people have it, and the dry form among East Asians, while populations of Southern and Central Asia are roughly half and half. By comparing the DNA of Japanese with each type, the researchers were able to identify the gene that controls which type a person has, they report in the Monday issue of Nature Genetics. It seems that earwax type might be an important genetic marker of human population movements over the ages. The dry form, the researchers say, presumably arose later somewhere in northern Asia, because they

Mamas Don't Raise Your Sons to be Scientists

At least if your goal is for them to get rich. Clifford Johnson over at Cosmic Variance has a post up on scientists salaries with emphasis on physicists. While physicists are the best paid of the lot, they are still pretty far from getting rich - which probably won't surprise anyone here. Of course the work itself can be pretty enjoyable, and opportunities for travel abound. On the other, if you have daughters, go ahead and encourage them. Sean Carroll has convinced me that they will likely encounter enough prejudice to convince them to go into something more profitable, like neurosurgery or investment banking. Unless they are crazy enough to insist despite the obstacles. I, however, did encourage my kids to become scientists. They turned out to have other plans, even the one who graduated in physics from one of our most noted physics factories. So - nevermind.

Bayesian at the Moon

James Annan has a post up about Bayesian inference and Bayesian vs. Frequentists interpretations of probability. He has a very cute example: An analogy with number theory may be helpful. It has been shown that the number of primes less than x is approximately given by x/ln(x), where ln is the natural logarithm. Using this formula, we find there are about 390,000,000 primes between 10^9 and 10^10 (ie 10-digit numbers, of which there are 9x10^9). In other words, if we pick a 10-digit number uniformly at random, there's a 4.3% probability that it is prime. That's a perfectly good frequentist statement. If we exclude those numbers which are divisible by 2, 3 or 5 (for which there are trivial tests) the probability rises to 16.1%. But what about 1,234,567,897? Does it make sense to talk about this number being prime with probability 16.1%? I suspect that some, perhaps most, number theorists would be uneasy about subscribing to that statement. Any particular number is either prime,

More on Hamas

Juan Cole blames Bush for the triumph of Hamas. ... the president's attempt to dismiss the old ruling Fatah Party as corrupt and inefficient, however true, is also a way of taking the spotlight off his own responsibility for the stagnation in Palestine. Bush allowed then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to sideline the ruling Fatah Party of Yasser Arafat, to fire missiles at its police stations, and to reduce its leader to a besieged nonentity. Sharon arrogantly ordered the murder of civilian Hamas leaders in Gaza, making them martyrs. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements continued to grow, the fatally flawed Oslo agreements delivered nothing to the Palestinians, and Bush and Sharon ignored new peace plans -- whether the so-called Geneva accord put forward by Palestinian and Israeli moderates or the Saudi peace plan -- that could have resolved the underlying issues. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which should have been a big step forward for peace, was marred by the refusal of th


Just caught astrophysicist (and author) Mario Livio talking about Mozart on NPR's All Things Considered. His major theme was Mozart's fascination with and extensive use of symmetry in his music. He also mentioned the WAM was crazy for numbers as a kid. So what kind of music do we like, asked the NPR correspondent? Turns out, says Livio, that we like symmetry but not too much - symmetry, but some kind of symmetry breaking. In the epilog to Chandrasekar's Mathematical Theory of Black Holes he has quotes from Heisenberg and Francis Bacon on beauty. What they said (approximately - my copy is at the office) was: Heisenberg: Beauty consists in the proper proportion of the parts to the whole, and to each other. Bacon: There is no thing of excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.

Happy Birthday Wolfgang A. Mozart!

OK, so maybe you are a bit too dead to enjoy it, but a lot of the rest of us will. 250 would be really impressive if you were still around, but at least your music is, and remains one of the greatest achievements of Western Civilization. Kevin Drum has some Friday Cat Blogging Mozart links including a quiz, an essay, and a movie link, not to mention cat and music pictures.


Electoral victory for Hamas seems to have a lot of people in shock, but I don't know why. Fatah was tired, corrupt, and incompetent. Moreover, it unable to deliver stability or safety. The fundamental choices for Israel haven't changed: put up with a continuing low intensity war, make a deal, or commit genocide. The first is painful, the second difficult, and the third unspeakable. Unfortunately, many forces will continue to make the second choice nearly impossible and the third more likely. I sometimes think that there is some principle of human nature which inevitably produces escalation from bad to worse. It seems likely that the Hamas victory will lead to a Netanyahu victory, more repression, a violent reaction by Hamas. Chances for a sensible solution become ever less as the most extreme on each side come to power.

Now There Are Two

It appears the United States' brief reign as the World's lone superpower is over. After a multi-century hiatus, China is once again a true superpower. Keith Bradsher reports in this New York Times story that: The Chinese economy grew 9.9 percent last year, the third year in a row of roughly 10 percent growth, government statisticians announced in Beijing on Wednesday. The Chinese statistics, showing a national economic output of $2.26 trillion, sent China soaring past France, Britain and Italy to become the world's fourth-largest economy, after the United States, Japan and Germany. Because the Yuan is clearly undervalued, this number almost certainly understates the true size of China's economy. The CIA World Fact Book's purchasing power parity rankings look like this: 1 World $ 59,380,000,000,000 2005 est. 2 United States $ 12,370,000,000,000 2005 est. 3 European Union $ 12,180,000,000,000 2005 est. 4 China $ 8,158,000,000,000 2005 est. 5 Japan $ 3,867,000,000,000

Not So Hot?

Our favourite string theorist whiffs another climate analysis. Earlier this month, he drew profound conclusions from the preliminary estimate that 1998 could still be the warmest year recorded despite a hypothesized warming trend. Do you remember 1998? Was it a special year? Even though Al Gore was a vice-president, 1998 is still the "globally" warmest year on record. An absurd argument in any case, but now made doubly silly by the latest computations showing 2005 to have been the warmest year on record. Last year was the warmest recorded on Earth's surface, and it was unusually hot in the Arctic, U.S. space agency NASA said on Tuesday. All five of the hottest years since modern record-keeping began in the 1890s occurred within the last decade, according to analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In descending order, the years with the highest global average annual temperatures were 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004, NASA said in a statement This d

Impeaching the Pres

The conservative magazine Insight has a story about the White House preparing for impeachment hearings: The Bush administration is bracing for impeachment hearings in Congress. "A coalition in Congress is being formed to support impeachment," an administration source said. Sources said a prelude to the impeachment process could begin with hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. They said the hearings would focus on the secret electronic surveillance program and whether Mr. Bush violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. There is also some problem about lying to Congress. Much as I would like to see Bush impeached, I can't see it happening. Even if Congress was dominated by Democrats rather than Republicans, it would be unlikely unless there are some big smoking guns hidden somewhere. So why would the conservative press be floating such a rumor? I have a two part theory named Karl Rove. First, I think he wants to rally the troops with the

Nuclear Iran

The hard part of building a nuclear weapon is obtaining the requisite quantity of suitable fissile material - highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Plutonium can be produced from uranium in nuclear reactors, but Iran doesn't yet have any reactors big enough to produce worthwhile amounts of plutonium - and the reactors themselves require somewhat enriched uranium. Consequently, the key choke point for Iranian nuclear capability is the capability to produce enriched uranium, especially highly enriched uranium. There are a few possible ways to enrich uranium (separate fissile U235 from the more common U 238 isotope). The method of choice today is a cascade of high speed gas centrifuges, but it takes a lot of them to produce a bomb's worth. So how close is Iran to getting nukes? Via Josh Marshall , we have some informed or otherwise guesses opinions. Let's start with a well known idiot: Instead of being years away from the point of no return for an Iranian bomb, as we wer

Smolin - Motl Cage Match

In a previous post I mentioned the Nicolai and Peeters critique of Loop Quantum Gravity, and mentioned discussion of it by Peter Woit and Lubos Motl. Lee Smolin has a response on Peter's Blog at here , here and here . Lubos has posted a pont by point (sentence by sentence) rejoinder on his blog here. Lubos argues that GR is just special relativity with gravitons - a bit hard for me to accept, but I don't want to comment too much on the discussion, most of which I don't understand. Lubos would have more credibility with me if he didn't throw in stuff like this: The only way how you can get a different result is that you actually accidentally hit a completely consistent theory of quantum gravity - but it seems impossible because you can't really get string theory out of LQG. and if his judgement was a bit better on less esoteric matters.

Doing it Right

I just caught West Virginia Governor Manchin's press conference after the discovery of the latest two miner's bodies, and was impressed. He spoke with real anger and feeling and announced a series of steps to help prevent such tragedies and to enable better rescue efforts. To anyone following this kind of thing it is pretty obvious, once again, that the political hacks Bush put on the Mine Health and Safety Board have been doing nothing useful. He was followed by Senator Rockefeller whom I switched off a few seconds into some trite crap about healing.

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

Do you hate stuff that starts out with a largely inappropriate literary reference, you know, like the lame translator who called Proust's book Remembrance of Things Past ? If so, please ignore everything in this post up to here. A couple of string theorists take on Loop Quantum Gravity in hep/th/0601129 Lubos Motl's blog (where I read about this)has a couple of discussion threads related to it. He also points to this post by Peter Woit on the same subject. Our homework assignment (with apologies to Sean Carroll), study respective posts and expecially the ensuing comments: compare and contrast.

Testing 1, 2, 3...?

I recently saw Joan Holden's play, Nickel and Dimed , based on the book of the same name by Barbara Ehrenreich. Erenreich is a lefty social critic (and a biology Ph.D.) who spent three months trying to make it as a low wage worker in a chain restaurant, Walmart employee, and Merry Maid's house cleaner, not to mention a few second jobs she took to try to make the rent. I recommend book and play, but I want to focus on one ubiquitous aspect of all those jobs: testing. For these jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder, the tests are more for drugs and personality than IQ - but also something of an unsubtle form of mind control. "There is room for a nonconformist in the corporation." Do you A. strongly agree, B Moderately disagree, C. Not sure. D. Moderately disagree, E. Strongly disagree. If you can't figure out that "E." is the correct answer, you might not be Walmart material. We talked earlier about the Armed Forces Qualifying Test, but of cours

Dark Days for Dark Energy

Over at Cosmic Variance , Sean Carroll says we shouldn't study dark energy: Here’s a little homework assignment. Go back through the many posts I have made on this topic. Count up the number of times I have said that we should not actually study the question. While you’re at it, count up the number of times I have pointed to the many studies that have already been done about the question, including the post on which you are commenting. Compare and contrast. Damnit, he's made up his mind! Don't confuse him with facts. OOPS! Sorry - it seems he was actually talking about some other scientific question. My bad. Now that I've made this big blunder, maybe I should try to clarify. It seems Clifford, rather innocently, I thought, started a post on Women in Physics . Naturally, this attracted the usual crowd, including our good buddy, Lumo . After a bit, Brad Delong joined the comments and got a valuable but painful lesson in Lumology - even though they were both more or

I'm a Believer

Hardly had I finished lamenting the decline of American political rhetoric than a very fine piece of work appeared from an unlikely source: Al Gore. His speech on the undermining of our freedoms under the Bush administration is closely reasoned and even eloquent. Full text here. His speech at Constitution Hall calls the current situation a contitutional crisis, and I think he makes a solid case: Congressman Barr and I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together today with thousands of our fellow citizens—Democrats and Republicans alike—to express our shared concern that America’s Constitution is in grave danger. In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power. As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdr

So, what is he *really* like?

Janet Maslin's book review in the NYT makes a pretty good case that Dave Barry is still the funniest living American, on paper. Dave Barry's Money Secrets is on my list, but what's Dave like, up close and personal? I, of course, have no Earthly idea, but I'm going to guess that he's a lot like a guy who spends hours staring at a wall, ocassionally typing and chortling to himself madly.

Swimming Naked

The Economist's cover story for January 12, is entitled Danger Time for America and is a retrospective on Alan Greenspan and a prospective on the economy he leaves his successor. By all means check out the cover cartoon, even if you don't like economics. Mr. Greenspan rose into the economic pantheon when the economy prospered in the 90's, but: Mr Greenspan's departure could well mark a high point for America's economy, with a period of sluggish growth ahead. This is not so much because he is leaving, but because of what he is leaving behind: the biggest economic imbalances in American history. ... So far as the American economy is concerned, however, the Fed's policies of the past decade look like having painful long-term costs. Being the rotten right-wing rag it is, The Economist is too polite to mention exactly where Greenspan went wildly wrong, or the actions of his co-conspirators. Greenspan's testimony to Congress, putting his seal of approval on tax

RIP Rhetoric

Economist and polymath Brad Delong has some excerpts of Lincoln on the campaign trail and Fredrick Douglass commenting on Lincoln. Note that the Douglas Lincoln refers to is Stephen A. Douglas, his political opponent, and not Fredrick Douglass, the former slave, abolitionist, writer and orator. The Lincoln we see is not Lincoln at his finest, but Lincoln the politician, not above a cheap oratorical trick or two, but I challenge anyone to read these and not think about how far we have fallen to the present. Lincoln: I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects--certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intell

To Hell with Yale

was a football cheer of yore. I have been thinking about Yale and what it's given to America, and the picture isn't happy: (a) Innumerable annoying people named Buckley. (b) Jared Taylor, prominently featured in comments to a previous post. (c) Prescott Bush - Alleged robber of Geronimo's grave, Hitler's Banker, and early member of a despicable dynasty. (c) G H W Bush - Highly trained but inept President. Started an unnecessary war and ran up a huge budget deficit. (d) W J Clinton - Brilliant and moderately successful President. Booted most of it away through personal misbehavior, sloppiness, and dishonesty. Handed country over to Republicans, especially to his successor. (e) G W Bush - Our most inept and doltish President. Would be dictator. (f) J Kerry - Inept and doltish Democratic Candidate who kept GW in Office. (g) H R Clinton - Wannabee heir to a potential Clinton Dynasty. Probably one of the few Democrats likely to keep the Presidency/Kingdom in the hands o


Lumo notes that today is the Anniversary of Harvard President Larry Summer's fateful speech on Womynsmath. I believe that the traditional gift on a first anniversary is paper, though modernists (i.e., Department Stores) prefer clocks. In honor of the the occasion, the campus Chapter of NOW TP-ed his house. Of course he's been getting clocked all year long. PS - Lumo thinks he may have been drugged by the PC NKVD. PPS - Do you think Lubos and TM are acquainted? Should they be? PPPS - Not everything in this post is strictly factual.

Physics Haters Rejoice

says Lumo. It seems that CSL-1 turned out not to be a Cosmic String. The mighty eye of Hubble looked, and found a pair of faint elliptical galaxies. My guess is that actual physics haters will probably never hear, or care about this news, but I'm a bit puzzled. I thought it was supposed to be a candidate superstring, grown to enormous size, rather than a plain old Cosmic String, which is much less exotic, if equally unobserved (so far). Meanwhile, us non-haters of physics can take some comfort in the fact that we haven't yet landed at that bleak Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Hate Speech?

One of my commenters recently accused another of "hate speech" and me of "providing a forum for hate speech." This got me thinking about what exactly deserves to be considered hate speech. I came up with some potential candidates, arranged in order of decreasing offensiveness (to me) that I call HS1 - HS4. HS1 - Inciting or encouraging violence against racial, ethnic, or other groups. Threatening violence against them. Example kill the [insert target group]! If that's not hate speech, then nothing is. Probably even your neighborhood Nazi would concede this. HS2 - Using insulting racial epithets. Blatantly discriminatory instructions, directions, or forms of address. Advocating such behavior. Example: Get out of my way [insert racial epithet]. Once again, this is pretty clear cut. Either HS1 or HS2 will likely get your comment deleted on my blog. HS3 - Spreading defamatory and false stories about a group. Example: Red Staters are a bunch of ignorant hic

Kerry Emanuel

Kerry Emanuel is no global warming bomb thrower, so this NYT interview is the sort of thing that open-minded people ought to take seriously. For decades, Kerry Emanuel, the meteorologist and hurricane specialist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was known as a cautious centrist on questions of global warming and hurricane ferocity. Consequently, when he announced some statistical results, serious people took notice. "His paper has had a fantastic impact on the policy debate," said Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford. "Emanuel's this conservative, apolitical guy, and he's saying, 'Global warming is real.' " From the interview: Q. Because last year's hurricane season was so intense, many people declared: "Ah, ha! Global warming!" Were they right? A. My answer is, Not so fast. That may have been a contributor. But the fact we had such a bad season was mostly a matter of chance. On the other hand, though the number

Into the Trackless Swamp

Kevin drum ventures into the IQ Swamps . His post was inspired by Fred Kaplan's Slate piece GI Schmo on the dumbing down of the Army: The bad news is twofold. First, the number of Category IV recruits is starting to skyrocket. Second, a new study compellingly demonstrates that, in all realms of military activity, intelligence does matter. Smarter soldiers and units perform their tasks better; dumber ones do theirs worse. Category IV is the 10-30 percentile on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test - mainly an IQ test. (Kevin incorrectly calls it the bottom third.) Kevin knows the risks, but decides to step into the swamp anyway: Of course, we all know what the real problem is here: in contemporary discourse intelligence is inextricably bound up with race, which is why it's almost impossible to talk honestly about it. For that we mainly have conservative race demagogues like Charles Murray and Steve Sailer to blame — although liberals themselves haven't been entirely blameless

Somebody's Lying, I Wonder Who

Kevin Drum is listening to Paul Bremer on Dateline: On Dateline last night, Paul Bremer confirmed something that he briefly alluded to last year: we never had enough troops on the ground to keep order in Iraq, and both George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld knew it. Bremer said he sent a memo to Rumsfeld suggesting that half a million soldiers would be needed, three times the number deployed by the Bush administration. "I never had any reaction from him," the former diplomat told NBC's Brian Williams on "Dateline." Although he never heard back from his direct boss, Bremer said he discussed his concerns with Bush, who told him he would seek troops from other countries, but did not mention increasing U.S. forces. Recall that Bush and Rumsfeld have consistently claimed they gave that leaders on the ground in Iraq all the troops they asked for.

Mountain High and Valley So Low

Or how I mastered statistical reasoning and disproved global warming. Some have claimed that mountain heights can be modelled by a statistical distribution, somewhat similar to Brownian motion. Consider for example a random mountain. Other mountains in the neighborhood should, by this hypothesis, randomly vary in steps up or down relative to it. In particular, there should be a very small probability that the closest eleven mountains are all shorter than it! Details of the statistical reasoning involved are developed in more detail by LM and commenters here and here . However, actual analysis of the mountains near our randomly chosen mountain (Mount Everest) show that all of the eleven nearest mountains are in fact shorter! This proves that global warming, plate tectonics, and pure quantum gravity are all bullshit.

Climate Predictability

Henk Tennekes has a skeptical take on climate predictions over at Roger Pielke Sr's blog. It's a digressive critique, but I think his main point is that we have little evidence for the reliability of climate models predictions. As far as I can tell, the only real evidence he presents is the fact that, as Lorentz has shown, long term predictions are highly uncertain in chaotic systems. In the comments, Roger Pielke gives a couple of examples of events that he claims climate models can't even postdict. Tennekes' conclusion is that we don't know enough about climate to attempt to manage it, and hence should concentrate on adapting to whatever changes occur. “The constraints imposed by the planetary ecosystem require continuous adjustment and permanent adaptation. Predictive skills are of secondary importance.” Today I still feel that way. I cannot bring myself to accept any type of prediction paradigm, and choose a adaptation paradigm instead. This brings me in th

Old Times Now Forgotten

I have been reading about geology lately. Sometimes it's useful to remember how differently they did things back in the PreCambrian. There wasn't any oxygen in the atmosphere back in the Archaean, at least not until 2.6 billion years or so ago. Hydrogen sulfide and methane were abundant in that strongly reducing atmosphere. Somewhere around that time, blue green algae evolved that began producing oxygen as a byproduct of their metabolism - most likely a byproduct that they, like the anaerobic bacteria with which they shared the planet at that time, found poisonous. Not to worry, though - there were abundant ions around to scarf up any stray oxygen. The banded iron formations that featured so prominently in the next 900 million or so years of Earth history were probably produced in just that way - dissolved iron ions scarfing up oxygen molecules and raining down on the sea floor as tiny specks of magnetite. Global warming doubters like to argue that the human impact on the

Grisly Thoughts

Last night I tried to beat a small grizzly bear to death with a rock. It was very difficult, because it was so darn furry and fluffy. I had been watching a small child being followed by a big dog when suddenly it turned out to be a small bear and gobbled down the kid in one bite. I thought maybe I could get the kid out if I acted fast enough, but I woke up first. Maybe watching Grizzly Man doesn't go that well with scampi and white wine.

Lost, Stolen, or Strayed

I'm going to guess that a major remodelling is somewhat stressful even for the well-organized. For the hopelessly disorganized, it can be a catastrophe. Naturally, being chronically disorganized, we made the classic mistakes. First and worst was probably failing to ensure that the contract had a time of performance penalty. So the 3-5 weeks somehow stretched into three to five months. Meanwhile, items that had been more or less sorted and boxed were needed, had to be extracted, and in the process destroyed every semblance of order in the already chaotic jumble of stuff stored in every nook and cranny of the house that wasn't being remade. Kids graduated from college and more boxes came home. Yet more boxes of stuff from my late mother-in-law that we couldn't stand to part with. Maybe a better title for this post would have been "Way too much junk," but at this point an unbelievable amount of stuff is still missing. My drill bits - are they at the bottom of some bo


It's been a while since the last major college sports cheating scandal, which means we are overdue. Cheating is inevitable when governments or similar bodies set up rules that deeply offend the principles of market economics. A Vince Young or Reggie Bush is worth tens of millions to a college and a conference - maybe hundreds of millions when all the feeders at the trough are considered. The college, conference and TV network get these valuable services for room and board - slave wages in anybody's book. The reason they can manage this remarkable economic feat is that they are supported by a huge conspiracy in restraint of free trade - the National College Athletic Association (NCAA). Such a conspiracy, even when supported by law, tradition, and the public nonetheless creates huge incentives to cheat in recruiting these hypervaluable sevices. The tissue thin rationale for this system is that athletic grants-in-aid are an educational grant, not payment for services. The fre

Support our Troops: Fire Rumsfeld

and Cheney and Bush. Michael Moss has this story in tomorrow's NYT. Once again Bush and Rumsfeld's disinterest, incompetence, and corruption costs American lives. A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials. As usual Rumsfeld and company were slow to fund the medical studies, slow to procure the armor, and too busy funnelling graft to "the Duke" and others to pay attention to the ways our troops were getting killed. The vulnerability of the military's body armor has been known since the start of the war, and is part of a series of problems that have surrounded the protection of American troops. Still, the Marine Corps did

Resolutions for 2005

1. Stop Procrastinating 2. Walk 10,000 steps per day 3. Keep a blog. 4. Try not to let the Bushies drive me nuts. 5. Hope both kids graduate. 6. Minimize interactions with crazy people. Ummm. So how am doing so far. did I do? Three and five worked out.

Jeremiah was a Bullfrog

as well as a prophet. By contrast, Pat Robertson's specialty is what I would call post-phecy - after the fact explanations of untoward events. His latest (via Josh Marshall) in this news story: Robertson: Sharon punished for dividing Israel The Rev. Pat Robertson said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was punished by God for dividing the Land of Israel. It still seems to me that Pat's God seems to have lost a step of late. Surely it would have been more salutary to turn Sharon into a pillar of salt, or somesuch. Giving a 77 year old fat guy a stroke is just so - so trite. ON THE OTHER HAND: God, or somebody, evidently thinks Howard Stern is doing something right: Howard Stern to Get $220M in Sirius Stock Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. will give Howard Stern 34 million shares of stock _ worth about $220 million at today's prices _ because the company has met agreed-upon targets for gaining new subscribers under its 2004 deal with the shock jock. From this Breitbart sto

Yet Another Bushco Screwup

It's only one small scale trajedy in the long litany, but the miscommunication that misled the families into thinking their loved ones had survived the Sago mine disaster has the usual fingerprints of the screwup President all over it. When Bush became President, he followed his usual procedure of appointing industry hacks and flacks to the Mine Safety and Health Agency instead of experienced professionals. Kevin Drum has this story from Ellen Smith, editor of Mine Safety and Health News : In this case, MSHA sent down Dirk Fillpot from Labor Dept. headquarters. Although Fillpot is not to blame for the horrific miscommunication that led families to believe for three hours that their loved-ones were alive, he has absolutely no experience in dealing with mine disasters, unlike two highly qualified and seasoned press people — Rodney Brown and Amy Louviere — who sat back at MSHA headquarters in Arlington twiddling their thumbs. And who was in charge at headquarters? Suzy Bohnert — ano


The massive stroke Ariel Sharon underwent severely threatens his life and almost certainly ends his political career. It goes without saying that this is a massive event in Israeli political history, and in the Middle East. Israelis are used to turmoil and uncertainty and it looks like more is on the way.

A Dip in the Cesspool

Provoked, as usual, by Lumo, I have been hunting the wild La Griffe du Lion . What I was looking for was some analytic commentary on his work, something about his sources and methods, or any clues to his identity. So far my search has been unrewarding. On the other hand, it has taken me into some of the cesspools of the racist right. A question about the identity took me to a site called American Renaissance and an article by, yes, John Derbyshire. The article was interesting enough, just Derbyshire talking to some anonymous blogger about how dangerous it was to discuss the information coming out of genetic studies, but my trail led into the comments (where it proved false), but that was a cesspool indeed. A small sample: Pre-1965 Euro-America annihilated the “super smart” Japanese race 60 years ago. Euro-America can do the same to Hindu India today. However, if the treason lobby-Bush family-has it’s way, Hindu thieves from India-legal immigrants- will be allowed to 1)continue stealin

True Believers: Abramoff & Delay

Juan Cole has an article up on the Delay - Abramoff connection to an Israeli charity which apparently exists mainly to fund illegal settler activity. Cole's title might raise a few hackles: Abramoff and al-Arian: Lobbyist's "Charity" a Front for Terrorism The article seems well worth a read to me, partially because it says something about how Abramoff came acropper: Indeed, it was this terror funding of Israeli far right militiamen that tripped Abramoff up, since the FBI discovered that he had misled Indian tribes into giving money to the Jabotinskyites, and then began wondering if he had defrauded the tribes in other ways. (You betcha!) The Indian leaders were furious when they discovered they had been used to oppress another dispossessed indigenous people, the Palestinians, calling it "Outer Limits bizarre" and saying that they would never have willingly given money to such a cause. Did I mention that Juan is not an obvious fan of Zionism?

Sean Carroll gets Edgy

Now here's a shock - Sean Carroll doesn't like Steven Pinker's Edge Idea : Each year publishing agent John Brockman asks a deep question of some of the world’s leading thinkers, who just happen to be Brockman’s clients (via Peter Woit). It’s what you’d expect: a mixture of interesting ideas and rampant nonsense. This year Nobel Laureate Philip Anderson says some silly things about cosmology, which maybe I’ll talk about later; but the prize for the worst response comes from Steven Pinker. To make a long story short, here’s Pinker being saucily provocative: In January, Harvard president Larry Summers caused a firestorm when he cited research showing that women and men have non-identical statistical distributions of cognitive abilities and life priorities. That’s what’s known in studies of rhetoric as a “blatant lie.” It’s true that Summers caused a firestorm; it’s also true that he cited such research. It’s just not true that it was the citation that caused the firestorm. Th

More from the Crackhouse of Dangerous Minds

Danny Hillis takes a Trent Lott approach toward dangerous ideas. If you all would just keep your mouths shut about these dangerous ideas, we wouldn't have had all these troubles. To me, the idea that we should all share our most dangerous ideas is, itself, a very dangerous idea. I just hope that it never catches on. The monks who burnt the Great Library of Alexandria (and murdered the Librarian) no doubt had similar views. Steven Pinker , who also came up with the "dangerous ideas" topic, has a very dangerous idea indeed, one that drives many of his academic colleagues into the Hillis camp. It's not a new or original idea though, nor even one that would seem surprising to 90% of the population: Groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments The year 2005 saw several public appearances of what will I predict will become the dangerous idea of the next decade: that groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and t

More Crack for Your Brain

OK, I dissed poor Arnold Trehub for saying the science was limited. It turns out to be a popular theme this year: Lawrence Krauss: The world may fundamentally be inexplicable Steven Strogatz has an example: The End of Insight I worry that insight is becoming impossible, at least at the frontiers of mathematics. Even when we're able to figure out what's true or false, we're less and less able to understand why. An argument along these lines was recently given by Brian Davies in the "Notices of the American Mathematical Society". He mentions, for example, that the four-color map theorem in topology was proven in 1976 with the help of computers, which exhaustively checked a huge but finite number of possibilities. No human mathematician could ever verify all the intermediate steps in this brutal proof, and even if someone claimed to, should we trust them? To this day, no one has come up with a more elegant, insightful proof. So we're left in the unsettling po

"the crack cocaine of the thinking world"

The title comes from a BBC 4 Radio commentary on the discussions prompted by The World Question Center's annual question. This year, they asked a bunch of prominent thinkers, not all named Dyson, what their dangerous idea was. WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA? The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true? (Suggested by Steve Pinker ). Quite a few scientists are among the designated thinkers again this year, including physicists Leonard Susskind , Freeman Dyson , Paul Steinhardt , Lee Smolin , Carlo Rovelli , Phillip W. Anderson , and Brian Greene . Brian is thinking about the multiverse, but so far it seems more dangerous to physics than anything else. David Geler

Texas 31, USC 28

I don't normally do sports predictions, partly because I don't know anything (hush you readers who are asking when that ever stopped me), but mainly because I don't care. USC and Texas are both talented, tradition rich teams with great coaching - exactly the sort of teams - in fact the very teams - that I always hate. I have a deep instinctive hatred of UT, stemming from everything from politics to the fact that I once became seriously ill on their campus. USC is almost equally deserving - and they did narrowly beat my team (AZ State) this year. The hype, however, is ridiculous. USC will be very good indeed if they can look past their press clippings and really play this game. I'm going to guess that USC will figure that out too late.

Physics Bitch Fight 2006!

Lubos Motl has a very long post up today devoted to dissing Chad Orzel . Naturally, Lubos keeps the discussion on his usual high moral (~ fourth grade) plane, expending vast numbers of pixels making largely irrelevant points, calling Chad stupid, and referring to him as Ms. or Mr. Orzel. Chad made some reasonable points, but did call Lubos's kid ugly: ... he combines the worst sort of string-theorist attitude with political views that I find obnoxious, and a website design that I find appalling ... I, on the other hand, find Chad's anti-IE site a bit of a pain. Personally, I'm looking forward to the cage match. Chad is approximately the dimensions of a pre-global-warming polar bear, whereas Lubos seems to me a bit more like an undernourished seal.