Showing posts from September, 2006

Deja Dien Bien Phu all over again

Josh Marshall notes: Ever wonder why it seems like we are enduring a repeat of the Nixon Administration? Now we know. From Bob Woodward's new book, via War and Piece: A powerful, largely invisible influence on Bush's Iraq policy was former secretary of state Kissinger. "Of the outside people that I talk to in this job," Vice President Cheney told me in the summer of 2005, "I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than I talk to anybody else. He just comes by and, I guess at least once a month, Scooter and I sit down with him." (Scooter is I. Lewis Libby, then Cheney's chief of staff.) The president met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making him the most regular and frequent outside adviser to Bush on foreign affairs... OK, so we have to stay in Iraq not just because Bush can't admit that his attempt to retrieve the family honor (hah) in Iraq is a failure but because Kissinger is still trying to prove that he shouldn't have been a

CNN on Rumsfeld

Frank Cesno of CNN had a long piece on Donald Rumsfeld. It was critical, but balanced, and had the advantage of interviews with Rumsfeld, JCS chief General Peter Pace, and many of Rumsfelds toughest military critics. One section struck me. Rumsfeld sets great store on transformation - using modern information technology and precision weapons. I think it was Pace who said that in WW II it took 3000 bombs to destroy a bridge (on average). With modern technology, a single bomber could destroy fourteen (or some similar number) of bridges on one mission. We certainly saw some of this in Israel's latest Lebanese war. As of now, the technology has decisively shifted the balance of power to the military of the technologically advanced countries. I wonder if that advantage will last. We have seen technology move from the frontier to the consumer in less and less time. Will it really continue to be true that the ability to do precision mass destruction will remain confined to the adv


I hope nobody took my previous post as an indication that I think a lot of prominent conservatives are perverts. It seems that some prominent conservatives are racist white supraemist perverts. The second most powerful editor at The Washington Times is a white supremacist racist who says blacks are "born genetically 15 to 20 IQ points lower than a white person" and that abortion is necessary "to keep the black and minority population down in this country." His wife, Marian, confirmed this, on the record, in an interview with reporter Max Blumenthal for the Oct. 9 issue of The Nation magazine. Francis B. Coombs Jr., the managing editor of The Washington Times, a major media ally of the Bush administration, is described by multiple newsroom sources in Blumenthal's piece as an unreconstructed "racial nationalist" and a hater of blacks and Jews. He also seems to have a sexism problem.

A Party of Perverts?

So Rep Foley (R-Fla) sent a bunch of incriminating emails to a sixteen year old former House page. He's history. Josh Marshall notes one little problem. The page reported this to Rep Alexander (R -LA) about eleven months ago, and he claims he told Republican House leaders about it at the time. So why were Hastert, Delay, and or Blunt protecting this pervert child molestor for ten months?

Hello Tyranny

The US took a giant step away from our Constitution and the rule of law today when Congress voted to eliminate Habeas Corpus, permit torture, and disregard the Conventions against war crimes, at the disgression of the President. They did this despite the unanimous opposition of the Judge Advocates General of the military services, who said this would endanger American soldiers and hurt the war on terror. Habeas Corpus, the right of the accused to demand a hearing on the charges against him, is the seven century old foundation of rule of law - the so-called "Great Writ." So why did Congress do this? Not because of any imminent threat to the Country, but because of the threat to Republican Control of the Congress. By packing their bill with unjust an un-American features they hoped be able attack Democrats who voted against it as "soft on terror." It will likely work. Many Dems in close races voted for it, thereby earning them the lasting hatred of hard core be


The President's press conferences lately have taken on an increasingly schizophrenic quality as reality diverges further from his narrative. For the most part, the press has scrupulously ignored this, but Dan Froomkin (Bush's Imaginary Foe) of the Washington Post saves some of his paper's tattered honor with this analysis: President Bush's angry nonanswers to two straightforward questions yesterday were among the best illustrations yet of his intense aversion to responding to his critics' actual arguments. Rather than acknowledge and attempt to rebut the many concerns about his policies, Bush makes up inane arguments and then ridicules them. Froomkin exhibits some examples: Q Thank you, sir. Even after hearing that one of the major conclusions of the National Intelligence Estimate in April was that the Iraq war has fueled terror growth around the world, why have you continued to say that the Iraq war has made this country safer?" "PRESIDENT BUSH: I, of c

Off the Mass Shell

A Bushite characterized his opponents as members of "the reality based community." I suppose that makes him and his co-believers members of the unreality based community. In quantum mechanics intermediate states that don't satisfy the conservation laws (energy and momentum, for example) can contribute to transition amplitudes. Similarly, the unreality based community has contributed immensely to causing the US to transition from widely respected military and economic superpower to crippled giant. Recent consensus intelligence estimates have concluded that the Iraq fiasco has increased the threat of terrorism and been a boon to terrorist recruitment and that we are pretty much screwed in Iraq, whatever we do now. To top it off, the World Economic Forum has dropped the US from first to sixth in global competitiveness. Why? Kevin Drum Reports: The WEF said the best performing countries were distinguished by their competent economic stewardship.... Oh. Right. I guess th

Standards & Curriculum

Commenter Molnar posted the following: The problem of incoherent curricula and standards is not restricted to mathematics and science, of course. Roger Shattuck wrote a frightening account (first published in the New York Review of Books, I believe) of his experience in a Vermont school district that is probably better than most: The-Shame-of-the-Schools I finally got around to reading it, and next checked my own State's standards . I regret to say that all the bad things Roger Shattuck had to say about Vermont's standards seem to be equally true of New Mexico. Let me excerpt bits of Shattuck: The state Framework of Standards and the lengthy district Curriculum Guidelines (themselves based scrupulously on the state Framework) presumably lay out a course of study for all students. As they stand, these two documents do not and cannot serve this function. They mention no authors' names and no titles of books to be read. Only the science and mathematics documents specify top

Dr. Evil

Perhaps it's not quite obvious from my blog, but in person I'm a very mild-mannered, calm sort of person. I hate losing my temper. It might have something to do with being large. I can relate to Lenny in Of Mice and Men . Or maybe the bull in the china shop. I still feel a little guilty about the kid who broke his hand hitting me in the face in fifth grade. Not long ago, my wife and I made an expensive (for us) purchase, and after taking it back to the dealer twice and being left to cool her heels, my wife insisted I go along. We got there, talked to service guy. Wait, wait, wait. Finally guy shows up, looks, says he has to talk to his manager... Wait... Wait... Wait. Smoke issues from ears. I stalk in looking for manager. Non-manager studiously ignores me. Walk angrily up to front desk. Ignore friendly greeting from salesman standing around. Salesman behind desk asks how I am. "Not very damn well!" I mention, none too politely, that we've been wa


Lubos Motl is noting a claim that: ...Osama's body is already in Karl Rove's fridge waiting for the November elections. ;-) Having supposedly died of natural causes. I'm not so sure that that is such a great selling point for the Administration. Unable to catch the world's number one terrorist, even though he has supposedly been on dialysis for a decade or so, they finally catch him after death. This could be Rove's promised "October Surprise."

Should we be Thankful for Hugo Chavez?

It's true he is an authoritarian blowhard and general nuisance, but it is nice to have somebody who makes an even bigger ass of himself than our George.

Victory for Torture

McCain, Warner, and what's his name staged a short-lived resistance to President Bush's attempt to institutionalize torture in America and make us the only country officially legalizing violation of the convention against war crimes. They crumpled like empty beer cans under a garbage truck (See, for example WP - Editorial or WP - A Soviet torture victim's perspective or NYT ) when Cheney showed them the instruments of torture, though. McCain survived five years of Communist torment in Vietnam, but greed for power made him a coward after one week. I hope, but have little confidence, that some Democrats will try to save our country from further disgrace and dishonor. Nothing is more disgusting to me than the way these corrupt charlatans have frightened the American people into turning their backs on the law, the Constitution, and the basic principles of human decency. The only plus I can see is that this sorry episode gives me a bit of insight into how one of the most ci

Pepperoni, With Extra Cheese

It seems to me that Lubos may have come around to my view of Captain Clueless and his Congress. Well, if we live in a medieval society controlled by uneducated cretins, there's no reason not to work as a pizza boy, I have the same plans. He also appears to be contemplating a career change.

A Theory of Nothing?

String Theory dominates theoretical physics in most of the prestigious physics departments in the US. It aims and claims to be the long sought "Theory of Everything," explaining both particle physics and gravity. Thanks to talented proseletysers, especially Brian Greene, the theory has also captured the imagination of the scientifically literate public. Peter Woit has had the effrontery to step into this triumphal procession to announce that this emperor has no clothes. His new book Not Even Wrong is a frontal attack on String Theory and its pretensions. This non-expert reviewer will attempt to review both argument and book. I took two main points from the argument: String Theory is a scientific failure, but it is a failure that has captured a grossly disproportionate share of the resources allocated for theoretical physics, especially in the US. In consequence of the concentration of power and prestige in the hands of a few top departments this String Theory dominanc

Fashion Industry

Watching The Devil Wears Prada reminded me that US elementary education is a fashion industry - for much the same reason that women's clothing is. Sell more clothes - sell more textbooks. Few subjects are more victimized by this approach than mathematics. The heirarchical nature of mathematics means that if you lose the thread at any point, it will be very hard to find it again. Arithmetic is needed for algebra, and both plus geometry are needed in trigonometry, while all four are essential for calculus - the key to the whole kingdom of mathematics and physical science. The New York Times has an editorial on the subject called Teaching Math, Singapore Style . The situation and the problem have rarely been articulated more clearly: The countries that outperform the United States in math and science education have some things in common. They set national priorities for what public school children should learn and when. They also spend a lot of energy ensuring that every school

Rabbit Run!

This has been one of the wettest Summers in memory for Southern NM. The desert is blooming, and the rabbits are multiplying like undetermined parameters in a Supersymmetric extension of the Standard Model. They also seem to have taken a liking for the neighborhood shrubbery. While out for an early evening stroll I startled one from a neighborhood juniper hedge. He promptly took off across the street, directly in front of an oncoming car. When the car slowed, he coolly turned, running in a complete circle of just the diameter of the wheel span. Having demonstrated his mastery by bringing the driver to a complete halt, he continued on into shrubs on the other side of the street. Twenty paces further I scared up a couple more, but their getaways were uneventful.

Lucky We're Still Sick?

Business Week notes: Since 2001, the health-care industry has added 1.7 million jobs. The rest of the private sector? None I knew GW was making me sick. I guess I'm not alone.

When to Cut and Run

After the elections, is the apparent plan. TPM guest columnist DK says : It became clear sometime in early 2006--I can't recall pinpointing exactly when--that President Bush's call to "stay the course" in Iraq meant he and the GOP would dance with who they brought through the 2006 elections. It is the only way they can retain Congress. But it has also been increasingly clear that the decision has already been made--has been made for some time--to change course after the elections. James Baker's group is designed and intended to be the cover for declaring victory and getting out of Iraq. If for no other reason, the pressure from within the GOP to fix this mess before the 2008 election will be enormous. So my question is, how many American troops will have died between the time the decision was made to get out of Iraq and the time we actually do get out of Iraq? How many American lives will it cost to give the GOP a chance to retain control of Congress? It looks lik

Parsing Gas

The recent plummet in oil and gasoline prices is expected to help the Publican Party retain control of Congress. Is it possible to know if oil is being released from the strategic petroleum reserve? I'm normally suspicious of conspiracy theories, but Karl Rove is running the show here, folks.

How Bush Lost Iraq: Episode One Million

The WP gets gets around to documenting yet another chapter in the vast library of stupidity, cupidity, and political fanatacism: Adapted from "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, copyright Knopf 2006 After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon. To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration. O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politic

The Torture President

Why is George Bush fighting so hard for his bill to legalize torture ? ( The president goes to Capitol Hill to lobby for torture ) ...Another former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and one more intimately familiar with the war on terrorism, also weighed in this week: "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," former general and secretary of state Colin L. Powell wrote to McCain. "To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts." Mr. Powell was referring to an article of the Geneva Conventions that prohibits cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. Mr. Bush, with support from most Republican congressional leaders, wants to redefine American obligations under the treaty. Three Republican senators -- John W. Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina; and Mr. McCain -- are bravely promoting an alternative measure that would allow terrorists to be questioned and tried

Good Morning!

After my morning walk, when I picked up and opened the newspaper, I was greeted by black headlines announcing that a would-be blackmailer was threatening to shoot the people of my city if the city didn't pay him a large sum of money. I was in DC when the DC snipers were on the rampage, and one of the early killings took place near my hotel, so this has a certain resonance for me. Most people here are armed, and not a few are packing, but that's not much help against a sniper who shoots from ambush.

DDT and Hard Choices

DDT is bad for birds and might (or might not) cause cancer and birth defects. It's also the most effective weapon against the world's worst insect spread disease, malaria. Consequently, the World Health Organization has recommended that it be used, in limited circumstances, for mosquito control. We will be faced with many such tough choices in the environment in the years ahead, but overpopulation will greatly compound them all. Probably the most effective thing we could do to cure poverty, prevent war, and limit disease is to promote and assist in population control in the underdeveloped world - or any place with high birth rates. Yet another issue on which Bush is disastrouly wrong. It's amazing how he seems to bat 1.000 in folly.


On 6/28/1914 a group of seven Serbian extremists attempted to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A hand grenade missed, wounding others in the Imperial party and bystanders. The Archduke escaped injury, but in attempting to visit the hospital where the wounded were taken, the driver made a wrong turn, taking him past one of the conspirators. As the driver backed up to rectify his mistake, the assassin fired into the car, killing the Archduke and his pregnant wife. from The Wikipedia After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary waited for 3 weeks before deciding on a course of action, because most soldiers were on leave to help gather the harvest.[citation needed] On July 23, assured by unconditional support of the Germans should war break out, the empire sent the July Ultimatum to Serbia, which demanded, among other things, that Austrian agents would be allowed to take part in the inve

Nasar and Gruber on Perelman

(Boosted from a comment by Cynthia, who gives a brief account of the major contents.) Manifold Destiny , Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber's New Yorker article on Grigory Perelman, is now on line, and it's a heck of a good read(not to be confused with the cooking-on-your-cars-engine book of the same name . Nasar, you may recall, wrote "A Beautiful Mind," which became the impressive Russell Crowe movie. The tale they tell is one of math personalities, and Perelman nicely fills center stage in the role of hero-ingenue, but some other characters play major roles too. I found the author's attempts to seduce Perelman into to agreeing to an interview with carefully chosen gifts pretty amusing, especially since when they finally gave up and went to his door they found he hadn't bothered to check his mail, and consequently hadn't noticed their efforts. Harvard's Fields Medal winning mathematician Shing-Tung Yau is first on stage and makes quite a convincing vill

Heating the Ocean

Peter Minnett has what I consider to be a rather confusing RealClimate post . Based on the comments, a lot of other people felt the same confusion. Observations of ocean temperatures have revealed that the ocean heat content has been increasing significantly over recent decades (Willis et al, 2004; Levitus et al, 2005; Lyman et al, 2006). This is something that has been predicted by climate models (and confirmed notably by Hansen et al, 2005), and has therefore been described as a 'smoking gun' for human-caused greenhouse gases. However, some have insisted that there is a paradox here - how can a forcing driven by longwave absorption and emission impact the ocean below since the infrared radiation does not penetrate more than a few micrometers into the ocean? Resolution of this conundrum is to be found in the recognition that the skin layer temperature gradient not only exists as a result of the ocean-atmosphere temperature difference, but also helps to control the ocean-atmos


Kevin Drum has a post on why so many are so bitter against Bush. After 9/11, Americans were united behind Bush and against the terrorists. Bush, and Karl Rove chose to use that moment to wage war against other Americans - to paint patriotic Americans as disloyal and use that slander to strenthen his power. It was a vile and un-American act, turning American against American. That is the true legacy of modern so-called "conservatism," dividing the country and exploting that division to steal us all blind.


OK, I tried to listen to the speech, and even managed to stomach some of the big lies about progress in Iraq, but when he blamed 9/11 on years of "seeking stability in the Middle East" my gag reflex won out. 9/11 happened on his watch, while he was asleep at the wheel, plotting Middle East chaos. Now that he has had five years of Middle East chaos, what have we got out of it but an endless stream of body bags and crippled soldiers?

Harveytown Rumormongering

From The Huffington Post : Despite the controversial presidency of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, we hear that the Harvard search team looking for his replacement still has sort of a thing for Washington. The two leading choices of those offering names via the tip line are, um, a little more female friendly than Summers. The two: former President Clinton, once a prof at the University of Arkansas, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former provost of Stanford, the so-called Harvard of the West... Rice is not known to be a friend to String Theory, but Clinton did present Shing-Tung Yau with a Presidential Medal of Science. CORRECTION!: As a (once near professional class) pianist, Rice clearly knows a thing or two about string theory. Clinton, as a pretty good saxophonist, is more of a 2-brane person. Note also that Lubos (in the comments) claims some string theory chops for Rice, a claim unsupported in the article cited, which merely talks about th


My two favorite comments on the recent demotion of Pluto: "First the liberals took God out of the schools and now they are taking Pluto out of the Solar System." "There is simply no way to rationally justify why Pluto should be one of nine planets if there exist other celestial bodies in the Solar System that are larger and more important and "planet-like" than Pluto." Amen sister. Amen brother. Next thing you know the liberals will be taking away our God-given Guns. And we certainly can't afford any non "planet-like" planets, especially if they aren't large and important. Mercury, Mars, and Venus together only add up to about 1/1000th of a Jovian mass, so I say they have got to go too. Just not large enough. Come to think of it, they don't seem much like the real planets in others respects either - no thick reducing atmosphere, no rings, no moons to speak of.

Whose Delusion?

No aspect of the Iraq War is more puzzling than our utter failure to plan for the aftermath. Military experience and military doctrine have long recognized the need, so how the heck did this fall off of Pentagon planners tables? The Daily Press , a local Virgina paper, supplies one giant data point - not exactly a surprise but a confirmation, in an interview with Brigadier General Mark Scheid, a key Iraq war planner. (via Orin Kerr in turn via Kevin Drum .) "The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay." Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation. Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said. &quo

Didn't I Tell You

...that We don't need no Stinkin Black Holes? Tanmay Vachaspati , Dejan Stojkovic , Lawrence M. Krauss have a new paper on the ArXiv, Observation of Incipient Black Holes and the Information Loss Problem (gr-qc/0609024) that tends to support my favorite crackpot theory. We study the (quantum) formation of black holes by spherical domain wall collapse as seen by an asymptotic observer. Using the Wheeler-de Witt equation to describe the collapsing spherical domain wall, we show that the black hole takes an infinite time to form for the asymptotic observer in the quantum theory, just as in the classical treatment. We argue that such observers will therefore see a compact object but never see effects associated with the formation of an event horizon... Even more interestingly, they find that the compact object radiates, but that it's radiation is only approximately thermal, and so not quite like Hawking's - though it goes to thermal in Hawking's limit t->infinity. The

ABC, Lies, and Videotape

One extraordinarily successful right-wing meme is the myth of the liberal media. Given that most of the media is controlled by rich corporations with loyalty only to their bottom lines, this is an implausible idea on the face of it, but constant repetition has made many people believe it. What is undoubtedly true is that television, at least, has a sensationalist and anti-religious bias, stemming from their experience that sex sells and religion doesn't. Confounding this with a political bias is confused though, especially since the one network with a clear political bias (Fox) is both conservative politically and hyperaggressive in pushing the boundaries of taste in its entertainment division. ABC is a big, slightly flabby, corporation with no really obvious political bias except for way too many conservative hacks on Sunday mornings, so how did they wind up pushing a Republican political hit job like "The Path to 9/11?" My guess is that stupidity was the main operat

About Time?

Josh Marshall reports from the Asia Times: Asia Times: "With a truce between the Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad now in place, the Pakistani government is in effect reverting to its pre-September 11, 2001, position in which it closed its eyes to militant groups allied with al-Qaeda and clearly sided with the Taliban in Afghanistan. While the truce has generated much attention, a more significant development is an underhand deal between pro-al-Qaeda elements and Pakistan in which key al-Qaeda figures will either not be arrested or those already in custody will be set free." Some are speculating that this is a smoke screen for a hot-pursuit deal that allows the US to snatch and grab bin Laden. Good politics and good policy? A more pessimistic view is that it's one more way we are getting sand kicked in our eyes. About forty-five days from now would be a good time for Bush to produce this rabbit. I guess we shall see which it will be.

Betting Odds

From The Statistical Mechanic I learned that Lumo has bet a grand that the LHC will find SUSY. Meanwhile, some other guy (see link) is willing to bet a $1000 that LHC finds nada. It seems to me that there is room for some arbitrage here. I guess these guys must be Bayesians - what do you think James ?

I did not have torture with that woman, Ms. Rice

Bush's speech claiming that the "US does not torture" was a preposterous lie in many other ways as well. Kevin Drum lays out a few of the torture techniques used. He doesn't mention the prisoners who were tortured to death, including some who were clearly innocent. The calculate dishonesty exists at every level: the lumping of anybody he might have a gripe with as "islamofascists" is particularly infuriating from the guy who let the 911 perpetrators escape so he could attack Iraq. Even more cynical is: Then came Mr. Bush, who used a speech to the same audience to lump disparate groups together as “Islamo-fascists,’’ and then, this week, to warn explicitly that the world had averted its eyes to the rise of Lenin and then of Hitler, propelling the United States into a century of hot and cold wars. ( New York Times ) The references to appeasing Hitler and Lenin would be funny if Americans knew a bit of their history: That both sides of the Bush-Walker clan

Is Lubos on Notice?

Czech it Out!

Good Times

Happy Labor Day says Kevin Drum . Especially if you live in Wyoming, Montana, Rhode Island, DC, or North Dakota. Those are the States (+DC) in which median income has actually increased in the Six Years of Bush. Everywhere else, it decreased. Nice work GW! Not to worry though - centi-millionaires and billionaires did very well indeed. Kevin shows this map from The Detroit Free Press .

Steve Irwin

It was a shock to read that Steve Irwin is dead. I'm not a huge fan of animal shows, but Steve was special. His combination of irrepressible enthusiasm and genuine love for his animal subjects was something magical. If anybody ever looked invulnerable, it was Steve. Memento homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris I will miss him.

Short People

Randy Newman made a few enemies with a hit song that included the lyrics: "Short people got no reason to live." According to Joel Waldfogel's Slate Magazine Story it just gets worse from there: It is well-documented that short people earn less money than tall people do. To be clear, pay does not vary lock step by height. If your friend is taller than you are, then it's nearly a coin toss whether she earns more. But if you compare two large groups of people who are similar in every respect but height, the average pay for the taller group will be higher. Each additional inch of height adds roughly 2 percent to average annual earnings, for both men and women. So, if the average heights of our hypothetical groups were 6 feet and 5 feet 7 inches, the average pay difference between them would be 10 percent. But why? One possibility is height discrimination in favor of the tall. A second involves adolescence. A few years ago, Nicola Persico and Andrew Postlewaite of the Un

Alexandre Groethendieck

Another Groethendieck post mined from John Baez's Blog . Groethendieck is a name you might not encounter in the first year or two of a graduate math program, but he is one of the most influential recent mathematicians. His story is so dark and strange that I couldn't resist revisiting it, this time by quoting Sam Leith's Spectator article . Inside the story is an answer to one of Rae Ann's questions about his manuscripts which I put into bold letters. The Einstein of maths Sam Leith on Alexandre Grothendieck, the revolutionary number-cruncher who was last heard of in the Pyrenees raging about the Devil The odds are that the name Alexandre Grothendieck will mean little or nothing to most Spectator readers. It’s a name I heard for the first time in high summer two years or so ago, not long, as I remember it, after the film A Beautiful Mind had come out. I was in the garden of my friend Umar’s house in Cambridge, and we were waiting for his ancient cast-iron barbecue, Camp

Self Evident Truths

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it. . . . . The Declaration of Independence The above are probably the most memorable words of our most memorable political document, and have played a key role in shaping both our national ethos and our political institutions. It's fair to say that such "self-evident truths" are not ordinary truths, but what Neils Bohr called "great truths." Ordinary truths, said Bohr, are statements whose opposites

Another Beautiful and Strange Mind

John Baez writes about Groethendieck: Alexander Grothendieck was the most visionary and radical mathematician in the second half of the 20th century - at least before he left his home and disappeared one fine day in 1991. It's a fascinating story whose ending may never be known. If you like Perelman, you've got to love Groethendieck. Physicists are occasionally eccentric, but mathematicians have a lock on the truly nuts.

Why is Venus Hot?

It seems like an easy question - Venus is closer to the Sun, and gets about twice as much solar radiation as the Earth does. It's not that simple though. Venus is a very shiny planet - it has an high albedo. Most of that solar radiation is just reflected back into space and plays no role in heating Venus up. On an area basis, Venus absorbs less energy from the Sun than Earth does. The answer lies in the so-called greenhouse effect (I say so-called, because real greenhouses work mainly by trapping the warm air enclosed, rather than radiation). Venus makes it very hard for outgoing infrared radiation to escape. It does this by having a very thick and dense atmosphere, most of which is carbon dioxide (CO2). It is slightly surprising that this should be so effective, since the CO2 spectrom has some prominent spectral holes through which you might expect a lot of hot thermal radiation to escape - the saturation effect. Two effects cooperate to close the holes. Spectral lines are