Showing posts from June, 2007

Angling for a Dictatorship

I don't recommend reading the Washington Post's Angler series on Vice President Cheney before bedtime. It certainly gave me nightmares. I can't think of another high American official who has pursued policies so deeply subversive of the Constitution and the law. Because Cheney combined enormous influence with nearly total unaccountability, he has dominated every aspect of Bush administration policy. Because he combines great secrecy with abominable judgement, those policies have catastrophically failed. Bush bears a huge burden of guilt for outsourcing so much of his Presidency to this man. Fortunately for him, he is too dumb to know it. For an alternative point of view, you might want to check out Tucker Carlson and Jonah Goldberg working themselves into a homoerotic lather over the VP's manly manliness. (Via Glenn Greenwald )

Evangelizing the Unbeliever

I have been spending my blogging energies over at Lumo's place, preaching to the unconverted. The natives haven't yet tossed me in the cooking pot, but there are signs of restlessness. The venue for my mission was the gigantic comment thread (300 plus) about a Lumo climate post. There is a futility to trying to persuade someone of something they don't want to believe, so I try to avoid that. Consequently, I try to stick to just pointing out facts. This is a conceivably useful activity, because many of the commenters are deeply misinformed about what climate science is, what climate scientists do, and how they reach their conclusions. The most serious problem for the climate missionary is that the subject is complicated. There are a lot of facts, ideas, and mathematical concepts needed to understand how the climate system works. Most of the readers don't have the necessary background to understand - one reader suggested that anyone talking math was incapable of wri

Libertarian Parables

Perhaps you have seen this remarkable video, linked to here by Wolfgang. Of course it has plenty of natural interest, but I would like to interpret it as a parable of Libertarians and Collectivists. Two social groups, one of libertarians and one of collectivists, meet on the stage. The libertarians, it turns out, are much more numerous, and individually more dangerous, but still it's one of them that gets eaten alive. The drama has four acts: in the first, the encounter with the collectivists scattering the libts, then pulling down a weak one. In the second act, bandits attempt to rob the colls of their reward, but in the third act they snatch their prize and sit down to dinner. At this point (act four), the libertarians come back together, stare angrily at the colls, and an Ayn Rand hero among them steps forward to send collectivists flying. After a few more join the skirmish, the collectivists are dispersed, and their prey, somehow miraculously still alive after having b

Revolutionary Justice

The present Supreme Court is the most radical Court in many decades. They have overturned a large number of previously settled decisions, rolling back desegregation, trashing separation of church and state, and said free speech is only for corporations, not for the people. Each case has been decided by the narrowest possible majority. Adam B of Daily Kos notes that: In one full term, this Court has severely curbed local efforts to promote racial diversity in schools, upheld a right-wing ban on a necessary medical procedure for women, curbed students' free speech rights, crippled Congress' ability to keep corporate money out of political advertising, prevented taxpayers from challenging the constitutionality of Bush's faith-based initiatives, made it almost impossible for women to prevail on claims of longterm sex discrimination . . . and they're just getting started. Unfortunately, these guys are the ones who will be deciding whether the King President is entitled t

Wingnut Wetdream

Sally Quinn, writing in the Washinton Post, gives voice to one popular Republican fantasy. How about, says this theory, swapping out Cheney for that tobacco lobbyist actor guy? The big question right now among Republicans is how to remove Vice President Cheney from office. Even before this week's blockbuster series in The Post, discontent in Republican ranks was rising. As the reputed architect of the war in Iraq, Cheney is viewed as toxic, and as the administration's leading proponent of an attack on Iran, he is seen as dangerous. As long as he remains vice president, according to this thinking, he has the potential to drag down every member of the party -- including the presidential nominee -- in next year's elections. ... That leaves Fred Thompson. Everybody loves Fred. He has the healing qualities of Gerald Ford and the movie-star appeal of Ronald Reagan. He is relatively moderate on social issues. He has a reputation as a peacemaker and a compromiser. And he has a go

The Amateur Climatologist

Lubos Motl has a new climate post mostly about radiative saturation of the CO2 band and climate sensitivity. He gets most of the main scientific points right (the next CO2 molecule costs us slightly less than the last one, the magnitude of the first order effect) but manages to draw some slightly odd conclusions. The chorus line of his worshipfull cult is rather more out to lunch, of course. Let me pick out a clinker or two: Most of the absorbed infrared rays are instantly transformed to kinetic energy of the atmosphere and this energy is not re-emitted. I take issue with the last two words. Most of the greenhouse effect takes place in the troposphere, which is sandwiched between the warmer stratosphere above and the (usually) warmer ground below. The troposphere receives energy in four forms: solar radiation, infrared radiation (IR) from above and below, convected heat from below, and heat from the condensation of moisture convected up from the surface. Essentially all the ener

More For Rupert Fans

Didn't like your tax bill last year? You were probably just too dumb to figure out how to avoid it. Rupert wasn't. This Huffpost story says News Corporation paid no federal taxes in two of the last four years, and in the other two it paid only a fraction of what it otherwise would have owed. During that time, Securities and Exchange Commission records show, the News Corporation's domestic pretax profits topped $9.4 billion. Huffpost links to the NYT series cited below. Good work if you can get it.

America's Most Dangerous Immigrant...

... is not, so far as I know, the name of a new Fox reality show, but if I had to vote, I would definitely pick Rupert Murdoch. A new New York Times series profiles the remarkably successful Australian (and naturalized American citizen) purveyor of soft porn and softer trash news. Murdoch's wealth and media empire gives him tremendous power to buy politicians and influence people. Murdoch’s sprawling media empire was in jeopardy. Congress was on the verge of limiting any company from owning local television stations that reached more than 35 percent of American homes. Mr. Murdoch’s Fox stations reached nearly 39 percent, meaning he would have to sell some. A strike force of Mr. Murdoch’s lobbyists joined other media companies in working on the issue. The White House backed the industry, and in a late-night meeting just before Thanksgiving, Congressional leaders agreed to raise the limit — to 39 percent. One leader of the Congressional movement to limit ownership was Senator Tren

Whither Lubos?

Conscientious students of Lumology know that Lubos has been dropping hints about leaving academia for some time. Apparently that time is upon us (see first comment here and follow on) . (Via this comment at NEW ). So far as I can tell, he's not telling what his future plans are. Speculations range from his becoming Minister for the Anti-environment for Czechia to retreating to the hills to meditate like Perelman and Grothendieck. Lumo probably hates me, but I will wish him luck anyway, unless he is planning to turn himself into Dr. Evil and destroy the world. In either case, I hope he keeps up his blog.

A Hard Rain in a Dry Country

El Fuerte, Sinaloa, is at slightly more than 26 degrees North latitude and an elevation of only about 80 meters, so at this time of year the Sun is nearly directly overhead at noon, and it's hot. The Pig was hot. The Pig had been hot hundreds of kilometers North and 1200 meters higher in El Paso. Walking around the plaza in the noonday sun, the Pig was sweating like a pig - or rather, sweating like a pig would sweat if a pig could sweat, which they can't. By the time he managed to stagger into the hotel's (shaded but outdoor and still sweltering) bar, he was as parched as the leafless semi-tropical forest all around. When the P descended from the heights of the Sierra Madre on the Chepe he noted passing through a sequence of climate zones, from alpine pinon to tropical banana and palm, but as one approached El Fuerte, the landscape was dominated by a leafless and lifeless looking deciduous forest. El Fuerte sits pretty squarely in the horse latitudes, that region wh


The Republican party has proven so corrupt in both Congress and the White House that it should by rights be euthanized. Unfortunately, the one party state envishioned by Karl Rove can no more be trusted to the Democrats than to the Republicans. The GOP has clearly become the OGP (Old Gangster Party) so what are we to do? Third parties rarely get going in the US, and this is probably not time for one of those seismic political events to happen, so clearly some other type of massive adjustment is necessary. Such an event occurred in the sixties when the Democrats abandoned their racist Southern component in favor of civil rights. The Republicans inherited a significantly reformed if still bitter South, and Democratic power went gradually into eclipse. Karl Rove and his Justice Department henchmen (von Spassovsky, Sholzman, et. al.) did their best to bring back Black vote suppression but those guys may now be looking at some slammer time. Who or what can put the Republicans back toge

Off the Grid

I will be off the grid for a week or so. Feel free to use the comments to post anything interesting.

What's the Time?

What's the time? It's got to be close to midnight. My body's talking to me. Says it's time for danger. ...........Mimi, in Rent Time is one of the most difficult issues in physics. We all know that the past is pretty different from the future, and that the film run backward can usually be told from that running forward. Glasses fall off the table and break, but nobody has ever seen scattered bits of glass spontaneously assemble on the floor and then leap up to the table. The problem is that all the laws of physics that we know seem to be time symmetric. So how do we get time assymmetry from purely symmetric laws? Sean Carroll blogs about a seminar he and co-authors gave at UC Santa Cruz: Why is the Past Different from the Future? The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time . The discussion following the post brings in little guns and big, with the most illuminating points being made by Sean and John Baez. There is no future there is no past. Got to make the

The Genius of David Chase

Such as it is, was in combining the classic themes of the American gangster movie and the soap opera. I have watched a number of episodes, but I am by no means a fan of The Sopranos - though I must admit that my dear, sweet and non-violent wife is. Having declared my non-allegiance to the cult, I have to admit that it was often gripping television, and that a number of excellent actors were in it, and that whatever his limitations as an actor (may or may not be), James Gandolfini was often perfect for his brutish thug of a character. My problem is that I think it was gripping for essentially bad reasons. The Roman gladiatorial games were no doubt gripping entertainment, and The Sopranos with all its nods to domesticity, was essentially about vicariously experiencing David Chase's sadistic fantasies. Tony Soprano was no Hamlet or MacBeth. His was an appeal based purely on his ability to do all the bad things we might want to do with utter impunity. Who hasn't wanted to h

Watch Out!

In the US, Bush is not known as a typical flesh-pressing politician. In fact, to the general public, he's the most reclusive President in recent memory. In Albania, though, they love him. He got out and grabby with the crowd. The rumor mill has it though, that some Albanian got grabby back. Pictures only a few seconds apart show the President wearing a wrist watch, and then not. Apparently the WH has given more than one account of what happened to it. The really unfortunate part is that the watch was a new high tech version that incorporated that bulky old nuclear football some Aide always used to have to carrry around behind him.

Thucydides 1.3

CHAPTER III Congress of the Peloponnesian Confederacy at Lacedaemon OK, the MIT version sucks. Everything is incomplete. Project Gutenberg has a better version of the same Crawley translation here . I am starting to suspect that I'm the only reader here, but I will keep posting my comments to the blog anyway, for my own convenience. This chapter is all about four speeches: the speech of the Corinthian representatives, that of Athenians who were in town on othe business, that of the king of Lacedaemon (Sparta), and that of the Spartan ephor. So what's an ephor anyway? This wikipedia article offers some insight into Sparta, but such insight is limited by the fact that: The Spartans had no historical records, literature, or written laws, which were, according to tradition, expressly prohibited by an ordinance of Lycurgus (excluding, of course, the 'Great Rhetra,' supposedly given by Lycurgus himself). By the time of this history, the Kings (there were two) had a mai

Isn't it Ironic?

Eli reports on a Science article (subscription required) that seems to indicate a problem with trying to teach science. It seems that God arranged our evolution in such a fashion that we are genetically disposed to believe in Intelligent Design. Eli quoting Paul Bloom and Skilnick Wisberg in the May 18th issue of Science : The examples so far concern people's common-sense understanding of the physical world, but their intuitive psychology also contributes to their resistance to science. One important bias is that children naturally see the world in terms of design and purpose. For instance, 4-year-olds insist that everything has a purpose, including lions ("to go in the zoo") and clouds ("for raining"), a propensity called "promiscuous teleology". Additionally, when asked about the origin of animals and people, children spontaneously tend to provide and prefer creationist explanations. Just as children's intuitions about the physical world make

Destruction of the American Middle Class

Daniel Gross writing in The New York Times has an article on accelerating inequality in America. INCOME inequality is a hot topic in politics and economics. The rising economic tide is lifting a bunch of yachts, but leaving those in simple boats just bobbing along. Two professors — Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley — have found that the share of gross personal income of the top 1 percent of American earners rose to 17.4 percent in 2005 from 8.2 percent in 1980. Many economists, especially those who find themselves in the Bush administration, argue that the winner-take-all trend is fueled by other, unstoppable trends. After all, globalization, information technology and free trade place a premium on skills and education. “The good news is that most of the inequality reflects an increase in returns to ‘investing in skills’ — workers completing more school, getting more training and acquiring new capabilities,” as

Joe Lieberman

Joe Lieberman is still cheering for an attack on Iran. Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Sunday the United States should consider a military strike against Iran because of Tehran's involvement in Iraq. "I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," Lieberman said. "And to me, that would include a strike over the border into Iran, where we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers." I am pretty sure this is bullshit, just like all the other bullshit these guys have been peddling for the last five years. Like the IEDs they claimed were coming from Iran - until oops, they found a factory in Bagdad. There are maybe a few groups in the world who have clear motives for us to go to war with Iran. The big oil companies might stand to make a tidy profit from the resulting spike in oil prices. Ditto Ru

Thucydides, I.2

Book I Chapter two: Causes of the War - The Affair of Epidamnus - The Affair of Potidaea Fun fact: Potidaea was the alleged birthplace of Gabriele, gal-pal of Xena, the Warrior Princess. Map links: Corcyra, Illiria, and Epidamnus can be found on this Bernard Suzanne map . They are on the Western side of the Balkan penninsula, toward the North. For Potidaea and nearby places, consult this map (also by Suzanne). They are East of the Balkan penninsula on the oddly shaped Chalcidician penninsula. Quick summary: The treaty among the Hellenic states still held. Corcyra, originally a colony of Corinth, has had a dust up with it's colony Epipidamus. Epidamnus has sent to Corinth for aid. This provokes Corcyra, which lays seige to Epidamnus and defeats a Corinthian fleet sent to its aid. The hapless Epidamnians are slaughtered or sold into slavery. Corinth now builds a great fleet, bent on revenge, and Corinth and Corcyra both sent representatives to Athens appealing for allegiance. The sp

The History of the Peloponnesian War

Book One, Chapter One: The State of Greece from the earliest Times to the Commencement of the Peloponnesian War Reading Thucydides classic , written almost five centuries before the birth of Christ, I found myself struck by how utterly modern he seems. He begins by outlining the history of the Hellenes and the circumstances that led to the great war. He is well aware that he is dealing with the stuff of legends and poetry, and the uncertainties those pose. His voice is cool but not without passion, and he goes to some trouble to tell of the pains he went to to check and cross check his facts while recognizing the inevitable ambiguities that remain. If your knowledge of Greek geography is no better than mine, you might quickly find yourself lost in a forest of place names. Fortunately, you can just open this great online map of ancient Greece . The map is active, so buttoning on most places will bring up historical and other background. Props to Bernard Suzanne who posted it. The

Blogging a Book

The pig, whose patience with political ranting is exhausted (for the moment), and who figures the MSM are already covering the really important issues facing the world (Paris Hilton), is thinking of blogging a book. I thought I might read some classic one chapter at a time, preferably one found on line, and post my thoughts and questions. This would be a lot more fun if some readers would join in the conversation. My initial thoughts were Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil or The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. Any takers? Alternative suggestions?

Is Our Children Learning?

Bigotry of low expectations? A number of studies have shown that children are doing better on their proficiency tests since No Child Left Behind ( NCLB ). Unfortunately, we can't really trust the statistics much, since the states set their own standards, and they vary widely. The recent developments are the publication of comparisons of state standards with those on a national test. It seems that every state sets its standards lower than the national standard, but some set theirs a whole lot lower. There are stories out in the usual places, notably the NYT , but I like a couple of posts by Kevin Drum. He notes, commenting on a scatter plot State standards versus the NAEP : state standards compare to the NAEP "basic achievement level" for 32 states. This one is for fourth grade reading, and the state standards vary from 161 to 234. Does this seem like a lot? Well, hold on: the rule of thumb for NAEP is that ten points is about equal to one grade level, which means that

Is It Just Me?

Or is this Drudge headline incredibly droll in a sick sort of way? Lynne Cheney Floated as Possible Replacement for Dead Senator... For some reason that reminds me of the church bulletin advertising morning and evening services: Morning Sermon: Jesus walks upon the water . Evening Sermon: Searching for Jesus

Scary Movie

Now I can climate scare monger with some of the best, but I always figured that I wasn't at too much risk from rising seas here at 3900 ft in New Mexico. Until I saw this HuffPost Story on the threat to Machu Pichu. The devil is in the details. It turns out that the real threat to Machu Pichu was actually too many tourists. Not sure why it got the picture in a story entitled: Report Says Global Warming Threatens Landmarks

Is Economics a Zero Sum Game?

Is the economy a zero sum game? Most economists in the neo-classical tradition would dismiss the idea out of hand, I think. It's not hard to find arguments against the idea. This being a physicist's blog, a quote from Feynman ought to be just as good as (better than) one from any economist: "[T]he idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn’t take into account the real reason for the differences between countries — that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. But I realize now that these people were not in science; they didn’t understand it.

Death to NASA

Eli has some notes on the Bush administrations destruction of NASA's science program, especially its Earth science program. It sheds some light on Michael Griffin's bizarre interview on NPR last week. After a few other considered remarks, Hansen points out that The significance of the Administrator’s remarks is the insight it provides into the February 2006 massacre of the Earth Science Research and Analysis budget (which funds NASA support of Earth Science research at universities as well as NASA Centers, primarily Goddard Space Flight Center), as discussed here Something that Eli mentioned a few months ago in his seminal post, Those who governments would destroy they first defund. The Bunny knows all. The Bunny does know a lot. But I only give him an A- in omniscience, because I'm pretty sure it ought to be whom . Does anybody else find it interesting that exactly the same people who say that we don't know enough about climate to try to deal with the threat of globa

Iraq Plans

One moment in the Repo debates tonight came when the sister of an American soldier killed in Iraq asked the candidates what they would do to conclude our efforts there. Somebody wanted to partition the country, somebody else wanted to write them a new constitution. Somebody else (Rudy?) wants more of the same -train the Iraqis. John McCain, after six years of kissing Bush's ass, has now decided that George did a lousy job of managing the war (duh!). He doesn't have a plan, but is sure George's new plan is just right, and that it would be bad if we left. Ron Paul was the only Republican who spoke forthrightly and sensibly: The war was a mistake and a betrayal of American values, Bush sacrificed the soldiers who died for nothing, and his colleagues all want to keep doing it. He, of course, has no chance.

America's Next Presidential Candidate!

I listened to a bit of the debates, and it was a pretty miserable experience. Whatever one thinks about politics, it's hard to deny that the current system really sucks. The endless campaign, the excruciatingly boring cattle show debates, the primaries all jumbled together in one big blur. The interminable debates with their stupid questions are just one symptom. As one of my continuing series of proposals for reforming the process, let me present an idea for an improved primary system. We probably need to have a series of debates, but let's put in some human interest. Reporters always ask stupid questions, so let the debaters ask each other - make it a more pitted struggle. Initially, each candidate would get to ask a couple of questions, of, say, two other candidates. A lottery could be arranged so that each candidate gets the same number of questions (four in my example). So far, so boring, right? It still looks like a miserably incremental approach. so let's tak

Hard Jobs

Angelina Jolie, who is starting to look a bit over the hill even though she's only 32, recently said : "I don't know how he does it, but ... I talk a lot in the bath," the actress and UN goodwill ambassador, 32, tells Marie Claire magazine for its July issue. "It's easier to talk when you're naked ... Get naked with me, and I'll talk!" OK, it's a dirty job, but as a journalist I know my duty. I will volunteer for the interview.

A War We Can Win

It seems that Vermont is threatening to secede. This is a war we can win. I recommend a Sherman like march to the sea, featuring the burning of the State's major city, if there is one. I'm almost sure we know how to do this part. Let's skip the "shock and awe" this time. It just pisses the conquered peoples off. I'm not sure about the freeing the slaves part either. I mean how many slaves are there in Vermont anyway. Rosebud! Or did I mean, "tomorrow is another day."

Kicking Mike Around

I couldn't resist another go at Dr. Crichton. My favorite quote from the speech discussed in the previous post: String theory cannot be tested and therefore string theory is not science. String theory is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are strings in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any super strings, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. String theory is a religion. In honor of our old friend Lumo , I chose the above passage, since I know he's a big fan of Dr. C. Since the original quote really doesn't hold up to scientific scrutiny, I took the liberty of substituting "string theory" or "str

What's Wrong With Global Warming Skepticism?

Well, nothing really, per se. Some of my best colleagues are global warming skeptics. Most of them don't know enough to have an intelligent opinion, but that rarely stops anyone. Informed skepticism, of course is an essential component of science. Unfortunately though, the principal players in the anti-global warming crusade are rarely either innocents or informed critics. Most of them are religiously or ideologically motivated zealots who know and understand little about modern climate science. A few are old geezers and soreheads who don't like the kind of science climate has become. The most despicable are hacks and flacks on the take from big oil and others with a stake in the status quo. Michael Crichton doesn't really fit into any of these categories, except sorehead. He was trained as a physician, but made a fortune writing science fiction books and movies, some of which were quite excellent. The best of his stuff takes a scientific idea with a bit of credibi


I can't seem to get Blogger to accept my latest posts. I wonder what's up.

Blogs of Doom

Why does my browser crash most of the time when I access Lumo's The Reference Frame ? Is it just the bloated immensity of the thing or has he devised some new snare for his enemies?

A Necessary Evil?

Who said it? The history of peoples who have shucked off religion isn't an especially persuasive argument for living without it. Google, I should think, would be cheating.

Sunday Death Heads

Talking head time today was godawful. First I check out little Russ. Arghh! There were Mary Matalin and James Carville, the Undead Couple of American politics. Quick jump to ABC, where things are only slightly better. George and some Iraqi, Congressman Murtha, who made sense, followed by Sam, Cokie, and George Will. All have clearly slid well into senile dementia, though Cokie and George aren't *that* old.

Malarial Climes

The tropical rainforest is the ecologically richest enviroment on Earth. There are (or were) up to ten times as many species per unit area in tropical rainforests as in temperate regions. These tropical rainforests have been rapidly vanishing for the past half century or so, and are likely to be essentially gone in a couple more decades. Despite their species diversity, the TR's have usually not supported large human populations - not enough humans to destroy their relatively fragile ecologies. They largely resisted the onslaught of European civilization until relatively recently. There is a common factor between those facts: Malaria. Malaria and other tropical diseases (yellow fever, tsetse flies, etc.) have protected the jungle for millenia. Populations living in malarial climes have evolved some expensive defenses, most notably, sickle cell anemia. Persons having two sickle cell genes typically die very young of sickle cell disease. Heterozygotic individuals have better c

Big Experiments

Physicists tend to think of a billion dollar experiment as pretty big, and high-energy physics experiments have penetrated that barrier. All such are dwarfed by some other ongoing experiments though, a couple by the US and one by the world. Experiment one : Does it really matter if you have an idiot for President, even if he is the idiot son of a corrupt dynasty who spent 25 years burning out his few functional neurons with alcoholic excess? The answer seems to be in on this one: Yes, it matters. Experiment two: Can the US keep borrowing a trillion dollars a year ($3000/person) with reaping a financial catastrophe? The results aren't in on this one, but professional economists are mostly skeptical. Experiment three: Can we pump up CO2 levels to ranges not seen for millions of years without producing extremely destructive changes? Again the answer isn't in. I've said before that I don't think climate change is the most dangerous ecological catastrophe we are hea