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Showing posts from July, 2006

Peter Woit on Susskind on Woit & Smolin

Peter Woit and Lee Smolin have each written books allegedly critical of string theory. I haven't seen them yet because they aren't published here yet. Leonard Susskind, one of the founders of string theory, was interviewed on KQED. He had a defense of string theory and some bad things to say about a couple of unnamed physicists who have got to be Woit and Smolin. This provoked a rather impressive slapdown from Peter at Not even Wrong which includes:

Near the end of the interview, when asked to cite some experimental evidence in favor of string theory he said that yes there was a lot of evidence including:

1. The existence of gravity.

2. The existence of particles.

3. The laws of the universe.

Quite remarkably he then went on to announce that QCD is a string theory and take credit for it, saying that string theory was “invented by Nambu and myself as a theory of protons and neutrons, an extremely successful theory of protons and neutrons”. According to Susskind, string theory provid…

Glacial Growth

I hope Rae Ann won't mind if I take a question she asked in a comment as the topic for a post.

The question was: ...why is the glacier on Mt. St. Helens growing while others are shrinking?

I thought I might know the answer, but I wasn't sure, so I thought I had better check. It turns out that my idea was a part (the minor part) of the answer, but not the main idea.

My thought was that, hey, it's a baby. It's only been there since 1980 (its predecessor having been melted and vaporized in the 1980 explosion), and it does get like 40 feet of snowfall every year. Well, it is a young glacier, but it's already bigger than the pre-explosion glacier. It's the fastest growing glacier in the world because the rim of the crater formed by the explosion gives it quite a bit of shade for most of the day. It's expected to keep growing until it gets out of the shade or another meltdown happens.

Details and discussion can be found here

It's one of only two in the US th…

PR Disaster

The Israeli attack on Qana which killed at least 37 children was not only a trajedy, but a PR disaster for Israel. According to Washington Post story by Anthony Shadid, Edward Cody and Robin Wright.
Israeli warplanes blasted a group of buildings in this southern Lebanese village Sunday, killing more than 50 people, most of them women and children, according to Lebanese officials. The Israeli military said the airstrike was aimed at destroying Hezbollah rocket launchers nearby and that civilians were not being targeted.
I feel confident that this Israeli claim is in fact true, but it's not getting much sympathy anywhere except on Israeli TV and Fox News. The fact that Israel started the war by smashing up almost all the Lebanese civilian infrastructure alienated even many people (like me) disposed to give Israel the benefit of the doubt.

Israel had a small army of smooth talking diplomats blanketing the airwaves this morning, but I found it hard to credit the notion that the slaught…

Finally: Empirical Evidence for String Theory

One of the interesting possible predictions of string theory is that our four dimensional spacetime might just be one "brane" of many in the universe. Fareed Zakaria finds some evidence for such a parallel universe on NBCs Meet The Press. From Think Progress via The Huffington Post.
Transcript:

[If I were running against conservatives,] I would make up a campaign commercial almost entirely of Donald Rumsfeld’s press conferences, because the man is looking — I mean, it’s not just that he seems like a bad Secretary of [Defense]. He seems literally in a parallel universe and slightly deranged. If you listen to what he said last week about Iraq, he’s living in a different world, not a different country.
Zakaria may have been referencing Rumsfeld’s “glib” remarks last week when asked whether Iraq was getting “closer to a civil war“:
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don’t know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If yo…

Tommy Boy has a Point

Tom Friedman had a reputation as one of the most astute observers of the Middle East before he decided to jump on the Iraq war bandwagon. That led to a two year period of insanity where he kept insisting that things could just still work out, providing Bush would just pay more attention to Tom Friedman.

He was interviewed on NBC by little Russ today and said a lot of things that made sense. One that caught my attention was his analysis of why Bush has become the most hated American President (in the rest of the world). His idea went something like the following:

The rest of the world likes to make fun of American optimism and naivette, but secretly has always looked up to it. Before Bush, America seemed to stand for something, to have some principles. The cold, calculating, Bush, Cheney, and Rice, with their cynical lies and hypocrisy destroy that hope, and the world hates Bush for that.

Now this is just me, but the fact that they always seem to calculate wrong isn't exactly ins…

Hot Times

The Sunday Times reports:
Heatwave with a global grip

IT looks like being the hottest July on record but Britain is not alone in experiencing extreme conditions, write Jonathan Leake and Alex Delmar- Morgan.
Hot, arid weather is afflicting millions in America and in dozens of countries across Europe and parts of east Asia.

The phenomenon has surprised meteorologists who are used to seeing drought as a regional, not global, problem. This weekend they said early analysis of the hot weather, together with the size of the areas affected, suggested it was linked to global climate change.

“Greenhouse gas emissions raise the likelihood of heatwaves like this one,” said Dave Griggs, a Met Office representative on the Joint Scientific Committee for the World Climate Research Programme. “By 2040 this will be just an average summer and by 2060 it will be a relatively cool one.”
Data on the global heatwave have been collated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in America. Its maps …

The Logic of Sectarian Violence

One of the most dismaying aspects of the sectarian slaughter in Iraq is that the perpetrators usually have nothing personal against the victims. They are slaughtered simply for their group membership.

Humans in hunter gatherer societies tend to break up into small bands which often compete violently with each other. Sectarian violence likely stems from an instinct that had a certain function in such a world, but is catastrophic when it is internal to a civilized society. Osama bin Laden and his fellow sociopaths openly promote their "war of civilizations," but it's really a war that destroys civilizations. Similarly, the racial extremists of the American right want their members to join the army so they will be prepared for the coming race war in America.

The man who shot six women (killing one) at a Seattle Jewish center announced that:
"I'm a Muslim American; I'm angry at Israel,"He could equally logically have said "I'm angry at a guy with blue…

Catspaw

Partly because so many of the neocon architects of the war were Jewish (Kristol, Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith) some have argued that Iraq was a war fought to make Israel safe. This conveniently leaves out the fact that Bush and Cheney and Rice aren't Jewish.

It's fair then, that Israelis are arguing that the war in Lebanon is a case of Israel serving its American master. A couple of Haaretz articles argue that Bush is pushing Israel to expand the war, and it is obvious that he is doing nothing to contain it.

I think there is something to this theory. Bush and friends are right to be concerned about the growth of Iranian influence in the wake of the Iraq fiasco. It's not clear to me that another fiasco is going to help things.

The Doofus

I had the misfortune today to listen to part of Bush and Blair's press conference while driving to work today. I only heard a fragment, but I decided to read the transcript, now disappeared, and look at Josh's link to the YouTube after reading Josh Marshall's post on the subject:
BREAKING: President Bush Really Big Doofus

Yes, I grant you, this may have been reported in other outlets before. But we're here listening to the Bush-Blair press conference. And a few minutes ago a reporter (I think David Gregory, but will check on that) asked the president in so many words: You said Iraq was going to bring about new Middle East but now the Middle East is a complete disaster.

Certainly, this would be a challenging question on more levels than one. But the president's answer, quite a lengthy one actually, showed in a really frightening detail how President Bush seems to be basically brain dead on this issue. We'll try to get a copy of it up on line. You really have to he…

The Patriot.

Phillip Carter is a lawyer and national security writer who founded the blog INTEL DUMP. He is also a US Army officer who was patriotic enough (and crazy enough) to leave a perfectly good law practice and journalistic career to volunteer for duty in Iraq, where he is currently serving. Because of his assignment, he cannot write about the war directly, but he has some of the best background articles around.
It has been extraordinarily difficult for America to define its current war. Are we at war against terrorism, defined by many as a tactic or strategy incapable of ever being conquered? Are we at war with Islamic terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah? Are we at war with the states which sponsor Islamic terrorist organizations? Or are we at war with Islam itself?

This last question may seem preposterous to some. But it's not to many Muslims, who see U.S. actions abroad as a campaign against Islam itself. And within the U.S., there remain a number of scholars and pol…

Z Prime

Amongst the usual stuff, Lubos Motl has an interesting note on prospects for detecting the Stuckleberg Z' in the LHC. Apparently, the Z' gets its mass from a different mechanism than the usual Higgs, a mechanism that has some support in string theory.

The LHC candidates multiply. Let's hope some of them show up for the party.

I guess it must be OK then.

Another one from Brad Delong:
"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Israeli radio, "to continue this operation, this war, until Hezbollah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed." Mr. Ramon also raised the possibility of an expanded air assault, saying "all those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah."

Is this for real? If so, I guess it would explain why those UN guys got killed despite ten times advising Israel of their position.

And what is it with Canadians? Have they got "bomb me" painted on their backs or what? Seems like they are taking a lot of causualties for a peace loving country without any enemies. If I was Canadian, I would be pretty pissed. Actually, I'm pretty mad even though I'm not Canadian.

Puffery and Access

Brad Delong is still unhappy with the Washington Post, specifically a ridiculous puff piece by Peter Baker that includes:
For the president, the timing could not be much worse. In a second term marked by one setback after another, the White House was in the midst of a rebuilding effort aimed at a political comeback before November's critical midterm elections.
Rebuilding effort? What rebuilding effort? Stem cells, flag burning and gay marriage? Delong adds:
The most illuminating thing that one of Peter Baker's peers has said to me to explain stories like this is: "We really have to write these sort of things to maintain access. But we don't believe them. And everybody serious reading our newspaper knows we don't believe them." Seems to me that somebody needs to have a talk with Peter Baker about the importance of not printing stuff that is false, for the only asset the Washington Post might ever have would be credibility as a news source.
That is pretty damn s…

Puzzling Again

Another look at TSM's puzzle:
A family has two children. We know that one of them is a boy. What is the probability that the other one is a girl?

I don't doubt or misunderstand his answer (see previous post, or his posting). The question is, why do we find that answer so counterintuitive. I think that it is because there is some ambiguity in the question. Consider a different but similar seeming problem:

You know that the Johnsons have two children, but you don't know their respective sexes. Your daughter comes home and says, "I talked the Johnson kid today. His name is Mike."
What is the probability that Mike's sibling is a sister? Is this like TSM's puzzle, or like my Ace-Jack puzzle in my previous post?

Aaron Bergman has posted a comment pointing out that the second sentence ("We know that one of them is a boy.") of the puzzle is ambiguous. It could mean "exactly one of them is a boy," and that's actually the most likely inte…

Wanna Bet?

The Statistical Mechanic, AKA Wolfgang, had this little puzzle.
A family has two children. We know that one of them is a boy. What is the probability that the other one is a girl?
His answer is:
Initially there are four equally likely cases: { bb, bg, gb, gg}.
The intelligent reader can easily understand what the b and g stands for.
After we learn that there is (at least) one boy, we can eliminate the case gg.
Thus we are left with three equally likely cases {bg, gb, bb} and in two of them
the other child is a girl, thus the probability is 2/3.

I really like this example, because it is so quick and easy and yet so counter-intuitive.

I have an alternative puzzle: We deal out a large deck of cards which consists only of Aces and Jacks, with equal numbers of each. Each hand consists of two cards, face down. I walk up to one at random and turn up one of the cards, getting an Ace. You gentle reader, are offered the following bet: "I will bet $4 to your $6 that the other card is not a Jac…

Israeli Strategy

Is there a strategy behind Israel's terror campaign against Lebanon's Shia? Maybe so, but I doubt that it can work. Israel had to know that there would be a PR cost to targeting apartment houses and fleeing carloads of children, so they probably had a reason. My guess is that they hope to scare the Shia out of supporting Hizbollah, in elections or on the ground.

The other prong of their strategy consists of driving Hizbollah from the South and replacing them with some international peacekeepers. I can't imagine why any country would sign up for such a role, but maybe somebody will. A five year-old could devise Hizbollah's next move - mounting the same kind of campaign against the foreign army that they mounted against the Israeli occupation, and which eventually drove Israel out.

That's the point of the terror strategy. Hizbollah as a guerrilla army can only succeed with considerable help from the populace and the Lebanese government.

Will it work?

I doubt it. Pe…

Misanthropic Me

Bee has a long thoughtful post on various versions of the Anthropic Principle, with many comments. Lubos has another, much longer, and related post on what kind of universe is necessary for life. Unfortunately I didn't get much out of either one, since my brain shuts off when I read (or hear) the phrase "Anthropic Principle."

Basic statistical mechanics indicates that if our universe started from a random state, it is more likely that our present ideas of the history of the Universe, the Earth, and even ourselves, is more likely to be an illusion based on chance alignments of molecules than real. It's more likely that those memory traces in your brain (and the rest of you) are a chance fluctuation than real records of your history (see, for example, Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos, pg. 160 ff.

In such a universe it's very hard for me to believe anthropic considerations are likely to help us make sense of the whole thing. It seems very unlikely that ther…

Warped Passages

I finally got around to reading Lisa Randall's Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions. Writing a popular book on advanced physics seems like kind of an unlikely enterprise, on the face of it. It's pretty well extablished that it takes six or eight years of hard post high school study for highly motivated and mathematically talented students to get a sound technical understanding of frontier science, so isn't it pretty absurd to expect to explain the same to people who never learned or promptly forgot the elements of algebra and calculus?

Remarkably enough, many physicists have attempted, and often succeeded in just that daunting task. I guess my favorites among those I know would be Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes, Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps, and Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe. Randall's book is in many ways a worthy successor to these. I don't find her quite as elegant a stylist…

License to Steal

One of the ways the Bush family likes to reward itself and its rich friends is by handing out licenses to steal. Bush failed to get the estate tax repealed, so he found a clever way around the problem, as described by David Cay Johnston in the the NYT:
The federal government is moving to eliminate the jobs of nearly half of the lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service who audit tax returns of some of the wealthiest Americans, specifically those who are subject to gift and estate taxes when they transfer parts of their fortunes to their children and others.

The administration plans to cut the jobs of 157 of the agency’s 345 estate tax lawyers, plus 17 support personnel, in less than 70 days. Kevin Brown, an I.R.S. deputy commissioner, confirmed the cuts after The New York Times was given internal documents by people inside the I.R.S. who oppose them...

But six I.R.S. estate tax lawyers whose jobs are likely to be eliminated said in interviews that the cuts were just the latest moves behi…

World War III

A favorite meme of the right-wing stupidocracy lately has been "We are already in World War III." Newt Gingrich seems to have been the first to roll this particular load of crap onto the public stage, but the usual idiots (Sean Hannity, Faux News, et al) quickly chimed in. They say this with particular enthusiasm, as if it might justify their calamitous mismanagement of public policy for the past six years.

To be a real world war, it would have to involve full mobilization of all the great powers against each other, and, given modern weaponry, billions of casualties. Presumably Bush, as leader of the only currently agressive superpower, would have to play the role of Hitler. Perhaps this isn't quite what they mean.

Maybe this is just more neocon bullshit, designed to drum up a war against Iran, and save the Republican party's electoral ass. Considering the source, I would have to say that there is at least a 99% chance that that is the case.

Sometimes you get what…

Dershowitz: Those who supports terrorists are not entirely innocent.

I would like to swear off commenting on the news, but it continues to piss me off too much. Like this op-ed in the LA Times.

His bottom line:
The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.


I think maybe Hizbullah might have given Israelis some notice too.

Scientific American: Oh Dear.

Scientific American this month has as it's cover story a truly mediocre exercise called The Expert Mind, by Philip E. Roth. It's mostly about chess, mostly a rehash of old research, and provides essentially no support for its central thesis - that hard study is more important than talent.

He lost me at hello. How far does a chess grandmaster see ahead?
"I see only one move ahead," Capablanca is said to have anwered, "but it is always the best one."

I much prefer the version I heard. When Capablanca arrived at the great New York Tournament of 1924, he had not lost in ten years, and newspapers reported that he looked ten moves ahead in a chess game (perhaps he even said that). It created a sensation when mathematician and chess master Reti defeated him in the fifth round.

Reti, my story goes, was then asked how many moves he looked ahead. His reply, "as a rule, not even one."

The point, whichever story you believe, is that positional judgement is…

Tour de France

Floyd Landis takes the Tour. After bonking and being left in the dust on the penultimate Alpine stage, he wound up a seemingly insuperable 8:08 off the pace, and was written off by everybody. A solo attack the next day produced an incredible comeback, winning the stage by 4 1/2 minutes and leaving him in third place just 30 seconds behind the leader. Saturday's time trial was decisive, with Floyd convincingly beating the two riders ahead of him, to take a 57 second lead. Now he is the Champion, only the third American to win, but the eighth time in a row for an American to win.

Probably the most exciting Tour in a long time.

Meanwhile, Back in Afghanistan

Remember Afghanistan? That was the country where we chased the terrorists out and established democracy. Naturally, Bush and company couldn't be bothered to do anything that would actually help Afghanistan become a democracy, or even bother to capture the terrorist leaders. They were too busy worrying about one percent threats in Iraq, and planning to destroy the American economy.

Guess what! It seems there is a bit of trouble back in Afghanistan again:
The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan yesterday described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.
The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of t…

One Thousand Combatants

According to this Washington Times Story:
Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said yesterday the offensive has killed 100 Hezbollah guerrillas. A U.S.-designated terror group, Hezbollah has about 1,000 or fewer combatants, and several thousand active supporters or members.

Huh? The IDF had to destroy a country and make three quarters of a million people homeless to deal with a battalion or two of guerillas? Can this be right? If true, the disproportion is staggering.

1,000 soldiers is not even a medium sized Mexican drug gang.

One Per Cent

Ron Susskind has a new book out, The One Per Cent Doctrine. I haven't read it, and probably won't, but according to Bryan Burrough's review in the New York Times,
The "one percent doctrine” is [Cheney's], a mandate that any threat that bears even a 1 percent chance of being real must be treated as real. This is a profound shift in thinking, Suskind tells us, and leads to American action, as in Iraq, in which force is deployed where there is only the slightest chance of a true threat.

Burrough, who manages the anatomically improbable feat of keeping his lips firmly pressed to Bush, Cheney, and Susskind's butts all at the same time, doesn't mention it, but while Cheney and friends had their minds focussed on one per cent threats, a whole Armada of 70, 80, 90, and 95 per cent threats sailed up behind them. The most obvious and widely predicted threat was that the Iraq adventure would go bad, leaving Iran largely in control of a Middle East in chaos - someth…

Oh Good

According to David S. Cloud and Helen Cooper's New York Times Article
WASHINGTON, July 21 — The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

Israeli airstrikes heavily damaged a mainly Shiite section of Beirut's suburbs.
The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran’s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel’s r…

Fly Boys

Like the US, Israel has invested heavily in airpower and information warfare. The opening days of the war against Lebanon have shown that that combination is very efficient at destroying a nation's infrastructure and making half a million people homeless, but the results against Hizbullah are less convincing. Apparently the Israelis thought taking out Hizbullah would be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel - or, at any rate, Palestinians in a refugee camp.

Apparently, they have found Hizbullah in caves and bunkers a tougher nut to crack. I was sure Drudge had a story up on this today, but I can't find it anywhere now.

UPDATE: Well, I think I can see why even Drudge dumped the story calledIsrael's military stunned by the failure of its air war
. It seems to have come from something called World Tribune a Buddhist newspaper I had never heard of.

Message from Baghdad

One of the Bush administrations big talents is enforcement of the groupthink mentality and the disciplined message. Never, never, never tell the truth is its first principle. There are signs that the Army is finding it tougher to play along.

From John Hendren's story at NPR
At an unusually candid news conference, Brig. Gen. William Caldwell acknowledged things are not going as planned in the capital. Caldwell, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, stated clearly that the war for Iraq will be decided in the Baghdad's streets...

U.S. military commanders acknowledge that the Iraqi government's campaign to bring security to Baghdad is an abject failure. Violence in the capital has risen by about 40 percent in the past five days alone.

The carnage is now enormous. More than 100 civilians are being killed every day. Relative to Iraq's population, that's like a 9/11 every other day. And unlike 9/11, when there were many killed but few others injured, in Iraq thei…

Cosmic Mist

Lubos Motl has a new post up touting the theory that Cosmic Ray Flux could be a major climate driver of more importance than CO2. The basic idea is that cosmic rays serve as condensation nuclei in the atmosphere, producing high clouds that reflect away some of the Solar radiation. The idea is not new, but Shariv's paper claims evidence of correlation through studies of iron meteorites, which contain interesting signatures supposedly due to the cosmic ray flux they were exposed to in the sixty days or so before coming to Earth.

Not everybody finds this article quite as convincing as our conservative string theorist. Stefan Rahmstorf, David Archer, Denton S. Ebel, Otto Eugster, Jean Jouzel, Douglas Maraun, Urs Neu, Gavin A. Schmidt, Jeff Severinghaus, Andrew J. Weaver and Jim Zachos present a pretty good slapdown here.

Time to Celebrate!

Every dark cloud supposedly has a silver lining. The Iraq war has been bad to a lot of people, like Iraqis and Americans, but Dick Cheney has tripled his net worth, and other Halliburton shareholders are doing just fine too. The current troubles in the Middle East bother some, but Andrew Sullivan finds a blogger full of good cheer at the Rapture Ready website:
"Is it time to get excited? I can't help the way I feel. For the first time in my Christian walk, I have no doubts that the day of the Lords appearing is upon us. I have never felt this way before, I have a joy that bubbles up every-time I think of him, for I know this is truly the time I have waited for so long. Am I alone in feeling guilty about the human suffering like my joy at his appearing somehow fuels the evil I see everywhere. If it were not for the souls that hang in the balance and the horror that stalks man daily on this earth, my joy would be complete. For those of us who await his arrival know, somehow we…

Other Opinions on the Middle East

No American politician or news outlet dares to criticize Israel, but if my circle of acquaintances is any indication, that attitude isn't quite unanimous among Americans.
Two excerpts:
Why don't we just nuke IsraelAnd (from a different source) a comment on Israel's blowing up some Canadians in Lebanon.
If Canada had any balls they would declare war on Israel.
Despite having five times the population, eight times the GDP, and 2000 times the land area, Canada is probably not any miltary competition for Israel. I doubt that they have any ability to project military power in the Middle East.

Public opinion has already turned largely against Israel in Europe. I doubt that there is any immediate threat of that happening in the US, but if it does, Israel's leverage will be much smaller. Blowing up Lebanese (or Canadians) who are essentially helpless bystanders in the struggle between Israel and Hezbollah is not likely to generate good PR.

UPDATE: Looks like I lied. There was P…

Telling Moment

On ABC's Sunday talk show, a video clip or Army Chief of Staff Schoonover.

He is asked: "Are we winning the war in Iraq?"

Seemingly endless pause. At last he says: "Well let me just say we are not losing."

I feel for the guy. He doesn't want to lie, and he doesn't want to demoralize his troops. Unfortunately, he pretty much winds up doing both.

Duperman

We went to see Pirates of the Caribbean last night, but the 7:35 PM showing was sold out, and 8:30 was too late for the old people (me), so we saw Superman Returns instead. An unfortunate error.

The plot was stupid, and Superman himself was clearly mentally retarded, but what I really resented was the music. Superman, the action, and almost everybody else got incredibly cheesey John Williams knock-offs, but Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor (the arch-villian) got Mozart and other great classical music. Not even Spacey managed to look good in this dumb movie.

Confidence

DarkSyde of The Daily Kos seems to share my confidence in the ablity of this president to handle the crisis in the Middle East:
The scenarios can bewilder the most thoughtful game theorists: Sunni Vs Shia? Muslim Vs Jew? Christianists Vs Islamists? Iraq Vs Iran? Moderates Vs Extremists? Who knows. But one thing we do know is that George Bush and this specific incarnation of the GOP got caught flatfooted by a hurricane that was visible from the moon for a week and predicted for years. I wouldn't bet on them successfully solving a crossword puzzle at this point, let alone getting a handle on the Middle East...

President Stupid

The World is going to hell in a handbasket, and President Stupid mumbles incoherently on the sidelines. From Think Progress:
During a press conference today at the G8 summit in Russia, President Bush told President Vladimir Putin that Americans want Russia to develop a free press and free religion “like Iraq.” To laughter and applause, Putin responded: “We certainly would not want to have same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, quite honestly.” I find it humiliating to have this idiot as president.

Why are the Arabs so Weak?

Saudi Arabia has three times the population of Israel, twice the GDP, and immensely more land area than Israel, but it is militarily completely helpless by comparison. It has had immense oil wealth and a large income from it for a couple or three generations yet relative balance of power has continued to tilt the same way. Why so?

Of course Iraq tried to increase its military power too, but came acropper through several kinds of stupidity, notably attacking Iran and Kuwait, but also by other kinds of folly.

Saudi Arabia doesn't have that kind of excuse, so why don't they have a technological society and military power. Some of the answer may lie in the fact that Israel, and it's pit bull (that's us) didn't want it to happen, but I suspect the real reason was the greed, shortsightedness, and insecurity of its rulers. Those rulers chose to indulge in imperial luxury, feeding their appetites to the detriment of their country. Of course there was enough money to build an…

Hockey Stick: The Usual Scoundrels

The National Academy of Sciences has released its study of Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years (2006) which can be read online here. Lubos Motl has assembled a collection of critiques by the usual scoundrels and liars. (He also has a link that purports to be to the NAS report, but is in fact just commentary by a highly biased commentator.)

Let me recapitulate what I know of a key background controversy: Mann, Hughes, and Bradley (MHB)published the "hockey stick" paper with a reconstruction of the past millenium's climate which showed the hockey stick shape, with the present as blade of the stick. Subsequently, McIntire and McKittrick (M&M)critiqued their reconstruction, had some difficulty getting their critique published, and name calling ensued. Other climatologist and statisticians subsequently weighed in on both sides of the issue. Because Mann et. al. claimed that their reconstruction showed that the present was the warmest period i…

Credit Card Conservatism

Has our present generation of borrow and spend, credit cart conservatives pushed the country close to bankruptcy? A Federal Reserve study suggests that the answer is yes. According to Edmund Conway's story in the Telegraph:
The United States is heading for bankruptcy, according to an extraordinary paper published by one of the key members of the country's central bank.

A ballooning budget deficit and a pensions and welfare timebomb could send the economic superpower into insolvency, according to research by Professor Laurence Kotlikoff for the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, a leading constituent of the US Federal Reserve.

Prof Kotlikoff said that, by some measures, the US is already bankrupt. "To paraphrase the Oxford English Dictionary, is the United States at the end of its resources, exhausted, stripped bare, destitute, bereft, wanting in property, or wrecked in consequence of failure to pay its creditors," he asked.

According to his central analysis, "the …

A Plan

Anthony Shadid's thoughtful Washington Post Report from Beirut talks about a strategic basis for Israel's attacks on Lebanon. A plausible idea is that they are trying to drive a wedge between Hisbollah and the rest of the Lebanese population.
The radical Shiite movement Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, hold an effective veto in Lebanese politics, and the group's military prowess has heartened its supporters at home and abroad in the Arab world. But that same force of arms has begun to endanger Hezbollah's long-term standing in a country where critics accuse it of dragging Lebanon into an unwinnable conflict the government neither chose nor wants to fight.

If it doesn't work, a plausible result is a unified Shiite axis running through Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran, all cooperating against Israel.

The fact that Israeli warplanes can flyby the Syrian Presidential Palace with apparent impunity demonstrates how weak the Arab states remain, however.

Bee's Blog

Sabine's (Bee's) blog Backreaction is becoming a go to blog on theoretical physics. She has posted a nicely balanced review of Peter Woit's new book.

Israel's Dilemma: Again

Recent events have sharpened my view of Israel's dilemma. Hizbollah and Hamas are dancing in the streets about killing and capturing Israeli soldiers. Perhaps it's accidental, but it now strikes me that Israel's enemies have adopted a smarter strategy. As long as Palestinians were blowing themselves up along with bus passengers and cafe patrons, it was easy to scorn them as subhuman crazies.

Soldiers are harder targets but everyone understands that they are fair game in a war. Television in the Middle East and Europe can now show Israel blowing up families and children with helicopter gunships, while Palestinians and Hizbollah look heroic as they fight back with rifles and RPGs against tanks and fighter bombers.

The basic Israeli tactic of hitting back harder, giving pain for pain, only works against an opponent who thinks they have something to lose. If the Israeli offense in Gaza continues for a few more weeks, thousands of Palestinians will starve or die of other dep…

A Theory Not a Fact

One of the energy lobby's internal memos wanted global warming to be portrayed that way. "Our product is doubt" they said. The same professional liars who fought the long defense of tobbaco companies and against controlling ozone destroyers are still at it. That's a minor sidelight in Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

I found the movie more effective than I expected, though in my case he was preaching to the choir. His movie is not about the science of global warming, though he disusses it briefly, and not about the so called "climate debate," which isn't really a debate among the experts but a theatrical piece staged by Exxon & friends for the benefit of the gullible.

Mostly the movie is about the evidence for global warming and its serious and in some cases, dire, effects. He has a lot of it. There are a few cases thrown in where the dots might not really connect, but overall I found it both sound and persuasive.

Unfortunately,…

Peter Woit on Teaching Strings to Undergraduates

Peter Woit has posted on teaching strings to undergrads. Apparently a number of top schools have started offering the course. MIT was first, and Barton Zweibach's textbook was the result of that course.

Maybe now that there’s a textbook, that is what has caused other institutions to follow suit. Caltech has Physics 134, String Theory, and Carnegie-Mellon has Physics 33-652, An Introduction to String Theory. Stanford goes its competitors one better by having two undergraduate courses in string theory: Physics 153A, Introduction to String Theory I, and Physics 153B, Introduction to String Theory II. This last course even promises to explain to students how string theory is connected to particle physics.

Peter doesn't say in his post how he feels about this, but the post attracted a flurry of comments from anti-stringers, some alleged stringers who dissed Peter in semiLubosian fashion, and more measured critiques (of Peter) from (string theorists) Clifford Johnson and Aaron Be…

Hard Corps Revised Edition

Lubos Motl looks at "hard science" vs. "soft science" and sees (surprise! surprise!) black hats versus white. This requires a little tinkering with the usual definitions where the hard sciences got their obduracy from being able to make calculations and measurements which could be rigorously compared, like physics, astronomy, chemistry, and some parts of geophysics. Soft sciences, by contrast, were charactrized by difficulty in making meaningful calculations that could be compared to measurements, as in sociology, parts of biology, and string theory.

We Are Screwed

Josh Marshall's Guest Blogger DK looks at the "new Bush Foreign policy" and sees only helpless ineffectuality.
... As Kevin Drum noted last week, "the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore."

Afghanistan is reverting to the Taliban. Iraq is beyond the point of no return. North Korea is acting with impunity. Iran controls its own destiny.

Worse, for an Administration that has instinctively favored military action over diplomacy, the nation's military resources are depleted, bogged down, and largely unavailable for any further foreign adventures.

Yet we have stories emerging that suggest the current foreign policy dilemma is a deliberate course of action chosen by Bush. Time, in a mishmash of its news and style sections, calls it a "strategic makeover" led by Condi Rice.

The fact is Bush has boxed himself in, frittering away lives and treasure, and leaving himself with few options. He deserves no more credit for a po…

Italy vs France

A strange game. France mostly played better, but Italy wins on penalty kicks.

The biggest oddity was Zidane getting kicked out for a blatant head butt - a blatant head butt which the ref probably only saw on television. I wonder what Materazzi said to him to push him over the edge?

The Jerk

I don't know anything about Peter Beinart, but having just seen him on George Stephanopolus, I have concluded that he is a duplicitous idiot. The particular stupidity he was espousing was that the fight against Lieberman was evidence that the Democratic Party was becoming more like the Republican, prizing ideological purity above all. The anti-war Democrats, he said, aspire to be more like Karl Rove.

I guess this is the kind of garbage you have to mouth to make it on TV these days. Clearly, Beinart is an Ann Coulter wannabe.

There is more than one good reason to want to oust Lieberman, but the key is his support for a costly, stupid, and immensely counterproductive war. Anti-war Democrats don't aspire to ideological purity. We include social conservatives(like John Murtha) and strong on defense moderates (like James Webb) as well as a lot of others ranging out to the nutbag left. What we want is some truth and accountability and an end to the US occupation of Iraq.

I don…

South Asia

Frequent commenter Arun has a number of excellent recent posts on South Asian history and related matters. Among the most interesting for me were some of those relating US relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan and how the CIA's war with Russian in Afghanistan fed both the drug trade and the Taliban.

Arun includes a long excerpt from US Ambassador to India John Gunther Dean's oral history, from which I grabbed this snippet:
In order to understand U.S. relations with South Asia in the 1980s, one must also have some understanding of Indian-Pakistani relations during that period, and the crucial role of Pakistan in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. Little was written in the United States during the 1980s about the links between arms for those fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the boom in the drug culture in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Perhaps the overriding U.S. policy consideration toward all of South Asia in those days was "to trap and kill the Russian bear in Afgha…

Now He Tells Us

Arianna Huffington asked Colin Powell if we were ever going to get out of Iraq:
"We are," he told me, "but we're not going to leave behind anything we like because we are in the middle of a civil war."
Leaving aside the folly of getting into Iraq in the first place, for which Bush and Cheney bear most of the blame, the catastrophic mismanagement of the invasion by Rumsfeld seems most responsible for the current civil war. When Rumsfeld was briefed by the military on their (contingency) plans for an Iraqi invasion, they asked for 500,000 men. Rumsfeld pulled the number 125,000 out of the air and we went (more or less) with that. As a result, there have never been enough American troops to control the country and its borders, making anarchy all but inevitable. Further blunders created the present civil war between Sunni and Shia.

I suppose it's nice that Powell now acknowledges the fix we gotten ourselves into, but it would have been nice if he had spoken o…

Yet Another One Down!

It looks like one more of my favorite crackpot notions has bit the dust. It's known theoretically (no experimental evidence) that a uniformly accererated observer should experience a particle flux called Unruh radiation. The acceleration necessary to make this observable is beyond ordinary capabilities, but I had been interested in the effect for electrons in atoms, nucleons in the nucleus, quarks in a nucleon, etc. It seems that notion is vain, since according to Emil T.Akhmedov, Valeria Akhmedova, and Douglas Singleton there is No Unruh-like Radiation for circular motion (hep-th/0607026).
By studying the response function for a detector in uniform circular motion we show that no Unruh-like radiation will be detected. Thus, it is not possible to measure the Unruh effect using circularly moving electrons in a particle accelerator.

The motions I mentioned are not uniformly circular, but it looks like the result is probably more general.
For a detector in uniform circular motion we…

Brit 100

Via Mark Trodden of Cosmic Variance and Lubos Motl, I learned about Universities UK’s EurekaUK report on their choices for the top 100 discoveries by UK universities of the last 50 years. Mark picks out the ones most relevant to physics and astronomy and Lubos does his usual dyspeptic rant, but neither mentions the two I found most interesting.

The focus is technology with implications (and social science) but some pure research made it too. My first selection is probably the most important development in fundamental science of the last half-century as well as the most important technological development of that period:

Revealing the recipe of life
James Watson and the late Francis Crick unveiled the double helix structure of the deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA on February 28, 1953.
That discovery has revolutionized medicine and biology given birth to biotechnology. The discovery is also one of the crowning triumphs of the revolution in our understanding of the nature of matter that grew out…

Israel's Dilemma

Since I'm already having a lousy day, I might as well post on the subject of the Middle East.

Israel just happens to be an economically advanced, democratic, liberal principled, theocratic and racist state situated among neighbors who share few of those traits, except for theocracy, and a different theocracy at that. A series of wars each started or provoked by its neighbors left it in charge of land formerly owned and occupied by followers of another theocracy. Oddly enough, the conquered and displaced resent their current status, which is miserable.

This is not an unfamiliar problem, historically speaking. The Bible is replete with examples, and God is usually pretty firm in such matters. As a cynical Bible student once said, "Genocide is God's way of resolving territorial disputes."

Sharon and other looked at the options: forced assimilation, expulsion, and extermination and found all unacceptable. That leaves some kind of coexistence as the only alternative, b…

The Man?

Is Dennis Overbye The Man in science reporting? He's got the bully pulpit at the NYT, a graceful writing style, and is plugged in to the world's top physicists. Still, I was a bit put off by the tone in his recent NYT article Physics Awaits New Options as Standard Model Idles

For most of us, any physics is new physics.

Having stopped paying attention somewhere back around "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" or the discovery that you can make sparks by shuffling your feet on the carpet and then touching a doorknob (or another person), we amateurs respond with the same glazed mixture of wonder and incredulity to the latest abilities of computer chips or the expansion of the universe.

Isn't that a bit too condescending an attitude to take to readers of the NYT science section?

The main theme of his article, the theoretical malaise induced by the fact that particle physics hasn't revealed any applecart upsetting discoveries lately, is rather…

Five Minutes of Exciting Soccer

One hundred and ten minutes into Italy vs Germany I wondered why they didn't just skip the boring prolog and go directly into the penalty kicks.

The last five to ten minutes were thrilling though disappointing for German fans I'm sure. Why can't more of soccer be like this?

Italy 2 Germany 0

Arizona Clown Show

The sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix and suburbs), is one of those distinctly American buffoons who has managed to parlay melodramatically cynical posturing into a long political career. Every few years he manages to get a little national coverage with one of his little gimmicks for tormenting his prisoners. Making the prisoners wear pink underwear was a hit, as was housing them in tent cities.

His latest trick is making the prisoners stand at attention while playing the Star Spangled Banner twice daily. His amazing hypocritical justification is that this is to "increase their patriotism." Now anybody ought to be able to figure out that repeatedly taunting a bunch of people deprived of their freedom with the anthem of freedom is a lot more likely to build hatred than patriotism, but in the land of Faux and Bush, no hypocritical pomposity is sufficiently over the top.

Brad Delong has a nice quote from Fredrick Douglass today.
Frederick Douglas, 1852:

What to the …

Strings Agonistes

Strings are king in many of the most prominent US Physics departments, but somewhat uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. The rumblings of discontent have reached the pages of The Wall Street Journal in the form of a story by Sharon Begley that relies heavily on quotes from Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong.

A letter of rejoinder from MIT string theoriest Barton Zwiebach has been posted by Lubos Motl on his blog The Reference Frame, quoted in it's entirety below:
Dear Editor:

As a string theorist and an enthusiastic daily reader of the Journal I was baffled by the gloomy assessment in "Has String Theory Tied Up Better Ideas in the Field of Physics?", of Friday June 23, 2006. In this column, science reporter Sharon Begley presents the viewpoint of those who regret the twenty-year old dominance of String Theory in the marketplace of ideas in High-Energy Physics.

The "Not Even Wrong" epithet is hurled, suggesting that string theory is a sloppy and speculative work th…

Intimations of Mortality

There is nothing like confinement in a hospital bed, chained to an IV pole, to let the gloomy demons loose - or at any rate, it does the trick for me. Combine that with the disorientation of a strange town and the befuddled mind (or more befuddled mind) of a high fever, and it would be easy to get depressed. After a couple of days I felt well enough to accept the local paper they offered me.

None of that depressing national or international news sullied the front page of this small town Montana paper that day. That stuff was pre-empted by the wholesome family values of Red State America.

After a day out shooting and drinking, a nineteen year-old boy is sitting in his pickup, playing with a pistol. His friends reproach him for playing with the weapon, so he says "Why not? It's not loaded," puts the pistol to his temple and blows his brains out. Also killed is the sixteen year old girl sitting next to him in the pickup.

It doesn't get much more cheerful. Another g…