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Showing posts from January, 2007

Down Beat Climate Beat Down

I made the mistake of watching Larry King tonight. It's not like I didn't know better. I knew that nothing good can come from watching Larry King, but they were debating global warming and I got sucked into the vortex.

Debate is a game of matchups, and the first pairing didn't look promising. Wearing the black hat was our good buddy Richard Lindzen, while cast as his opponent was Bill Nye, the science guy. It was, as I feared, pretty much Jack the Ripper versus Mr. Rodgers. Whatever Bill's merits as a science popularizer, his command of rhetoric looked even worse than his command of climate science. Lindzen gutted him like a fish.

Next came the battling politicos: Barbara Boxer vs. James Inhofe. Now I knew that Inhofe was no brain surgeon, but he did have his AEI talking points down. Boxer, on the other hand, did a highly convincing immitation of a witless bimbo speaking meaningless platitudes.

I knew that the situation was hopeless, but by this time I was pretty…

The Road to Iran

Many indicators are out there that Bush is itching to attack Iran. Josh Marshall speculates about how he plans to manage to conjure up a pretext:
As the saying goes, if it didn't exist, you'd have to invent it.

So with that in mind, let's do a little prospective journalism. When the bogus 'Iran incident' happens that becomes the predicate for a military attack on Iran, what will it look like? Let's try to sketch it out in advance. Will it be a real incident in Iraq for which the Iranians are blamed? Or will it be a complete bogus incident, something that never happened, that they're blamed for? Will we receive the news in manufactured evidence? Or will it all come through unnamed leaks and Richard Perle appearances on CNN?


Drudge and NBC are apparently already on the case:
NBC NEWS confirms a secret U.S. military report that says 'Iranian Agents' may be behind a deadly ambush in Karbala, Iraq that left five American soldiers dead. The report also claim…

Going Dark

The Hubble space telescope lost a key capalility recently.
The Hubble Space Telescope is flying partially blind across the heavens because of a short circuit in its most popular instrument, the advanced camera for surveys.


The story indicates that the capability was lost permanently, but this quote seems to indicate that a new camera being installed by an upcoming spacewalk could repace some of the functionality.
Adam Riess of space telescope institute, who has used Hubble to search for supernova explosions in the distant universe in order to gauge the effects of dark energy on cosmic history, said these explosions would now be out of reach until the new camera was installed.

Clueless

I occasionally marvel at the credulousness of my fellow citizens. An older conservative friend of mine sometimes spams me with right wing emails. One of them was the "Obama madrassa" lie. Another was some two or three year old White House press release about how many schools had been painted in Iraq, etc., etc.

What planet have the people who read and believe this crap been living on? It still astounds me. Even a liberal and anti-war friend of mine wondered aloud about why were the Iraqis so crazy with hate for each other.

It had never occurred to him, I guess, that Iraq wasn't like that under Saddam or before Saddam. Shia were treated badly by Saddam, but they lived among the Sunni and intermarried with them. The civil war in Iraq today is almost purely Bush's creation - his creation and the creation of Rumsfeld and his clueless generals.

There are still those out there who argue that Bush deserves another chance in Iraq - another chance to spend the lives of ou…

Update

Now that I have once again updated the Wolfgang's blog link, I expect that he will abandon his blog and start a new one ;)

Maybe he is trying to tell me something.

UPDATE: OK, I have now replaced the [formerly] self-referential link above with one to WB's blog.

String Theory: BBS, the Review

Walking around on college campuses, do you find yourself looking at the impressively ripped guns of the medical students with envy or admiration? Or thinking: Hey, they're med students, when do they have time to work out? They don't of course. Those biceps come from packing around and reading Weinstein et. al.'s Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology (5 lbs.) and similar weighty medical tomes.

You could do the same, of course, but maybe you don't want to spring for the $315, or maybe you think it's creepy carrying around a book on stomachs and snakes (or is it molluscs and livers?). There is another option now, a stylish and fashionable accessory that you can carry with pride, attracting the admiration of friends and tantalyzing the opposite sex, while still firming and defining those guns. And it's only eighty bucks. At four pounds, it has nearly the throw weight of those medical monstrosities without the unsightly and inconvenient bulk.

I'm talking…

Officials catch 761 illegals ...

in Los Angeles... screams the Drudge headline. How does the joke go? Imagine how many they could have caught if they had searched a second apartment?

There is a farcical aspect to such stories, and even to the purported punchline. Despite the inconvenience to their employers and the sometimes calamitous effect on those caught, these raids are mainly PR stunts. There are probably well over a million illegal aliens in Los Angeles alone, so while the raids can spread fear and distress, they don't really do anything to affect the overall situation.

Any serious attempt to stop illegal immigration needs to start with stiff sanctions for employers, and that is impractical without some kind of hard to forge social security card.

My guess is that we are unlikely to see much realistic immigration reform anytime soon. Too many people have too much of a stake in cheap illegal immigrant labor, and the present system, with illegals kept illegal, scared, and cheap, suits them just fine. Th…

State of the Union

There is no doubt that Bush has improved as a public speaker - and not just a little. Missing from the SOTU were the maddening mannerisms and little acts of vilolence angaist the English language that we have come to expect - unless you count the point where he spoiled a gracious gesture of reconciliation by referring to the "Democrat" Party. Perhaps this reflects greater resolution or intellectual independence on his part, or maybe just practice, but it is encouraging.

Notwithstanding, the sense that we had heard these promises before - bipartizanship, energy independence, and so on, hung over the whole thing like a drunk's promise of never again. Nor were we given any reason to believe that giving him one last chance in Iraq would lead to a different outcome this time.

Once again, on the question of Iraq, I had the feeling that the President was still operating in a fantasy world of white hats and black hats and no trouble telling them apart.

By contrast, Jim Webb…

Fingernails on Chalkboard

Those of us old enough to remember the hellish sound produced by the title action, can find a certain resonance in Luboš Motl's continual (literally) references to the supposed costs of the Kyoto protocol. I say continual, since not only does he frequently post on the topic, but he also runs a little clock-like widget on his blog displaying the supposed costs and minimal benefits of protocols never adopted or implemented.

His usual modus operandi is to treat these numbers as some sort of given and then give a long list of supposed benefits that the same investment could have purchased.
Because most people don't really "feel in bones" how much is 300 billion dollars that the world has wasted for carbon indulgences in the last two years - it looks like "some number" - let me translate the number to plain English. We could have paid for either of the following projects:

Twenty million luxury cars. Each new college student in the developed world could have receiv…

Libertarians Fight Back

I haven't whacked away at libertarians for a bit, but JT has just today commented on an ancient post of mine - a couple of blog years or so ago, so this gives me an excuse to repeat myself. First - my post:
Anti-Libertarian: re-post
The most pointed critique of social security and liberalism in general is the libertarian critique. The problem with libertarians, for a liberal, is that we have too much in common. We both believe in individual rights, tolerance of individual differences, and dislike government prescription of religion. The basic difference, it seems to me, is the different answers we give to Cain's (with thanks to the Captain - my original version had the corpse asking the question!) famous question: "Am I my brother's keeper?"

That's not really my basic bitch against the libertarians though. My real complaint is the same as my complaint against most religion - its premise is a fraud. For those who can't stand to wait for the punchline, I be…

Feeding the Birds

A lesson in unintended consequences.

We had a cold snap recently, and rare snow was predicted, so I put out a bird feeder with some seed. I hung it from a beam above our covered patio, high enough, so I thought, to be safe from cats.

Looking out this morning I was a bit surprised to see no birds near it. Then, looking a bit further, a splash of feathers on the lawn, presided over by a large hawk, enjoying his breakfast - one of the finches I had unsuspectingly lured to his doom.

Hawks, I guess, need to eat too - but not on my lawn. I think I will need to rethink the bird feeding thing - maybe put the feeder in one of the Afghan pines. The threat from cats may be greater, but there will be more cover and concealment.

Life on a Young Planet: Review

Andrew H. Knoll's Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth is one of those rare books that can change your, or at any rate, my, picture of reality. I have posted twice before on this book: Eu are Irrelevant and In the Beginning, but the present post is my attempt at a review.

Dinosaurs and mastodons don't wander through these pages, unless you count a cameo or two. Their time was still far in the future when the characters whose story is told here held center stage. The Cambrian Period, which started about 543 million years ago, or a bit less than ten thousand times as long ago as our own species originated, ushered in the Paleozoic Era and the first easily recognizable fossils. It was the first age of animals - not the very first animals, but the first animals with considerable size and complexity. All the animal phyla we now recognize were onstage in the Cambrian, as well as numerous phyla dead and gone. Before the Cambrian, only sponges, je…

Fifty from '06

What kind of list includes Madonna, James Carville, Donald Trump, Deepak Chopra, Cindy Sheehan, Bill Gates, Nancy Pelosi, Carlos Mencia, Ryan Seacrest, Suri Cruise and you? A pretty funny one to be sure. How about The BEAST 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2006? It's funny, scatological, and viciously satirical. The offenders are charged, convicted, and sentenced to sometimes bizarrely appropriate fates. Sample:

30. Rush Limbaugh

Charges: It’s hard to believe this repulsive shit fountain is even human, until you remember that we share 70% of our DNA with pigs. Then again, to be any more hypocritical Rush would actually have to be a member of another species. After the Democrats took congress in November, Limbaugh said he felt "liberated" because "I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don’t think deserve having their water carried," essentially telling his listeners he’d been lying to them all year. The dittoheads didn’t mind; that’s…

Mesopotamia

Santayana said that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, we are currently ruled by those singularly ignorant of both past and present. As the ongoing disaster of Iraq unfolds, fewer and fewer Republicans are willing to stick by the President. For most of them, and many Democrats, this has been a deathbed conversion inspired by November's election results.

One Republican who saw the light early is conservative Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina. James Pinkerton tells his story on the Huffington Post:
"If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied."

Those bitter words do not come from some folk-singing anti-war protestor. They come from a conservative Englishman, Rudyard Kipling, in his collection, "Epitaphs of the Great War." And those same words were heard today on Capitol Hill from Rep. Walter Jones, a conservative Republican of North Carolina.

I urge you to read Pinkerton's story, linked abo…

Sacrifice

Philip Carter of Intel Dump takes a look at more of Bush on sacrifice:
...And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life's moving on, that they're able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table. And you know, I am interested and open-minded to the suggestion, but this is going to be ...

................Bush
Carter:
We will not win this "long war" so long as our enemies want victory more than we do, and are willing to sacrifice more to achieve victory than we are. We are asking for tremendous sacrifice from our all-volunteer military today. But though the burden of military service is heavy, it is not broad. I believe this is problematic in its own right, because such a division between those who serve and those who don't has serious political and social consequences. However, there is an operational implication here as well. Our lack of national sacrifice telegraphs a very clear message to o…

Bon Mot

Kevin Drum finds some vivid imagery to describe Bush's appearance on Lehrer:

Jeebus. Is Bush getting even worse with every passing day? I swear, he can hardly open his mouth these days without saying something so dumb and tin-eared it just makes your jaw drop. It's like reading the second half of "Flowers for Algernon."

So what was His Lameness's contribution?
LEHRER: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you've just said -- and you've said it many times -- as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something?....

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.


Yup. I'd say …

Entropy

Lumo has a long post on entropy that is fairly interesting. Although much of it is a nice analysis, he can't resist setting up and toppling some of his usual strawmen:
Every single person who has ever argued that the low-entropy beginning of the Universe is a paradox neglects a huge body of observational evidence that is accessible to most supermodels, namely observations showing that there is a difference between the past and the future.


That statement well may be true, but are any of the people he mentions actually arguing that a low-entropy beginning of the Universe is a paradox, or expressing doubt that the Universe started in a low-entropy state? Not those I've read. Rather, it's a puzzle which challenges some theories of the beginning, expecially those attributing the beginning to a spontaneous fluctuation.

This puzzle is closely related to our friend The Anthropic Principle. We can imagine many possible initial states for the Universe, so why did it just happen to …

The Last Refuge

The ongoing series of high crimes by Bush tends to dull our sensibility to his parallel pattern of low criminality. U S attorney's are appointed with the consent of the Senate and usually only removed for misconduct. For Bush, misconduct consists of investigating and convicting Republican criminals. No big deal so long as the Senate gets to vet new nominees.

Samuel Johnson famously noted that patriotism frequently became "the last refuge of the scoundrel," and no one has exemplified this maxim better than Bush. The so-called Patriot Act, that infamously allows Bush to indefinitely imprison American Citizens and others without charge or legal recourse, and to torture them into insanity, also contains many other assaults on the rule of law and the Constitution. One of them allows Bush to appoint US attorneys without the consent of the Senate, justified in order to better fight terrorism, which in the present case has to be defined as prosecuting criminals who happen to…

How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth

MoJoBlog watches 60 minutes so that you didn't have to miss 24:
Bush Says Iraqis Not Grateful EnoughThat's what he just said on 60 Minutes.

SCOTT PELLEY: Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?
BUSH: That we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?
PELLEY: Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion.
BUSH: Not at all. I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq.
PELLEY: Americans wonder whether . . .
BUSH: Yeah, they wonder whether or not the Iraqis are willing to do hard work.
Here's a question for Emily Post: What lev…

Redemption?

After crawling on it's belly through broken glass for 1000 miles, CBS News is now abject enough to be graced with a big Bush propaganda splash on 60 Minutes. I guess the key might have been replacing the late Ed Bradley with some empty haircut who talks about the nonexistent "Democrat" party. EH, whose name I don't intend to learn soon, had the honor of asking W the semi-tough questions.

I don't remember the answers much, except that they mainly seemed to address political matters like whether it bothered him that most people now think he is nuts. He remains steadfast in his belief that whatever he did, even if all the putative reasons advanced for the war were disproved, that he did the right thing. As usual, it was hard to tell whether the man was sincere and delusional, or just retreating to less currently obvious lies. There were few questions and fewer answers about how his "plan" for Iraq might work.

The key is clearly Maliki. Will he, can he…

Pasteur's Principle and The National Review.

Before Pasteur there was a common belief in spontaneous generation. The tendency of any undisturbed organic matter to erupt in teeming microscopic (and larger) creatures had convinced many that life was a spontaneously arising phenomenon. Pasteur disproved this, showing that life arose only from life and that insects and microscopic animals bred as true as larger lifeforms.

Brad DeLong has discovered a sort of similar principle for The National ReviewDigging deep into the slime pit of the National Review archives, he unearths the slimy ancestors of today's National Review mold:

The soberly-dressed "clerky" little man... seemed oddly unsuited to his unmentioned but implicit role of propagandist.... Let me say at once, for the benefit of the wicked, fearful South, that Martin Luther King wil never rouse a rabble; in fact, I doubt very much if he could keep a rabble awake... past its bedtime... lecture... delivered with all the force and fervor of the five-year-old who nigh…

Anthropic Thoughts

Irony has a way of extracting it's own revenge. A while ago, I posted a claim that Luboš was regrettably irony challenged. Naturally, it didn't take long for me to wind up hoist with my own petard. First, the setting - Luboš's post on Raphael Bousso's talk on the Stringy Landscape. In particular, in the comments Luboš said:
So the choice is rather clear. Either the observed value of the vacuum energy has more or less a calculable value that is, because of some mechanism, much smaller than the available calculations today. This means an extraordinary hypothesis and a big discovery waiting for us that may show that most of the things we know that work could be accidents and the vacuum energy follows rather different rules than what QFT/ST lead us to believe. Such a solution will avoid the points raised by Polchinski, Bousso, and others by an argument that will surely look like a shocking miracle to them.

Or you accept that the value of the vacuum energy is more or less…

First Class Too

Of course, if you are among the elect, life can be good.

Or at least you can have a really cool looking boat.

Even if the neighbors consider it a bit gauche.

Personally, I think I would prefer a sailboat.

First Class

I've been a bit busy, and haven't visited Arun's Blog for a bit, which is too bad, because he always has interesting things to say. One post that caught my attention is a quote from Bob Herbert of the New York Times:
Bob Herbert in NYT TimesSelect:

"There’s a reason why the power elite get bent out of shape at the merest mention of a class conflict in the U.S. The fear is that the cringing majority that has taken it on the chin for so long will wise up and begin to fight back."

Arun fills in some details about why the non-rich might be getting antsy:
What will rile up the cringing majority?
Perhaps these numbers from Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

Between 2000 and 2006, labor productivity in the nonfarm sector of the economy rose by 18 percent, real wages rose by 1%.

The (excluding farmworkers) 93 million production and nonsupervisory workers' combined real annual earnings from 2000 to 2006 rose by $15.4 bill…

Police State

Andrew Sullivan, former Bush supporter and scourge of doubters, now gets some things right:
Bush and the Rule of Law
13 Jan 2007 01:34 pm

They've never really gotten along, have they? But the more you think about it, the threats of a Pentagon official, Cully Stimson, against lawyers doing a constitutional duty defending terror suspects speaks volumes about the core malice of this administration. Sources among the heroic community of pro bono lawyers who are defending some of the innocent and some of the guilty at Gitmo tell me that Stimson's comments are not isolated, that there has been a full program dedicated to the harassment of Gitmo lawyers - surveillance, pettty harassment, pressure on their law firms. Now ask yourself: why would a government that has competently captured and detained dangerous terrorists not want good legal defenses for them to show beyond a doubt that they have been fairly detained? The Bush administration acts and sounds like a defensive police state wh…

Postmodern President

In postmodern theory, meaning is to be sought not in the straightforward interpretation of a text, but in the little hints and clues that lie between the lines or on the margins - sort of like looking for the signature of dark matter in patterns of deviations of light curves from the normal, or so I imagine. Both types of interpretation of Bush's speech are now out there, and I think I agree that the more postmodern interpretation is more sinister.

Eason Jordan, writing on The Huffington Post has an admirable paragraph by paragraph analysis and commentary on The Speech. He makes clear the central weakness in Bush's Plan.

I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people - and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. The prime minister understands this. Here is what he…

The Speech II

It appears that my opinion of the speech is not widely shared, especially by people who didn't watch it. One who apparently did watch it was MSNBC's Howard Fineman:
George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup. I first interviewed the guy in 1987 and began covering his political rise in 1993, and I have never seen him, in public or private, look less convincing, less sure of himself, less cocky. With his knitted brow and stricken features, he looked, well, scared.
Funny, I think it was the same traits that I liked. The man looked like he might finally have a clue.

(via Josh Marshall)

The Speech

No one, I trust, will confuse me with a diehard Bush supporter, but I thought that the first half of Bush's speech was the best and most honest of his Presidency. The plan he proposed was not crazy, but it depends very heavily on the Iraqi government taking a lot of hard steps it has steadily avoided this past year. Much of the latter part of the speech was marred by the same Utopian neo-con fantasy that got us into this mess.

I really hated the responses of Democratic Senators Durbin and Obama. They were cookie cutter criticisms that did not address the specifics of Bush's proposals and merely sought to ride the wave of public hostility to Bush.

I don't have much faith that Bush's proposal can work, but it does at least propose to do things that should have been tried long ago - closer coordination (adult supervision) of the Iraqi military, fair distribution of oil revenues, public works employment measures, and amendment of the constitution. It's very likely to…

Engaged and Sceptical

A former Bush speechwriter, interviewed on NPR, said that he hears that Bush is now "more engaged and skeptical." Four years into a disastrous war that he started, he is now "engaged and skeptical?"

If I had still had any boggleable neurons left in my brain, that would have flash incinerated them.

Clearly I have some deep masochistic tendencies, since I intend to listen to Bush's speech tonight, even though nothing in my experience suggests that he will say anything true, interesting, or potentially important.

Who Goes There?

Long time students of Lumology might recall that at one time Luboš ran a post seeking the identity of CIP. Even though that was quite some time ago, I today was forwarded an email from one of those listed on his prime suspect list. What's this about, was the question.

My answer (not wanting to reveal too much): "Luboš is a string theorist."

I hope that doesn't give too much away.

Climate Change Tip of the Day

It is better to curse the darkness than to light one candle.

Boise State is Number One!

Florida ain't bad either.

Doubt and Certainty

Beyond our distantmost candle of fact lies a seductive darkness. Scientists are drawn to this blacknessn because we know it hides more candles, as yet unlit. We strike matches of hypothesis in the hope that a new wick will catch fire. Hypotheses seek to explain what we know, but most important, they make predictions about what we don't know - about experiments not yet run, or fossils not yet discovered. For this reason, hypotheses provide a built-in criteria for evaluation: do they help us light the next candle or not.

Many hypotheses turn out to be wrong-some gloriously and others ignominiously so. This isn't because scientists are dim or the exercise futile. It simply reflects the difficulty of fashioning a lating explanation of nature. In fact, most hypotheses include useful ideas that survive to become part of the next model or scenario...

.....................Life on a Young Planet by Andrew H. Knoll
Very poetically expressed, but to me this captures much of the essen…

Harry Potter 7

Since Stoat has already reported on Harry Potter 7 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) reviews at Amazon UK, I too wanted to get my review in the queue before the book is actually published, and hereby post it.
HP&TDP is truly a fitting conclusion to Jo Rowling's epic fantasy. Some critics have been less than kind, and the book banners have been out in force, but I say fie on the naysayers.

I suppose that it's not entirely surprising that the Vatican took exception to the depiction of the archvillian of the series as Pope Voldo I, or that the more fastidious moralists were upset by the explicit depictions of elf sex (snogging and other British diversions). I confess that even I was a bit non-plussed by the 183 page chapter devoted to a goblin - nevermind.

More upsetting to hard core fans, no doubt, was the gruesome execution of Harry and the entire Weasley family (except for Ginny's (and Harry's) young daughter, Marry, who improbably survived Goyle's Avada …

Biden and Graham on MTP

Presidential hopefuls Joe Biden (D) and Lindsay Graham (R) were on little Russ's show this morning, talking anti and pro surge respectively. Graham was doing a little practice campaigning and warning about the dangers of leaving a failed state in Iraq. Good point, Lindsay, too bad you didn't think of it four years ago. Biden argued for the Baker-Hamilton commission approach, threatening withdrawal and negotiating.

The problem with the "surge" strategy is that it's way to little and way to late. Before the war, General Eric Shinseki estimated that pacification would require 300,000 to 400,000 soldiers, and Rumsfel and Bush fired him for his honesty. If I were in Congress, the first thing I would do is recall him to testify about how many he thinks we need now.

Kicking the can down the road is a strategy we should resist with all our might. If a surge is going to happen, Congress should be relentless in making asking what are the strategic objectives, metrics, …

Nuking Iran

Uzi Manaimi and Sarah Baxter report in The Sunday Times that Israel has drawn up plans to nuke Iran. They add the kind of helpful details that could only come from a high (and presumably officially approved)leak:
Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several Israeli military sources.

The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “Mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

There is always the question of how seriously such saber rattling should be taken, but once such threats are on the table, it's awfully hard to make them disapp…

In the Beginning

We are not close to solving the riddle of life's origins. Origin-of-life research resembles a maze with many entries, and we simply haven't travelled far enough down most routes to know which end in blind alleys. Yet, increasingly, chemists and molecular biologists have abandoned the early view that life originated by means of improbable reactions that came to pass only because vast intervals of time were available. Most now believe that life's origin (or origens - it could have happened more than once) involved chemistry that was both probable and efficient; there is a direct route through the maze, if only we can find it.

.................Andrew H. Knoll in Life on a Young Planet
If creationists want to challenge evolution at the most fundamental level, they can merely say that no one can explain the origin of life. No one can prove them wrong. Of course that might not be true ten years from now.

To us (me and Eu), a bacterium looks very simple and a camel very complex…

That River Down Egypt

The redoubtable lagomorph of Rabett Run has a rundown on the hijinks of our old buddy ExxonMobil on the climate denial front. The main course is a link to a Union of Concerned Scientists report on the disinformation campaign waged by ExxonMobil on the climate front. From the press release:
According to the report, ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.

"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Director of Strategy & Policy. "A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years."

Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to "Manufa…

Prediction Confirmed

From the New York Times:
In the week since Saddam Hussein was hanged in an execution steeped in sectarian overtones, his public image in the Arab world, formerly that of a convicted dictator, has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe.

On the streets, in newspapers and over the Internet, Mr. Hussein has emerged as a Sunni Arab hero who stood calm and composed as his Shiite executioners tormented and abused him.

“No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed,” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt remarked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published Friday and distributed by the official Egyptian news agency. “They turned him into a martyr.”

In Libya, which canceled celebrations of the feast of Id al-Adha after the execution, a government statement said a statue depicting Mr. Hussein in the gallows would be erected, along with a monument to Omar al-Mukhtar, who resisted the Italian invasion of Libya and was hanged by the Italians in 1931...

“Suddenl…

Gravity's Rainbow: Report of the Scouting Expedition

Every once in a while, I get to feeling a bit guilty about reading mostly children's books - I'm a big Harry Potter fan, for example. Ocassionally this guilt is enough to propel me to buying, and starting, one of those books so beloved of English majors - in this case, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Since I'm only only page 47, with more than 700 more to go, a review might be a bit premature, but I must say that I already find myself deeply annoyed.

The book is considered a postmodernist classic: "The most profound and accomplished American novel since the end of World War II," according to the back cover blurb from the New Republic. It was published in 1973, and it is set during that War, or a war a great deal like that War, and the characters are mostly concerned with V-2 rocket bombs.

It's not what I would call a page turner. This pre-review was inspired by a 134 word sentence, ostensibly introducing a building.
They are approaching now a lengt…

Iran

Former NATO Commander (and Presidential Candidate) Wesley Clark is angry, or so claims Arianna Huffington:
Clark was really angry about what he'd read in this column by UPI Editor at Large Arnaud de Borchgrave. In the piece, which Clark quickly forwarded to my BlackBerry from his Trio, de Borchgrave details Bibi Netanyahu leading the charge to lobby the Bush administration to take out Iran's nuclear facilities, and paints U.S. air strikes against Iran in 2007/08 as all-but-a-done deal.


"How can you talk about bombing a country when you won't even talk to them?" said Clark. "It's outrageous. We're the United States of America; we don't do that.
Clark may be angry (me too), but de Borchgrave is a tirerless cheerleader for Israel and war.[refuted, see comments] The groundwork is already in place, he claims:

Netanyahu then said Israel "must immediately launch an intense, international, public relations front first and foremost on the U.S. The goal…

Eu Are Irrelevant

Hey You! You and your fellow eukaryotes are irrelevant. From the larger standpoint of the long term planetary economy, you eukaryotic parasites (people, monkeys, dogs, orange trees, fungi, amoeba, and euglena, for eight)are just the "icing" on the prokaryotic cake. You, (yeah, you, Eu!) can't even do the simplest economic tricks without the help of a few prokaryotic class traitors (chloroplasts, mitochondria).

This is a bacterial world. We, the prokaryotes, laugh at your puny attempts to inconvenience us with your antibacterial magic tricks. We were here billions of years before you and will be here after you extinguish yourselves. We built this planet you (Eu!) call home. We create the atmosphere that lets you live, fix the nitrogen out of which you build your proteins and nucleic acids, learned how to master and tame the poisonous oxygen, reduce iron, and mastered all the exotic chemistry that built this atmosphere. When great planetoids crashed into the protoea…

Shrinkage II: Felting

Since I couldn't sucker any of my readers into explaining shrinkage of wool, I forced the SockPuppetofDoom to do the work. Here is what he came up with:

(From an answer to Rebekah's question at the MadSci Network.)
Here is the response I recieved from Miss Helen Daily, who is a professional woolclasser and more than qualified to make this response. You can find more information via the Woolwise website:

"The problem lies in the professor's misinformed question. Wool does not shrink, it felts. And this is simply because of the raised scales of the cuticle layer of the fibre catching on one another. The fibres in a fleece on a sheep are all growing out of the follicles in the same direction, and generally speaking, they all grow at a similar rate. This means that the cuticle scales (which are a bit like the teeth on a saw, but not that pronounced) are all pointed in the same direction. They don't catch on one another. These scales can be seen clearly in electron micro…

Did You Ask Who, What, When, Where?

An old joke has the druggie coming out of a hallucinogenic haze mumbling: "I spoke to God."

What did he say?

"I can't remember!"

Pat Robertson has had his own annual tete-a-tete with the Almighty, regarding their joint annual predictions for 2007. It seems that he, too, forgot to ask about some crucial details.
In what has become an annual tradition of prognostications, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson predicted Tuesday that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in "mass killing" late in 2007.
"I'm not necessarily saying it's going to be nuclear," he said during his news-and-talk television show "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network. "The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime…

E pur si muove!

Louisiana continues to slide into the Gulf of Mexico. Long known to be sinking, it now seems that it's also sliding into the Gulf. Associated Press's Cain Burdeau has the story:
A new report by scientists studying Louisiana's sinking coast says the land here is not just sinking, it's sliding ever so slowly into the Gulf of Mexico.

The new findings may add a kink to plans being drawn up to build bigger and better levees to protect this historic city and Cajun bayou culture.


It's only a matter of a few millimeter's per year, but that's enough to affect plans for levees and floodgates.

On the other hand:
And some scientists have suggested the debate over subsidence is overstated.

Torbjorn Tornqvist, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Tulane University, found much of the region surprisingly stable and the rate of sinking to be at least 10 times less than previously reported.

School or Die

Education turns out to be one of the most crucial things for long life, according to Gina Kolata's New York Times article. It also helps to be rich, have a loving family, lack stress, and be part of a tight social network. Of course if you smoke, forget it. Your death rate will be double that of never smokers.

The NYT story has a multicountry graph which only goes through twelveth grade, with pronounced flattening of the curve as high school is reached, but the corresponding graph for the US shows benefits up to grade 16 with no sign of levelling.

The effects of wealth, family, friends, and stress (and smoking) were well known. The education result was more of a surprise:
But the questions for researchers like Dr. Smith are why? And what really matters?

The answers, he and others say, have been a surprise. The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it …

The Steward and the Predator

Our distant ancestors were gatherers, opportunistic scavengers and hunters, and it seems likely that conservation of resources for the long term was not a priority for them. Once agriculture was invented, the situation became quite different. Fields needed to be planted and tended and domestic animals needed protection from beast and foe. Civilization arose, we can imagine, when it became apparent that cooperative effort could alter the local environment for mutual benefit through irrigation and related activities.

I have no idea when it first was understood that environment changing activities of the East African Plains Ape could produce major collateral damage, but the Ancient Greeks knew and discussed the matter. Recognizing the need for conservation is not quite the same as accomplishing it, though. Small scale societies far less sophisticated than the Ancient Greeks faced the problem, solved it and thrived, or failed, collapsed and disintegrated.

Thus it is strange to me that there…

The Year of the Pig

From James I have learned that 2007 will be (or in Japan, apparently, already is) the Year of the Pig. I'm looking forward to it, even though The Pig, like Bill Gates, George Harrison, and Mel Gibson, is actually a Sheep.