Showing posts from February, 2008

Headline Reader

Mickey Kaus asks: "Is the GQ Man a wuss?"

Since I don't read Kaus (it's a blood pressure thing), I have no idea what the actual subject matter is, but it sounds to me like the start of an exciting series: "Is the Pope Catholic?... Does a bear sleep in the woods?..."

Dark Arts

Jo Rowling is sueing the author of an unauthorized Harry Potter encylopedia. She apparently claims that his book is a threat to her next billion bucks. I'm no lawyer, but it sounds to me like she has no case - the proposed encyclopedia is almost certainly a critical work of the type protected by fair use laws. On the other hand, she, unlike the author, has the money and lawyers to summon up plenty of practitioners of the dark arts to crush him.

I suspect she would do more for her future earnings and the artistic integrity of her work if she would do something about the increasingly stinko movie versions of the books - each one seemingly worse than the last.

Of course it's pretty clear that she has lost touch with her story - that stupid bit about Dumbledore being gay, for example. How she could confuse a minor homoerotic element of a relationship with sexual orientation is really a mystery to me. Of course, she made the obverse mistake with Ginny. Pretty much everybody b…


As we progress through our eighth year of George W Bush, I note that the stock market indices, in dollars, are now just about where they were when Bush took office. Meanwhile, the dollar has lost about 1/3 of its value against the Euro, 2/3 of its value against the oil barrel, and the country has been saddled with a mountain of new debt. By almost any measure, Americans are far poorer today than when Bush became president.

Nonetheless, John McCain and virtually all other Republicans remained committed to the same disastrous policies. There is one group that has benefitted from the Bush policies - the very rich. Some hangers on, like Cheney, have also done very well.

If the American people fall for this stupidity again, they are probably beyond hope.

Options May be a Failure

We have a tendency to want to keep our options open. This is a very good principle for defense, escape and evasion, but it can also inhibit accomplishment. If we think too much about the road not taken, we are going to spend all our time at that fork in the road.

John Tierney, writing in The New York Times talks about a study and a famous example:
The next time you’re juggling options — which friend to see, which house to buy, which career to pursue — try asking yourself this question: What would Xiang Yu do?

Xiang Yu was a Chinese general in the third century B.C. who took his troops across the Yangtze River into enemy territory and performed an experiment in decision making. He crushed his troops’ cooking pots and burned their ships.

He explained this was to focus them on moving forward — a motivational speech that was not appreciated by many of the soldiers watching their retreat option go up in flames. But General Xiang Yu would be vindicated, both on the battlefield and in the ann…

Craig Ventner: Bullshit!

OK, Craig Venter is the wizard who won the contest to sequence a human genome (his own), but I have got to call bullshit on this story:
A scientist who mapped his genome and the genetic diversity of the oceans said Thursday he is creating a life form that feeds on climate-ruining carbon dioxide to produce fuel.

Geneticist Craig Venter disclosed his potentially world-changing "fourth-generation fuel" project at an elite Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in Monterey, California.

"We have modest goals of replacing the whole petrochemical industry and becoming a major source of energy," Venter told an audience that included global warming fighter Al Gore and Google co-founder Larry Page.

"We think we will have fourth-generation fuels in about 18 months, with CO2 as the fuel stock."

You can't use CO2 as fuel - fuel has to supply free energy, and CO2 can't do that. We already have organisms that convert CO2 to fuel - we call them plants - but…

William Buckley

William Buckley was handsome, accomplished, and urbane, not to mention wealthy and patrician. His vocabulary was seemingly beyond pretention and affectation. As author, editor, and television host he was a major voice for American conservatism in the second half of the twentieth century. His causes were mostly unholy, including racism, Franco's fascism, and MaCarthyism.

American conservatism has usually been a mix of aristocrats bent on conserving their wealth and power and yahoos bent on conserving ignorance, superstition and their own prejudices. Buckley put a sophisticated and amiable sounding face on these, thus doing a lot to make conservatism appear respectable.

His work lives on in the National Review, but the urbanity has largely given way to the fulminations of mouth-breathing yahoos.

Brad DeLong has his own funeral orations.

Comment Policy

The management reserves the right to summarily delete personal insults. This should be a seminar, not a food fight, as Brad DeLong puts it.

The Debate: My Read

Hillary came out swinging, but Obama seemingly effortlessly flicked away every punch that she or Russert could throw. The master boxer dominated the debate, and though Hillary fought gamely, she looked defeated at the end.

But WTF do I know?

Call Me a Cockeyed Optimist!

The counsel of despair and surrender to Mordor is everywhere, but I'm feeling optimistic. I think there is definitely a tide turning, a tide that will likely sweep away many of the evils of Bushworld. More and more attention is focussed on Bush crimes: the Haynes resignation and the 60 minutes expose of the Siegelman lynching for two. Corporate media is still largely in the Bush-Cheney time warp, but they may not even be that relevant anymore.

What Does Ralph Want?

For most Democrats, Ralph Nader evokes such a strong aversion instinct that it's difficult to try and imagine his motivations. Aside from the visceral first name response, there is a strong feeling of betrayal: here is a person who claims to believe many or most of the things we do, openly and unapologetically furthering the enemy agenda.

Never mind the shallow dishonesties - that there is no real difference between the parties, that he didn't really influence the results, that his candidacy "pulls" the Democrat to the left. I don't think Nader believes any of these, and certainly I don't.

The usual explanation is that he is a narcissist with a messianic complex. That fits a lot of the known personality facts: the monk and the fanatic, for example. I suspect, though, that there is more.

Nader and the Bushies share a very important trait: they don't want to reform the US, they want to destroy it and build it anew. The Bushies, apparently, want to est…

Mathematical Memories

A big battle in mathematics teaching concerns the importance of memorization. The latest incarnations of "new math" are adamantly anti-memorization. I have a small amount of sympathy for this point of view: rote memorization of algorithms not understood seems increasingly pointless in the age of the calculator. My hostility toward the modern approach is based on my experience with students who don't know their multiplication or addition tables. It's hopeless to try to teach children how to reduce fractions, determine primality, or almost anything else when they don't know the basic arithmetic facts, and need to add on their fingers. When I was in seventh or eight grade, the new, 'hard' arithmetic we learned was taking square roots. I believe the algorithm was a variation on Newton's method, performed in a fashion to look like long division. I remember absolutely no discussion of how, or why it worked - it was just a succession of memorized procedures.…

Dead Presidents

Ralph Nader becomes the first person to run for president while already dead. Or maybe not. I was just going by his Huffpo campaign picture.

Bobby Fisher

Dick Cavett has a magnificent remembrance of Bobby Fisher in which we can still see the charismatic genius later laid low by devastating mental illness.
Once seated, he was something to behold. Six foot two (tall in those days), athletic in build, perfect in grooming, and with striking features. The face radiated intelligence. You couldn’t confuse him with anyone you’d ever seen.
And there were the eyes.
Cameras fail to convey the effect of his eyes when they were looking at you. A bit of Svengali perhaps, but vulnerable. And only the slightest hint of a sort of theatrical menace, the menace that so disconcerted his opponents.
Looking out over the audience, I could clearly see entranced women gazing at him as if willing to offer their hearts — and perhaps more — to the hunky chess master.
When I asked him about such matters, he said that the awful demands of his life — the global travel; the constant study, sometimes until dawn, followed by play; the punishing five-hour sessions at full …

Si Se Puede Cambiar


The egregious William Saletan is at it again on heredity. Last time we paid attention to him, he was trying to sell us on the genetic character of racial differences on IQ tests. His credibility got shredded on that issue, so this time he is back on the subject of obesity, and for good measure, is taking the side of nurture rather than nature.

The logic works like this: obesity develops in childhood, obesity is overwhelmingly genetic, but, obesity is increasing and genes can't have changed, so it must be the parents fault.
An editorial on the study, published in the same journal, explains:

[T]he shared-environment effect is the result of the degree of variability of environments that were observed in the sample, and, therefore, it cannot be used to infer the possible effects of altering the environment in which we all live and that may vary only modestly among families. If all homes, for example, had the same poor dietary and exercise practices, the shared-environment effect would …

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Lumo explains why the LHC is not a threat to the Universe or even the local planet. Somehow, I would find the message more reassuring from almost anybody else.


At Lee's suggestion, I added a librarything link to some of my books. Most of the books listed are on physics. You might notice that I have a lot of old junk. This is not coincidence - I pretty much am old junk.

Ready to Lead on Day One

Unfortunately, it's already day two, and Hillary doesn't seem prepared to handle it. Paul Loeb has comments:
I know it seems a geological eon ago, but remember the resignation of Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle? And how Doyle never told Clinton about the campaign's massive hemorrhaging of cash, while Clinton kept Solis in the dark when she took out her $5 million personal loan? I couldn't clear my mind from the endless tape loop of "a candidate ready to lead on day one," and started wondering what that incident reveals about Hillary Clinton's competence, transparency and trust.

In fact, I wonder whether she specifically surrounds herself with people who are so intimidated they can't even stand up and disagree with her, or tell her bad news. Personal loyalty is fine, but we've had plenty of that in the current administration, with disastrous results. The charges and counter-charges around Doyle's departure suggest either that Clinton&…


How should we teach elementary mathematics? This is a subject close to my heart and once again the focus of fierce educational warfare. As a student, parent, and spouse of an elementary school teacher I have been exposed to a few of these battles, and it's always presented as a contest of the good new way versus some obsolete old bad way. The latest episode is the battle over so-called "Math Investigations," published by Pearson, developed by a nonprofit called TERC, based, perhaps very loosely, on standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

It has attracted a lot of hostility from parents, including some highly mathematically literate parents. It seems to have considerable support for the educational establishment, and is the flagship product of a publishing behemoth.

The basic content, in so far as I can tell, is an emphasis of student discovery of problem solving methods, a strong de-emphasis on memorization, heavy use of calculators, and a role for …

Un error

Tribute bands are rarely any good, and it's usually a mistake for ordinary mortals to attempt the feats of the extraordinary. I should never attempt to imitate Michael Jordan for example.

Lindsey Lohan was a very cute kid, and she is a pretty young woman, but MM she's not [Link may not be work safe, as they say, but the nudity is very mild].

Strange Beauty

Any physicist or physics fan who hasn't read George Johnson's Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics is missing a great read. Johnson has written a deeply penetrating biography of Murray Gell-Mann - my vote for greatest living physicist. Gell-Mann is an outsized personality as well as a great physicist and genuine polymath. The reviews in my link above describe him as irrascible, but that seems a bit imprecise. Despite his huge accomplishment, he is clearly gnawed at by deep insecurities that apparently prompt his many faults: jealousies petty and grand, pomposity, pedantry, and an apparently incurable impulse to demean others. The Nobel laureate can't escape the insecure prodigy bent on showing up the big kids.One great virtue of Johnson's writing is that he can show us the pompous, mean-spirited intellectual bully and still get us to like him.Especially recommended for younger physicists who know little of the heroic age of parti…

Children as Decor

Way too much time on my hands at the moment.

Julie Scelfo, writing in the New York Times, has an article, Children are not Decor, on the struggles of the style conscious to coexist with children. Pretty chilling stuff to someone like me who is naturally offended by style and decor.

I categorize the parents profiled as follows: Acceptable parents 20%; Possibly adequate parents 40%; Should have been sterilized 20%; Should be restrained by court order from ever being within 300 yards of a child 10%; Should probably be shot on sight 10%.

Hot Hot Hot

A fever is your body's way of saying f*** y** to a virus or other invader. Or maybe it's the other way around. I could check it out, but I've got too high a fever to handle that much intellectual processing.

Yes, I have the flu, and I hate it.

If my posts seem even more incoherent than normal lately, that's the excuse I'm sticking to. I'm pretty sure that intellectual processing gets very murky somewhere over the 103 F mark, which is where I spike every time my tylenol fix runs out. At that point, reality and some aspects of oddly abstract fantasy seem to blend. At 103.9 (measured after I got out of bed and took a couple of acetominophen) my current planning imperatives (whether I would get up and freeze) seemed to be embedded on one of those multidirectional circular control disks - sort of a pie chart with choices.

Meat, the Parents

Artificial Intelligence has a long history of underperformance versus the predictions of its enthusiasts. Nonetheless, Ray Kurzweil has some AI chops and he is predicting that machine intelligence will match human by 2029.
Humanity is on the brink of advances that will see tiny robots implanted in people's brains to make them more intelligent said engineer Ray Kurzweil.

He said machines and humans would eventually merge through devices implanted in the body to boost intelligence and health. There's one part of this scenario I find implausible. Once computers develop the self-awareness and general competence to outdo us at everything, why would they bother to keep that messy, fragile and expensive meat part around?Evolutionary breakthroughs are usually accompanied by widespread extinctions of more primitive types that can no longer compete.

Don't Know Nuthin

I caught Jon Stewart interviewing Lee Siegel tonight (a repeat of yesterdays show). Siegel has written a book called: Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob. Jon roughed him up a bit, but not, apparently, enough.
It seems that Mr. Siegel, who inveighs against the hazards of internet anonymity, has some personal experience. He is, in fact, the guy who put the "sock" in sock puppet.

Patricia Cohen, in an article that is mainly about another book, manages to slip in the following well chosen demolition:
Mr. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog (“you couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces”) and to praise himself (“brave, brilliant”).
Another book is Cohen's main interest: The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby. Jacoby is disturbed that Americans are so damn dumb, and don't seem to care. She got the idea for her book on 9/11:
Walking home to her Upper East …

No One Could Have Predicted This

I am always a bit suspicious of the statements people make when some whack job goes out and starts shooting people. In recent weeks, Steve Kazmierczak, turned erratic after suspending an unidentified medication. He gathered the tools for a slaughter, and carried it out quickly, silently and without emotion.

But that person bore no resemblance to the 27-year-old man who Donald Grady, the chief of the college’s department of public safety, said “was revered by the faculty and staff and students alike” and was completely unknown to police.

"Revered by faculty and staff?" Now some grad students are liked, and a very few might even be considered able, but I'm having a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around the reverence. I have known some memorable grad students, and even a couple that might be called legendary (and not in a good way) but never one who was revered. But maybe that's just me.

Pimp My ASAT

The Bushies stated rationale for their plan to disrupt that falling surveilance satellite seems to be provoking a bit of mirth among the pros. David Kurtz at Josh Marshall's TPM links to this detailed discussion. A few lowlights:
The Pentagon says it has to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite because of the threat of a toxic gas cloud. Space security experts are calling the rationale highly unlikely. "Having the US government spend millions of dollars to destroy a billion-dollar failure to save zero lives is comedic gold," one tells DANGER ROOM.
Lots of hydrazine tanks have fallen to Earth already, without doing any harm. Even in the worst case scenario, the hazard area is small - a couple of football fields.
"The cynic in me says that the idea that this is being done to protect the lives of humans is simply a feel-good cover story tossed to the media," another veteran space security specialist adds. "It is true that hydrazine is very toxic and cou…


A quick check of my bookshelves suggests that I have something like thirty-leven books on Quantum Field Theory, some, so be sure, of only historical interest. Surely that should be enough for any but the dullest student to learn the subject.

So why the heck did I just buy another one?
Well, hope springs eternal, and now that there are approximately as many QFT texts as there are students, somebody has to support the industry.

House Shows Spine

It's about time, but the House refused to knuckle under and pass the Spying on Americans Act with telecom immunity. Naturally, the Pres is in a snit and the House Republicans slipped into mass hysteria.

Let's see more, please.


The trouble is he's crazy....
The trouble is he's lazy...

We're no good, we're no good!
We're no earthly good,
Like the best of us is no damn good

..................Gee Officer Krupke, West Side Story

Obesity is one of those subjects on which everyone can have an opinion, and on which most can be utterly wrong, because useful answers aren't known. It's not so much that research hasn't been done, it has. It's actually that nobody wants to hear the results. Certain truisms exist, but may do more to obscure reality than illuminate it.

The central truism of obesity, known to Hippocrates, is that if you eat less and exercise more, you will lose weight. Systematic starvation works. If you take normal weight individuals and starve twenty pounds or so off of them, their metabolism slows drastically, they lose much less than the calorie count suggests, their thinking muddles, they can't think of anything else but food, and they display increasing signs o…

Old Acquaintance/Super

I went to a little trouble to look up OA. It wasn't so easy, since he lives about forty miles from nowhere, down dirt roads and worse. I brought the beer - Corona, his favorite, so I hoped he might be a bit less taciturn than usual.

He welcomed me warmly, which is to say that he put down his shotgun when he recognized me (or maybe the Corona), and invited me in.

I didn't spend a lot of time on the usual BS. I pretty much went straight for the question - which super power did you choose? I mentioned that my correspondents had gone heavily for the purse.

"They probably don't realize how tough it is to cash in a few hundred kilo's of gold", he said. "Besides, I'm pretty well fixed from ... before."

I could never get him to be specific about that "before." I know that he used to be some kind of electronic hardware engineer, but I can't make up my mind if he cashed out of, played poker, or smuggled whatever.

"Mind re…

The Fifth

Roger Clemens should definitely have taken the fifth - or else been honest. Most people really hate the slammer.

That testimony was not a pretty sight.

I Can do Anything Better than You Can

I don't think that there is any more air beneath the wings of the meme that Obama isn't up to the rigors of a tough campaign against the Republicans. He has out-strategized and out-organized Hillary in the past weeks, and she can't compete in charisma.

It isn't over 'til it's over, but it's approaching the point where Hillary will need a miracle or big Obama blunder to win it.

His victory speech was textbook. Without stooping to any personal attack, he sharply drew the lines between himself and Hillary and especially between himself and McCain. He lauded McCain as a hero but still managed to skewer him for his policies and his policy flipflops.


The guys I went to lunch with today got talking about places with bad weather - one of them was headed to Omaha, and it was clear, sunny, and about 70 F here. It ocurred to me that I've never lived in a place with bad weather. I've lived places where the blizzards get down to 50 below, and other places where the summer can bake up to 122 F, and spent some time where the mud was thigh deep before it froze, but none of them ever impressed me as having bad weather. I've been lucky, I guess, and I've never lived in Omaha.

In the March Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb has some regrets about the roads not taken, and tries to make the case that women should be willing to settle for Mr. Good Enough. It's a keenly observed article, and she has some good lines:
Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and…

Don't Know Much about Bi-ol-o-gy

Proteins are the rock stars of the cellular macromolecules. They are also the policemen, carpenters, truck drivers, trucks, and heavy construction materials, not to mention the chemists, engineers, and heavy and light machinery. These protean characters are all assembled from the same seemingly boring pattern though - long one-dimensional chains composed of just twenty types of subunits - one damn thing after another.

I have, you might just guess, reached the end of the Protein chapter of Bray, Alberts, et als Essential Cell Biology, and I've become quite fond of it. It's a really nice piece of pedagogy. I've probably already mentioned that it has approximately one million words and a similar number of pictures - all excellently executed and instructive. Another nice touch is the problems, some of which are distributed in the text and others concentrated at the ends of chapters. I find them moderately challenging - I mean I miss a lot of the answers - and highly instr…

Bad News for Obama?

An inauspicious augery hidden amongst all the good news for Obama this weekend: Bill Kristol thinks he might win -
Obama’s Path to Victory .

Cutting Up

John C Dvorak is promoting the theory that all those cable cuttings in the Middle East might not just be coincidence.
Nobody knows what caused the cut cables in the Mediterranean that interrupted Internet service to parts of the Middle East last week, but there are now conspiracy theories galore written by bloggers and pundits.
Some say it will benefit terrorists and Iran somehow. In fact, the cut cables -- originally blamed on ships dragging anchors -- look more like a ploy by some intelligence agency to disrupt Iranian commerce, specifically an emerging oil bourse that the Iranians have been quietly establishing and hoped to roll out fully in the next 60 days.

If so, there is no lack of suspects. The US, harassing Iran just to show we can? Israel?
The cuttings were at least initially blamed on dragging ship's anchors. If that theory has any credibility whatsoever, it certainly implies that cable cutting is not so tough. This sounds like the kind of information warfare that an…

The Trouble with Entropy

If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations-then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation-well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation." (Eddington, A.S.,

…………… The Nature of the Physical World

I suspect that at least 95% of physicists think that statistical mechanics and statistical entropy explain the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The rest of us are a bit less sure.

Entropy in statistical mechanics is proportional to logarithm of the volume of phase space occupied by the statistical ensemble in question. The volume occupied in phase space is just the volume of all accessible states of the system. A classic simple system is a perfect gas in box divided into two parts by a removable…

In Other News

The Attorney General of the US has officially proclaimed our government a fascist dictatorship.

Hold the Pepsi, Hold the Fries

I'm going to guess that most of us would not have considered french fries and cola drinks to be health foods. Some, like your humble correspondent, were taken in by the idea that diet versions of the soft drinks would be less unhealthy. A couple of new studies blow that one out of the water.

Consumption of diet drinks, it seems, is strongly correlated with so-called metabolic syndrome, as reported in the NYT story by Nicholas Bakalar.
Researchers have found a correlation between drinking diet soda and metabolic syndrome — the collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes that include abdominal obesity, high cholesterol and blood glucose levels — and elevated blood pressure.
Fried foods, surprise, surprise, are also bad, but not as bad. Ditto red meat and refined grains.
Combine that with an earlier report that cola drinks, diet or no, tend to kill your kidneys, and you have a recipe for knocking the heck out of my basic food groups.
So what does that leave? N…

Ensembles, Ergodicity, and Entropy

Wherein our author continues his attempts to understand stat mech, as inspired by the critiques of Arun and Lumo.

What is the relationship between the ensembles of statistical mechanics and the physical systems that they represent? In the case of a classical system, its coordinates qi and momenta pi (i=1…N) are supposed to have definite values at each point of time, so that the state of a system at an instant should correspond to a single point in the 2 N dimensional Hamiltonian phase space (actually, symplectic manifold). In statistical mechanics, however, we represent such a system by the whole ensemble of points in the manifold that is compatible with the macroscopic description of the system. Moreover, essential thermodynamic properties of the system such as temperature, entropy, and free energy are defined (statistically) only in terms of the ensemble, not in terms of an individual phase space point (or microstate).

So how is the unicity of the classical state to be reconciled w…

Morning Mourning

It's not quite over, but despite a dozen gloomy auguries and the furious opposition of its establishment, the Republicans seem poised to nominate the one candidate with a realistic chance to beat a Democrat. It's even less over on the Democratic side, but despite a dozen favorable auguries, the Democratic establishment is closing in on the one candidate most likely to lose to a Republican.

I'm depressed.

Hillary Hatred

Stanley Fish takes a shallow look at Hillary hatred in his latest column in the NYT. He notes the weird excesses some of that demonization takes:
But the people and groups Horowitz surveys have brought criticism of Clinton to what sportswriters call “the next level,” in this case to the level of personal vituperation unconnected to, and often unconcerned with, the facts. These people are obsessed with things like her hair styles, the “strangeness” of her eyes — “Analysis of Clinton’s eyes is a favorite motif among her most rabid adversaries” — and they retail and recycle items from what Horowitz calls “The Crazy Files”: she’s Osama bin Laden’s candidate; she kills cats; she’s a witch (this is not meant metaphorically).
Demonization of the enemy - whether Arab, Jew or New York Yankee - is hardly a new theme in human affairs. It's part of how we psych ourselves for combat. In the case of the Clintons, there is a powerful lobby behind it - all those rich and super rich upon whom Cl…

Ain't Progress Great?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an update last week to its investigation of an outbreak of a paralysing condition that is affecting certain meat processing plant workers who use compressed air to remove the brains from the heads of pig carcases

Bride of the Return of the Boltzmann Brain

Lubos Motl has returned to the subject of Boltzmann Brains, so how can I resist? Lubos makes a couple of arguments, which don't really seem compatible to me, but let me concentrate on the more important one. He wants to dispose of Poincare recurrences - the fact that a system eventually (after a veerrry long time) returns arbitrarily close to it's initial state.
We must be very careful to distinguish different types of description of physics. Below we will explain that Poincaré recurrences are only relevant for the exact, microscopic description of a physical system. When we describe a physical system microscopically, we really need to know the initial state completely accurately. When we know it accurately, we can say that it will return to the same point after the recurrence time.

What he is getting to here is the notion that you don't usually know the exact microscopic state, only the ensemble that it belongs to. He eventually gets to the point: is simply not true th…

Ice, Ice, Baby!

It's hard to imagine a scientific question more exciting than that of the origin of life, and Discover Magazine has a new article on a provocative new theory. That theory posits an origin in ice at very cold temperatures. This notion is counterintuitive but there is evidence from experiments, and if true, suggests that the chances for life elsewhere in the solar system and cosmos might be very good.

Some of the most provocative experiments were done by Stanley Miller, the famous origin of life pioneer.
One morning in late 1997, Stanley Miller lifted a glass vial from a cold, bubbling vat. For 25 years he had tended the vial as though it were an exotic orchid, checking it daily, adding a few pellets of dry ice as needed to keep it at –108 degrees Fahrenheit. He had told hardly a soul about it. Now he set the frozen time capsule out to thaw, ending the experiment that had lasted more than one-third of his 68 years.

Miller had filled the vial in 1972 with a mixture of ammonia and cyan…

Winograd Report

Because Israel is faced with real "existential threats," in contrast to the phony ones conjured up by Senator McCain and the other Republican clowns, it tends to take its wars a bit more seriously. For the Republican Party and its many allies, a war is a profit center for It and its clients in the military-industrial complex rather than something serious enough to put aside Party in favor of the Nation.

Consequently, we managed to blunder into a ridiculous and costly war and wage that war utterly fecklessly without anybody bothering to check how and why. None of those who led us into that war, from Bush to Clinton to Edwards, want the truth to come out, but the country needs to hear it.

Israel, with a boost from the same clowns, made a similar mistake in Lebanon, but they ended the disaster quickly and conducted a real inquiry to find our what went wrong. That inquiry was the Winograd commission, and its final report has been produced, and it is scathing in its condemnati…

Chile Chile

The chile pepper (or chili pepper) is a sacrament here in southern New Mexico. I had never sampled it before a stint in the army sent me to Arizona, but I quickly became an addict. I now favor fairly mild varieties, though when I was younger, I lived a bit more adventurously.

Chiles are an American plant, spread to Asia after the voyages of Columbus - a bit of an irony, since he had set out to establish a route to get spices from India, but wound up being responsible for delivering them to India instead. New Mexico State University, right here in Las Cruces, NM, is the location of the Chile Pepper Institute, the world's center of Chile science and arbiter of all Chile questions.

The Wall Street Journal reports[subscription] that a new fiery champion has been crowned in the Chile world, the bhut jolokia from the Assam region of India. It measures a mind bogling one million Scoville Units, versus about 5000 for a Jalapeno, and something like 50,000 to 100,000 for Thai and Chinese …

Qualifying Exam

One of the dreaded rituals of graduate school is the qualifying exam. (At least in physics, in the US) So, asks the faculty, what the hell have you been doing the last four, five or six years as a physics major, and what have you learned? Such exams are supposed to winnow the grad school grain from the chaff, and if the experience of my classmates was typical, it is a career ender for a large fraction. Those who pass, the theory is, know at least enough of the fundamentals not to embarass the University. Despite it's many humiliations, the American Presidential primary system can hardly claim to effectively serve a similar function. Winnow it does, but it would be hard to claim that the best consistently survive. Consequently, I am proposing that we add a Presidential Qualifying Exam to the mix. The idea would be to hustle a few of the more egregious idiots off the stage early, while perhaps calling a bit of attention to the better students.

We can dismiss one popular subject out …