Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Making changes...

...bear with us while we work out the design and layout.

Experimental Beatles' "music"

Paul McCartney wants to release a long-hidden experimental piece the Beatles recorded for an electronic music festival--a piece long thought mythical by fans. According to his description,

"I said all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense," McCartney told the program.

"Hit a drum then wander on to the piano, hit a few notes, just wander around. So that's what we did and then put a bit of an echo on it. It's very free."

Not to disparage him personally, but this surprises me. I'm no fan of modern, abstract art, nor of its musical equivalents. But I'm able to understand that in the pieces regarded as "good" by the critics, there is still some planning and intelligence behind the pattern, even if it's deliberately obscure or ugly. So I'm surprised that in the Beatles' case, there wasn't any thought behind it--the sounds were intentionally random.

Well, maybe that's why the other band members vetoed the idea of releasing it earlier. Still, I hope he's able to get it out; I'm sure some of their fans would like to hear it, even if just for the novelty.

If you can read this, you are too close

No kidding! Words made with individual CO molecules, sitting on a copper sheet. Amazing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Global warming estimates get revised downward

What got me onto that last post was actually this article in the Daily Telegraph. The author credits readers (note: the readers commenting on the blog!) of Anthony Watts' site and Steve McIntyre's with discovering large errors in NASA's global temperature numbers for October 2008. It's amazing the ability of a large number of educated laymen (and I'd imagine a few who work in this field are among the group, too) to spot errors that the official process missed.

It's like Glenn Reynolds puts it, "An army of Davids."

Anyway, the outcome of this week's dust-up is that NASA's Dr. James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), was forced to revise the October temperatures downward. In explaining the error, it was admitted that for the Russian temperatures, they came from another organization, and that "GISS did not have resources to exercise proper quality control over the data it was supplied with" (I'm quoting the Telegraph, not GISS).

Huh. Shouldn't that make us skeptical of some of GISS's claims? At least a little bit?

How systematic errors bias global warming measurements

I'm not sure how to describe my opinions on global warming. I'm open-minded about the idea that there is man-made global warming; I consider it a real possibility because we know we're emitting CO2, and CO2 is a greenhouse gas. (That is, it allows visible light from the sun to pass through it, the sun warms the earth, and the warm earth emits infrared light back, but this is partially absorbed by the CO2.) So this could certainly cause the earth to warm. The question is quantitative: by how much?

But there's something that's been bugging me ever since I first heard of the concept of global warming: how well do we know the global temperature going back so many years? Our most accurate method of measuring temperature is a thermometer, but the weather stations are scattered unevenly across the earth and are mostly in populated regions and developed countries. Furthermore, if we're comparing the temperatures today with those of the 19th century (official temperature records in the US go back to the mid-19th century, I keep hearing), well, how widely were those stations placed in 1860? I'll bet we have a large selection bias as far as location goes.

Furthermore, a station that was out in the wilderness in 1860 is more likely to be near a developed area now, as the population has grown. And we certainly know about the heat island effect of cities--temperatures near the city are a few degrees higher than out in rural areas nearby, because of all of that asphalt and such. This alone should cause an artificial rise in one station's temperature record as nearby towns grow.

But surely atmospheric scientists have accounted for these obvious objections, right? I was surprised to find out that the answer is actually "no" or "poorly." Anthony Watts, a meteorologist, has been running an invaluable project to rate the quality of weather stations, and their possible systematic errors, based on their proximity to artificial heat sources and other biasing effects. He's been finding that a majority of the sites in the US have likely errors of several degrees, which is shocking. There are laughable examples of thermometers being placed right next to (even surrounded by) large, sunny parking lots! These are the kinds of things you'd figure were blatantly-obvious no-nos, but their data have been incorporated into the calculations of global warming. Who knows what the overall effect of these is?

Being an astrophysicist, I'm also interested in the effects of the solar cycle on the earth's climate, but I'll get to that in a later post.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In which tech writers forget there's a Rest Of The World

Remarkably narrow-minded article on "Five Useless Gadgets You Should Throw in the Trash" by a writer for Wired. (Of course, Wired) He thinks that printers, scanners, faxes, DVD or CD drives, and regular telephones (landlines, not cell phones) are "useless." He has a few caveats, but not enough to make up for the poor thinking of the rest of the article. This is the kind of thinking I'd liken to socialist central planning--"Why do you need your car? Take a bus everywhere! Why do you need your own house? Just rent an apartment--and there's no grass to mow!" He actually thinks that a printing "service" can replace your printer. I wonder how long their printouts take to get to you. But then, I'm sure you've never printed anything out that you couldn't simply wait a couple of days for, right?

I'm not going to call the author "stupid," as many have (or maybe they just meant the article--there's a decent case for that), but he's amazingly short-sighted.

The comment by "Sean" is priceless.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The risk from a carbon market

Think the collapse of the mortgage-backed securities market is giving us problems? Just wait 'til President Obama pushes us into a cap & trade scheme on carbon. Lawrence Solomon shows us how that will set up a "market" that will endanger all sides of the economy.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

WSJ on Michael Crichton

A very nice retrospective on Dr. Michael Crichton here. (And yes, he was a medical doctor!) I've read a lot of his novels and enjoyed every one. He has a talent for giving his characters thought-provoking discussions into the nature of science. Some of his chapters are nothing more than an extended conversation on a single topic, and these have often stuck with me for years afterwards, getting me to think more about it.

The first novel of his that I read was The Andromeda Strain back in junior high, and it was written in the pseudo-documentary style so well (with even the acknowledgements keeping up the pretense) that I kept turning back to the spine to check that I'd actually taken it from the Fiction section of the library!

The WSJ mentions Al Gore's displeasure regarding State of Fear, which critiques the anthropogenic global warming hysteria. It's a little ironic, considering that I've gotten the impression that he'd consulted Gore heavily for Rising Sun some years earlier. (I think Gore might have been mentioned in the acknowledgements, and there's certainly one of those extended dialogue chapters, with a politician who seemed to me to be favorably based on Gore.) The reaction of the Left to Crichton's discussion of global warming is a strange overreaction. I got an earful from a German astrophysicist at a conference in 2005 when some of us were discussing Jurassic Park. This guy was absolutely outraged by Crichton regarding global warming and was using really strong language and just anathematizing the guy. Yikes! Of course, this was also a person (the German fellow) who gave us a heartwarming anecdote about his parents meeting, all thanks to Mao Tse Tung, and so he has a soft spot for the blood-soaked Communist dictator. So he's got a different set of priorities than I do, let's say.

A load of manure from Reuters

"Media bias largely unseen in US presidential race" To quote Bill Cosby, "Riiiight!"

WSJ predicts GOP gets 30% of the black vote, post-Obama

Now there's a bold prediction! But why not? Blacks are often socially conservative (note their strong support for California's Proposition 8, among other things). James Taranto surprises me with some history: when a minority or marginalized group has one of its own elected to the highest office, it seems to integrate them into the political culture and reduce the sense of ethnic/racial/religious solidarity, politically. Read and decide for yourself.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Arbeit macht frei

Obama's campaign idea of encouraging community service has morphed into requiring it for middle school, high school, and college. (H/T to Derb in The Corner)

UPDATE: They've changed the text on the official website in the past few hours or so. The first time I saw this today, it said it would be required. Now it's part of some kind of deal, apparently in return for money for college, and at the secondary level vaguely worded as a "goal." Well, that part still sounds like a euphemism for a federal requirement.

The sinking of MSM Titanic

Funny Day-by-Day cartoon. Pre-election, but it has a timeless quality, I'm afraid.

Protein Wisdom on Sovereignty

He's said it well, and I could hardly agree more. The issue of treaties under our next administration is one that's got me worried...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Maybe next time.

One more thing I hope

is that the popular vote tallies remain as close as Fox News has them right now: 51 Obama vs. 49 McCain. I want this to have been a much closer election than the opinion polls have been predicting, with the last Real Clear Politics average having Obama up by 7.6%.

I've never bought the idea of a "mandate" for the President. The President gets his mandate by being elected, no matter how slim the margin. What I want tonight is for the results to show that McCain was just about as popular with the country as Obama was, despite the near-universal opinion that the country is some near-solid mass pushing for Obama.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Murtha wins

The offensive jerk from Johnstown, Penna. has apparently won re-election. Maybe now he'll feel free to tell his constituents what he really thinks about them.

Comments from Mark Levin

On The Corner:
"John McCain just gave a classy concession speech. If McCain had won, we were told of possible riots."

Good point.

And McCain's conceded...

California puts Obama over the top

Fox News has just called it for him. 275 electoral votes.

Well, congratulations to the Democrats for their victory. I'm going to go hide, now.


Virginia goes to Obama. Dang Yankee carpetbaggers in the D.C. suburbs...

Too many in a row!

Nuts! Harry Reid hit "change" twice and "mandate" once in the same sentence. I forgot "hope." Adding it to the rules below...

P.S: It's a good thing I'm just drinking water.

Murtha calls it for himself. Voters might or might not.

Jack Murtha (Jerk-PA) is holding a press conference to congratulate himself on his win, despite his ignorant, racist, redneck constituents. The networks aren't so sure he's won it, though. Nobody's called it yet, except him!

I'm calling Tennessee for McCain...

OK, that wasn't a big surprise. Pleased to see that McCain's got about 300,000 more votes than Obama so far, though. With Pennsylvania and Ohio going for Obama, it's going to be really tough for McCain to win 270 electoral votes.

For now, then, I'm at least hoping that McCain gets Virginia and North Carolina. If these Southern states go for a liberal Yankee, I'm going to be too embarrassed to hold my head up tomorrow.

Speaking of which, this will be the first Yankee Democrat to win the presidency since Kennedy. The wife and I were wondering the other day if this would be the left's chance to replay the Kennedy administration. A lot of the hagiography of Kennedy comes form him being an inspiring leader who was killed partway through his first term. In a sense, he didn't get the chance to let them down. My uncle was doing a computerized poll for the Republican party, leading up to the 1964 election, and he thinks that Kennedy wouldn't have won re-election. He was seeing Democratic voters starting to go for Goldwater. Admittedly, this was Texas, but it was movement away from the 1960 results.

So Obama might well get the chance to disappoint his followers. So much expectation is getting attached to him that he can't possibly live up to it all. I doubt his experience is up to the task, although he might be a quick learner and do passably well by the standards of a normal President. But I think that the bar is going to be set much higher for him than for a "normal President." The messianic fervor is just bizarre, and my question is whether it will burn out or keep going for a full term.

Election night drinking game

We're coming up with rules and phrases for election night drinking games here. I might have to add a few as the night goes on, but here are some phrases to start with:

One drink:
"move the country forward"

some version of "repudiate Bush"

Finish the bottle:
"I, for one, welcome our new messianic overlord!"
"I feel a tingle running up my leg."

UPDATE: Added "hope" to the two-drink list.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hubble back up and running

I didn't see this earlier, but the primary camera on the Hubble is again sending data. That's the Wide-Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). This had been down for a few weeks, not communicating with the ground. They'd been able to send commands up (they thought), but only the Fine Guidance Sensors (FGS) were talking back.

This short item from NASA doesn't make clear the status of the other cameras, so I don't know if there's still any problem remaining. I suspect so, actually. The New York Times article mentions that they booted up the "side 2" electronics on the camera--backup electronics designed for just such an emergency, in case the primary circuits went down. Trouble is, they're designed a little differently than the primary ("side 1") circuits. (You'd have thought they would make an identical copy, wouldn't you? Well, we were both wrong, then...) So it took a bit of work to make sure everything checked out with them.

Let's hope the other cameras are OK!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Maverick John McCain

Although I certainly want McCain to win, I still enjoy this 5-year-old Paul Shanklin (Rush Limbaugh Show) parody of the "Maverick" TV show theme. If you're not familiar with "Maverick" or only saw the movie (starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner--excellent film!), here's the original show's song. And here is Shanklin's parody. Heh, heh...

You know, if McCain hadn't made a career out of snubbing conservatives, he would have a base more fired up for him and would get more votes. As it is, Palin's been the one to draw the crowds and needed conservative support. Which is why I've got to disagree pretty strongly with the Republicans or erstwhile conservatives who've been criticizing the Palin choice as hurting him with "moderates." From an interview I heard on XM radio's P.O.T.U.S. '08 channel (presidential politics channel--like C-SPAN, but even better!), history shows that you win elections more by turning out your base to vote than by attracting votes from moderates. McCain may attract some moderates--that's who he mostly appeals to--but he's really hurting support among the GOP base, and there are a lot more potential votes there. Palin's the least he could do for us.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Another reason to vote for McCain-Palin...

...to "devastate" the bureaucrats at the UN. Quote: "It will be devastating if Obama loses," the official said. "There has been such an amount of faith placed on the outcome."

John Bolton is characteristically straightforward:

"The fact is that most conservatives, most Republicans don't worship at the altar in New York, and I think that aggravates them more than anything else," said John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "What they want is the bending of the knee, and they'll get it from an Obama administration."


Producing x-rays with Scotch tape!

I already knew you could easily generate light by peeling Scotch tape off of something (in fact, it's hard not to, although you need to be in a darkened room to see it), but the Mrs. told me yesterday that you get a decent amount of x-rays if you peel it off in a vacuum. Now, that's neat! It's coming out in this week's issue of Nature, and they're suggesting it as a way of making cheap x-ray sources.

The Obama revolution: "History Repeating"

I was listening to Propellerheads' great pseudo-Bond song, "History Repeating," yesterday, when I noticed the lyrics could nicely describe the Obama Revolution phenomenon:

The word is about, there's something evolving,
whatever may come, the world keeps revolving
They say the next big thing is here,
that the revolution's near,
but to me it seems quite clear
that it's all just a little bit of history repeating

The newspapers shout a new style is growing,
but it don't know if it's coming or going,
there is fashion, there is fad
some is good, some is bad
and the joke is rather sad,
that its all just a little bit of history repeating

.. and I've seen it before
.. and I'll see it again
.. yes I've seen it before
.. just little bits of history repeating

Well, at least I'll have a little laugh from this to keep me company under the New Regime.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Frank Schaeffer goes nuts on Orthodox-on-Orthodox violence

I'd never read anything by Frank Schaeffer until today. I don't think I'll bother reading him again. This whole article is just nuts. It's got the hallmarks I've seen elsewhere of a convert (political, religious, or in this case, both) who loses his rationality when discussing the group he left.

Here, he's writing about the Russian invasion of Georgia and essentially defending Russia (at least excusing them). I don't know if I want to bother refuting too many of the...um, "points" he tries to make, because he isn't very consistent and doesn't seem to have thought really hard about it.

Sigh. OK, I just need to say a couple or three things. He seems driven in all of his arguments here by a desire for pan-Orthodox dignity, centered on Russia. If the US (and the West, generally) make contacts with former Soviet republics and satellites, helping their struggling democracies and extending NATO membership, he makes that out as us "encircling" the Orthodox world. That implies that we're threatening the Orthodox world. Somehow, this excuses Russian threats against fellow Orthodox countries like the Ukraine and Moldova, and a flat-out invasion of Orthodox Georgia. Yet when we aid Orthodox countries like Greece, Romania (both NATO members), the Ukraine, and Georgia (both being considered for NATO membership), that's a "threat" to the Orthodox world. The only Orthodox country we've attacked this whole time has been Serbia, and that's only because of the deliberate attacking of civilians and ethnic cleansing.

Does the non-Russian-allied Orthodox world see themselves as under attack from the West? Not from what I can tell. Rather, they see themselves as under attack from Russia. Where would they get that idea? Mostly from Russia attacking them. (Or threatening to attack them.) So is the rest of the Orthodox world as disdainful as he towards America and Bush? Again, not from what I can tell. In fact, these same sorts of places tend to be where Bush is quite popular (Romania, Georgia, and the Ukraine, in particular--not so much in Greece, though). My Orthodox in-laws in Romania tell us how popular Bush and America are there.

Somehow, Schaeffer spins this all into a web of anti-Orthodox bigotry on the part of the West, and he throws a bit of snide remarks against President Bush's being an American Protestant. I don't buy into much psychoanalysis, but "projection," anyone?

What's funniest is that this is all supposed to explain why Russia invaded Georgia, a fellow Orthodox country. I'm tempted to do a take-off on that joke from some late '50s liberal comedian whose name I can't remember: "Every time America attacks an Orthodox country, Russia decides to retaliate by attacking an Orthodox country."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Internationalist Jerk.

This column really must be read in its entirety to be believed. The whole thing is lousy with contempt for American sovereignty in a way that I had thought was only a caricature of liberal internationalists. This guy actually seems to think that we should worry whom the rest of the world wants us to have as our president!

Advice to the rest of the world: Mind your own business! Go back to making cheese or starting ethnic wars or living off welfare or whatever it is you do best. We'll elect our own president, thank you very much. And you can elect/install/depose your own president/presidente/presidente-para-la-vida/fearless leader. Best of luck with that. Let me know how that works out for you.

Foul-mouthed Jerk.

You stay classy, CBC.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How many South Ossetian civilians dead?

2,100 (Russian claims) or 40 (recorded in Tskhinvali's main hospital)? You think the Russkies might have been...exaggerating to justify their little invasion?

Friday, August 15, 2008

'Way to go, big 'U'!

(I felt like paraphrasing a "Hunt for Red October" quote just now.) The Ukraine has just told Russia that the Russkies have to inform the Ukraine of all ship movements out of the Russian-leased, Ukrainian-owned base of Sevastopol...or else. Russians must get permission from Ukrainian authorities at least 24 hours in advance of any ship movements, or the Ukraine can expel the Russian ship from its port.

You think Russia over-played its hand in Georgia? Hmm?

Cold-War-style paranoia in Moscow

Dick Cheney got Russia to invade Georgia to keep Obama from getting elected! I thought Karl Rove did it, actually.

The Russians are convinced Cheney made them invade?! That's like the lefties here thinking Rove faked the Texas Air Nat'l Guard memos and convinced Dan Rather to run with them.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What we should do for Georgia

John McCormack on Max Boot on the Russo-Georgian War. I especially think that there should be absolutely no Russian "peacekeepers" within South Ossetia under any circumstances. They're a party to the war, not neutral peacekeepers. And I'd love to see some of those shoulder-fired US "Javelin" anti-tank rockets knocking out the Russian columns advancing into Georgia...

Democratic unity

This is the kind of Democratic Party unity I love to see. These are the guys who are trying to force a floor vote on nominating Clinton at the Democratic convention this fall. According to XM Radio's "P.O.T.U.S. '08" channel yesterday, they have 2/3 of the signatures they need.

Love the acronym...I can't believe they actually titled their group this way.

US "antisatellite test" really was done for safety

Imagine that: the official explanation was the real explanation. Who'da thunk?

[P.S.: the spell-check correctly underlined "who'da" but for reasons unknown to me didn't seem bothered by "thunk."]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Russia really losing, in the end?

Classical values thinks so. I'm not so encouraged, but I'd like for it to be true.

Russian tanks moving towards Tbilisi

The BBC News is reporting a column of Russian tanks moving on the road from Gori towards Tbilisi. They can't say where they're intending to wind up. There's a cease-fire in place which was made on the Russian terms, and the Russians say their military operations are over. But this is the Russians we're talking about. They were also bulldozing a Georgian military base recently.

One BBC reporter suggested that although the Georgian artillery is well south of the disputed zone, they're within firing range of it, so the Russians might simply be going down to clear them out. Well, that would be the Russian argument.

The most despicable thing of this whole war is the Russian attempt to get rid of Georgian president Saakashvili. They've absolutely refused to deal with him personally, and in terms that shock me to hear. What exactly do they have against him? They're making a claim of war crimes, but come on...this sounds simply like made-up propaganda, which the Russians are experts at. For their part, the Georgians have made the same accusation in return, which is smart, whether or not it's true.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Imitations of famous movie scenes

I'm watching 5 Against the House on Turner Classic Movies. It's a 1955 crime caper--college friends figure out how to rob a casino in Reno. Guy Madison has just come into his fiancee Kim Novak's dressing room. The camera looks at him from under her outstretched leg, framing him standing in the doorway as she puts on her hose.

It's almost the same camera shot that was so famous in The Graduate! The only difference is that in 5 Against the House, Kim Novak's leg makes a right angle, framing Madison on two sides (we're looking completely under her leg at him).

I can't find any stills of this scene, unfortunately. And I don't see any references online to the similarities between these. Of course, I'd never heard of this movie before I tuned it in...

The propaganda waged at the Chinese Olympics

Good grief, what shallowness! But read the article carefully, and note how all of this fakery and deception is considered necessary propaganda to make sure China comes off as impressive as it can. Ugh! A similar report is here.

Saakashvili addresses crowd of 50,000 in Tbilisi

I imagine this is the rally that was called for 3:00 Georgia time today. The BBC reports about 50,000 people in the square in Tbilisi. Lots of Georgian flags in evidence. Saakashvili seems to be a pretty good orator, although they're not translating his speech, so I'm just going on body language. The Georgian flag, incidentally, is a really pretty one.

From last night: Georgia "overrun" by Russian troops

This is a little out of order, but it's a useful article still.

One thing I'm worried about for the US (and just raised by the BBC reporter) is how our reputation will be affected by this. I was hoping for a stronger response (sheesh--the Georgians were sure hoping for more!), but as far as any outside country's actions have gone, we were/are leading whatever diplomatic opposition there is to Russia.

The reporter in Gori said that Georgians there were disappointed in the lack of military support from the US. We'll see if our help in shuttling their troops from Iraq to Georgia, or our diplomatic efforts count for anything. It's best not to let your allies down when they're being invaded.

South Ossetian war blog

"Russia and Georgia at War". It's from a Georgian perspective.

Russia calls halt in military operations

BBC news is reporting now that Medvedev has called a halt to Russia's invasion of Georgia. I haven't seen anything on the web (or at least, not linked by Drudge--I'm lazy).

One thing I've been thinking of: Those ethnic Georgian villages within South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Assuming Russia just gets to keep their little prizes there, will the borders include those ethnic Georgian towns? If it's OK to invade Georgia to "protect" the Ossetians...if we can carve up Georgia to separate the ethnic groups into different borders, then wouldn't Georgia be just as justified in claiming the Georgian towns there as its own?

This is the sticky part of popular sovereignty, and there's probably no really satisfying solution. And I'm saying this as someone in favor of the principle.

Monday, August 11, 2008

OK, it's probably the latter explanation

Accusations Russian hackers are launching a cyber war against Georgia.

Servers in [European] Georgia not responding

Or at least not the one I tried. Not surprising, I reckon, but that tells you how widespread the damage is. I wonder if this is physical damage to the hosting site, heavy traffic, or if it's Russian hackers doing a bit of cyber warfare.

Russians take Gori

Gori's just 60 miles from the capital in Tbilisi. Georgian troops are supposedly pulling back to a town just 15 mi. from Tbilisi.

I've got a good friend there in the capital--my college roommate. Gerry Fernandez, I hope you and the family are safe!

Why Georgia lost the war

The one over in Europe, of course. Strategy Page has a useful article.

"They seem to have gone beyond the logical stopping point"

No kidding.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One thing I'm glad for, though...

...is that in this post-Communist era, European (and in this case, really, "Caucasian") wars and power struggles no longer have quite the ideological stakes they used to. Now it's mostly back to balance-of-power politics and classical wars for land and ehtnicity. I'm gung-ho for our political ideology, actually, but I'm not a gambler, and the stakes were really, really high back then. They seem lower nowadays, when if someone on our side loses, there's less chance of brainwashing and reeducation camps or the wholesale slaughter of classes of people. (contra, see "Balkan Wars (1992-whenever)") You might wind up under a strongman regime like Russia's, but you're not going to be under a totalitarian one.

So in some sense, there's less for me to worry about. And then on the other hand...

Russian warships steam towards Georgia

I'm afraid the war's going to be over very soon, and Russia will have won. Russia's already bombed the port city of Poti, far from the disputed region of South Ossetia.

In principle, I support the independence of just about any state or province that wants it, and I'm in favor of self-determination. So absent the events of this past week, I might look kindly upon the independence of South Ossetia as well.

What I can not support is Russia invading, whether South Ossetia or Georgia in general. This "we're just trying to protect Russian citizens" line doesn't fly. They're only Russian citizens because Russia's been handing out passports to them like candy. This is a little different from the old Russian policy of resettling ethnic Russians in the conquered nations so that the locals would be diluted and the Russian claim would be stronger. But it reminds me strongly of Germany's claims on the Sudetenland in 1938. Sure, it's in Czechoslovakia, but there are a lot of ethnic Germans there, and they're being mistreated by the mean ol' Czechs. We just want to protect Germans, wherever they might be. With tanks. In this case, there are very few ethnic Russians, but lots of Russian citizens, so it works out pretty close to the same.

Charles Krauthammer the other day said that there would be a lot of diplomatic bluster, and eventually the calls for a ceasefire might bear fruit. This would allow the Russian forces to solidify their hold on the region. And then the UN would get around to meeting on this, and they would decide they really didn't want more fighting and would essentially bless the facts on the ground, allowing Russia to keep what it took. I'm afraid he's going to be right.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hot spot in California: ground warms to 812 deg.


Let's regulate the press when it comes to global warming discussion

So a lefty British professor of journalism is advocating a government regulatory scheme to oversee published material discussing global warming. Let's keep this caricature of the Left as the guarantors of free speech and a free press going, right?

Here's a bit from the opposing side. A good antidote.

Obama is pro-inflation but anti-drilling

Dean Esmay does the math on Obama's inflate-your-tires energy plan and says they don't add up. There's some wiggle room in there for Obama, but you've got to give generous interpretations of his words, and even then it's not a practical solution.

One thing technocrats often miss is that they're dealing with live people in a society, and people have their own ideas about how they're going to live and what they're going to do. So while it's good advice to properly inflate your tires and keep the car in good working shape, and most people already do, you won't be able to force the remaining 27% of people (those driving around with seriously underinflated tires) to do your bidding. Maybe a major publicity campaign for inflated tires will reduce that percentage somewhat, but you will always, always have some percentage who won't take your advice. Maybe they're lazy. Maybe they don't have the time or money to go and get the car tuned up as often as you want them to. Maybe they don't want you telling them what to do. And so you won't get to that magical number you've cited for a goal. You won't equal even the predictions for oil from offshore drilling, much less from ANWR.

So: how about encouraging vehicle maintenance and expanding exploration and drilling? Offshore, ANWR, South Dakota, whereever! Put in new nuclear plants, windfarms, and even solar panels. The best of all worlds.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pravda sympathetic to the czar?!

"Russians mark 90 years since murder of Russian czar and his family" Note that word: "murder." This is Pravda. The whole article seems quite sympathetic to the czarist, anti-Communist side. Huh. Maybe Pravda is just as happy these days to take a pro-Russian side, even if that means sounding a little anti-Communist.

Perusing Pravda tonight

"NASA hides the truth about Mars." ("Source: agencies") It's been observed before, but Pravda's turned into the National Enquirer Russian edition lately. Which is probably unfair to the Enquirer, ever since they stopped running articles about UFOs.

bin Laden's driver found guilty

Not that I was biting my nails on this one or anything. But if we're going to have to run the whole war on terrorism this way?...it's going to be more of a Long War than anybody's been thinking. Didn't I hear some complaints the last few days that this guy wasn't properly Mirandized? Sheesh.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lakes on Titan confirmed

This is great news--Cassini scientists have verified that one of the dark pools on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan is liquid, not solid. We'd seen these features and at first thought they were lakes and seas but then found we couldn't tell from photographs alone whether they were still liquid or had frozen or dried up. The new results use spectroscopy and have picked up the signature of ethane. Larry Soderblom, a USGS scientist, said, "The fact we could detect the ethane spectral signatures of the lake even when it was so dimly illuminated, and at a slanted viewing path through Titan's atmosphere, raises expectations for exciting future lake discoveries by our instrument."

They've named this lake Ontario Lacus, Latin for Lake Ontario, and in fact the lake is a little bigger than Lake Ontario here on earth.

"Obama says Republicans trying to scare voters"

Unlike the kind and gentle Democrats, such as himself, who would never do such a thing. Who would never talk about their opponent in ways designed to scare the voters. Who would never say, "That's a definition of madness, but that's what John McCain is offering. He's offering Bush economic policies and Karl Rove politics"

Waiting to sneak the "Fairness Doctrine" back in

Looks like the Democratic leadership in the House is eager to put the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" back in place. Let's hope this gets publicized enough to build up public opposition.

Michael Novak on real patriotism

Michael Novak nails it on the Left and "real patriotism." Especially eloquent is this passage:

Real patriotism, he [Obama] clarified, is loving the ideals of a country and dissenting from policies not in line with those ideals.

Here Obama points to a huge divide between left-wingers and ordinary Americans. Ordinary Americans do not love a mere “ideal” out in never-never land. They love the land, the soil, the mountains, the plains, the history, the bloody battles, the mistakes, the rises and falls, the real human history of an altogether human people, the particular, imperfect people of the United States. Left-wingers, by contrast, are continually judging the real country harshly. They often judge it so harshly that their attitudes toward their leaders, their neighbors and the real country as a whole sometimes seem almost like hatred for the country itself.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oh, Danny Glover...

I liked him in Silverado and the Lethal Weapon movies (although I had to ignore the blatant politicization of the latter ones), but his off-screen activism is off-putting. I don't care if there are no "white heroes" in a movie about Toussaint and the Haitian revolution. I think that the producers who say they need that are being shallow (well, that's Hollywood). If he can get the movie made, that's great, and it shouldn't need racial rewriting to make a good story.

But. You're going to your buddy Chavez to get the dough?! ...raised 18 of the 30 million dollars needed from a Venezuelan cultural body set up in 2006 by his friend President Hugo Chavez to counter what he termed "the Hollywood film dictatorship".


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dang Yankee

I often agree with Ann Althouse, but not today: "22% of Americans "believe any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic."

Her comments? "So all these people have the law wrong and don't seem to know the basics of the history of the Civil War." "Fascinating(ly stupid)."

Go insult somebody else, yankee. The natural right exists, the history of the War Between the States shows us that you need more soldiers with guns to protect this right, and the advocates of this right have included all of our founding fathers, who weren't stupid.

Deo Vindice!


The Iraqi olympic team has been banned from this summer's games because the Iraqi government replaced the Iraqi Olympic Committee? I understand you might want to have procedures and rules for doing this sort of thing, but you're banning the team from competing because of some bureaucratic issue? Also, I am totally lost at the end of the article:

(1) The committee which the government dismissed was elected in 2004, in line with the Olympic movement's regulations.
Its chairman, Ahmad al-Samarra'i, and several other members were abducted by gunmen while attending a meeting in central Baghdad in July 2006.
They have not been seen since.


(2) [...] the Iraqi government replaced the country's Olympic committee with its own appointees.
The Iraqi government said it took the move because the committee was corrupt and had not been functioning properly.

So, wait--(1) several members of the Iraqi committee have been kidnapped and are still missing. (2) The Iraqi committee was replaced by the government because it was corrupt.

Can we have a little follow up on number (1), here?!?! And if part of the committee has been kidnapped, didn't that factor into the decision to appoint new people?!

Oh, come on!

Sad to see this from an actual Apollo astronaut who'd walked on the moon. Of course, if I believed him, I'd figure he was an unimpeachable inside source. Since I don't, I figure he's gone a little nutty. Sigh.

Monday, July 21, 2008

MIsusing the Red Cross symbol

Well, I can understand the Red Cross not wanting anybody to falsely identify as Red Cross, because if it became known that was happening, the real Red Cross guys would be under suspicion of being false, as well. Similar to how a journalists' organization demanded the CIA no longer have spies go undercover as reporters--because then real reporters could be suspected of being spies. (Of course, so can businessmen, scientists, and so on.)

So I can accept a bit of formalized (maybe ritualized?) apologies by President Uribe of Colombia, after it came out that one of the Colombian soldiers who rescued the FARC hostages improperly wore a Red Cross badge. The man said he got skittish after seeing how many terrorists they were up against, and he put it on in a fit of panic. Critics said that the fact that he had the badge to begin with showed they'd already considered this as a backup plan.

Yeah, that's probably true. And I don't blame them for it one bit. I'll let the Red Cross defend the purity of its symbols (it has good reasons), but I'll defend the Colombians for going in disguise. The terrorists don't play fair. You'll have to fight dirty and cheat. This isn't like shooting prisoners--it's simply deceiving them, which I have no problem with. So I roll my eyes a bit at the level of news coverage this generated. Not anything I'm going to get worked up over.

On the other hand, Instapundit links to this story about a drug plane flying with the Red Cross emblem painted on it. Yeah, that'll do wonders for the brand. Let's sit back and cup our ears to hear if we can pick up the howls of indignant outrage this time:


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Americans and multilingualism

In the wake of Obama's snide remarks about our language skills last week, National Review's Yuval Levin has some surprising numbers to show. Huh. I did not know that!

The right of self-defense makes a comeback in Britain

It's small, but it's a start: British subjects who defend themselves from robbery or attack can now have their perspective on the situation taken into account when they're prosecuted. Whoopie. Well, no one thought it would be easy to reverse their statist trend towards a government monopoly on force (even itty bitty force). Glad to see there's some progress, at least. The depressing trend from the early twentieth century up 'til 2004 is chronicled here, in this cringe-inducing article by Joyce Lee Malcom.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So the EPA can regulate, like, everything?

The Heritage Foundation brings our attention to the EPA, which has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) regarding (among many other things) lawnmower motors and highway speed limits for trucks.

That whole Constitution thing...how's that holding up for you? Remind me again, what was the Framers' point in enumerating the specific powers of Congress, if there are no limits (aside from a few specific exceptions in the Amendments)?

If they can set speed limits... [sigh.]

Really, though, that lawsuit that forced them to take on CO2 emissions as a "pollutant" really opened the door for absolute power. Because we exhale CO2 when we breathe. If they can, even in ridiculous theory, regulate that, they can do anything.

(Just for the record, of course they're not going to regulate breathing, but I mean that the power to control CO2 emission in practice has no limits.)

Send the space station to the planets?

Well, it's an idea. I haven't read this in detail, so I won't comment on the practicality yet. But it's interesting.

The writer's complaint that the ISS just orbits the earth and doesn't go anywhere (as contrasted with Apollo going to the Moon, or the Constellation/Orion project to go to Mars) reminds me of the SNL parody of the HBO miniseries, "From the Earth to the Moon":
"From the Earth to the Area around the Earth: The story of The Space Shuttle."

A threat to Christianity from the "Resurrection Tablet"?

Michael Spencer isn't so sure. OK, so we've got a pre-Christian Jewish document possibly (there's some debate on the interpretation of the damaged text) talking about a messiah who will die and be resurrected in three days, and whose death will redeem Israel. And Christians are supposed to feel threatened by this?! The lay press (at least what reports I heard) has been framing this as a threat to the originality of Christianity. But if this translation were right, then it would at least in part shore up a major point Jesus kept trying to make: that people would have known who he was, if they'd only paid better attention to the scriptures. That much of it was laid out for them right there.

So in that respect, no, this is no threat to Christianity. Now, the fellow who's promoting this new interpretation of the stone (he's an outlier among those who've translated it) thinks that it puts an entirely different light on the Lord's Supper. That when Jesus said he came to save men from their sins, he was (in the tradition of the stone's text) really meaning that he would redeem Israel. Well, no. Let's assume for a minute that the new translation is accurate, and the redemption of Israel is a more earthly and literal and collective thing, and that Jesus was aware of this document or the belief that underlay(?) it. He still said rather explicitly that he saves men from their sins. It's a common frustration I feel when scholars in certain areas of the humanities treat historical figures as entirely trapped by the average of the beliefs and assumptions of their time. That no man strays from the mean. That there is no variation in human thought in a given time and place. And therefore if there was a thought that the Messiah would come to save the nation of Israel on this earth, Jesus couldn't have meant anything different than this.


Anyway, see Spencer's post for lots of helpful links, including the translation.

McCain vs. La Raza

Huh. McCain might actually be showing some backbone here, going before this "National Council of La Raza" (The Race). He kept taking hostile audience questions even after "The Race" organizers tried to end the session. Not bad. I still think he's too wishy-washy on enforcing the law here, but it's a good start.

Just what the doctor ordered:

Howard Dean is going to "help" Obama get Southern votes. Yeah. That'll work.

Bonus: find the "Southerners vote Republican because they're racist" assumption the lazy AP writer uses.

"That's not funny!"

So late-night comedy writers are having a hard time making fun of Obama. They've come up with all kinds of elaborate explanations for this reluctance, but I'm betting it boils down to two things: (1) They like him better than McCain or Clinton, and (2) he's black. From the latter, there's probably a reluctance to joke about him in any way, not just in a way that involves race, lest they be making fun of the black candidate. It's different with, say, Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, who by this point are walking caricatures. They've been around long enough and said enough dumb things that the comedians have no trouble. But Obama is newer, so they're less at ease (not yet a real caricature of him they can draw from--something that would make it obvious they're not being prejudiced on his race), and he's going to be the first black presidential nominee, so it's different than going after a mere activist like Jackson.

The underlying caricatures that frame the jokes on the late night shows, night after night, are necessarily treated as being universally acknowledged by the host and audience alike. So even if you don't share those opinions, you're treated to the idea that everybody else does, without debate. There's a bandwagon effect, I think. After long enough, it might seep into your mind, as well. I think of Clarence Thomas' Senate hearings. Anita Hill made unsubstantiated accusations against Thomas (some of which, too, could be pretty well refuted). At the time, I think I remember most of the public believing Thomas rather than Hill. But Saturday Night Live and the late night comedians kept up a steady stream of Thomas jokes that took as their unquestioned assumption that Hill was telling the truth. Some time later, with no new evidence or accusations coming out, I believe public opinion had pretty much reversed. I really think the jokes had a lot to do with it.

It even works against those on the left, once in a while: think of Al Gore claiming he invented the internet. No, he didn't say that. He did exaggerate the influence he had after it was invented, but he never said he came up with the thing. But everybody uses this in jokes now.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The dangers of *trying* to attract the attention of aliens

David Brin, of the Lifeboat Foundation, has an interesting and somewhat disturbing report of the new turn within the SETI community. Instead of just quietly listening for aliens' radio signals, some of the people are wanting to try alerting any aliens to our presence. Brin warns that, if aliens are really there at all, it might not be a good idea to try to make contact, considering the chances are that they're much more advanced than us. Those kinds of first meetings haven't always turned out well for the weaker side.

I've not been terribly interested in SETI or in the chance of intelligent alien life, at least not within the region of space that's easy to contact. I consider it likely that there are little single-celled aliens out there, possibly close by (Mars?!), and that, in all of the billions of galaxies, each with their billions of stars, that there's a great chance of intelligent life out there somewhere. But intergalactic travel is a really tough thing to try to breach. Millions or even billions of light-years is a big, big distance.

Still, if you buy the premise of aliens close enough by for us to pick up their signals, or for them to pick up ours, they might just be close enough to stop by. And are you really sure they're going to be friendly? And that even if they are, that it'll all be for our benefit?

Bonus: a Communist doctrine guides the Russian desire to wave to aliens.

Monday, July 07, 2008

FARC and Columbian politics

The Wall Street Journal makes a good point about the apparent(!) ease with which FARC terrorists/guerillas were duped into getting into a helicopter flown by Columbian military pilots: just tell them it's a sympathetic NGO. And wear Che shirts. (Probably not these.) (But, maaaan, wouldn't that have been funny?!)

Meanwhile, the captured FARC documents, e-mails, and the like are turning up interesting names. The WSJ (referenced above) and this website say that a sympathetic Columbian senator, Piedad Cordoba, advised FARC not to release one particular hostage. Amazing. Have to see if those charges stick.

Economics of foreign adoption

No, not in the monetary sense, but in the more general meaning--something that could have found its way into Freakonomics. My cousin, who is a pediatrician who does a lot of work with foreign adoptions, noted that the strong prejudices against Gypsies in Eastern Europe has had a noticeable effect on the relative health of babies adopted from those countries. Gypsy children being adopted into the United States are more likely to be in good health than babies (who are up for foreign adoption) of the majority ethnic group of that country. Why? Because the babies of the majority group are preferred by locals wanting to adopt, and they'll obviously further prefer one of good health. So the majority-group babies who are left for foreign adoption are mostly those who have some health or developmental problem. Meanwhile, the Gypsy babies are more likely to be passed over by local adopters, and so those being adopted into the US still have the typical distribution of health.

I don't know of any moral to take from this. I just found it interesting.

Friday, June 27, 2008

First results from Martian soil samples

The Phoenix lander on Mars has sent back its first results on the soil chemistry, and it looks "friendly" enough to support life! No organic material (yet), mind you, but a slightly alkaline soil that's similar to what you might find in Antarctica. They say you could plant asparagus in it and have it thrive.

There's also some water content. That's more evidence to put into the column for a past wet Mars. And, of course, if we're ultimately looking for signs of life (past or present), that's one ingredient we'll certainly need.

The NYT article is here, and the AP wire story is here.

Mars was struck by Pluto-sized planet early on

Mars' known asymmetry was likely caused by a collision with a Pluto-sized planet. Scientists have known about the asymmetry for years, and the collision hypotheses has been out there since the '80s, but only now have they been able to answer some basic objections to the model.

The Earth had a similar collision with a Mars-sized planet, the debris from which coalesced into the Moon. Hmmm...I wonder why the debris from this collision produced no moon for Mars. Phobos and Deimos are captured asteroids.

Mars, Mars, Mars...

I've got three posts on Martian science coming up. The papers have been full of them this week. I say "papers," and in this case, it's websites of actual newspapers. I remember in Clark's 2010 or 2061 (I've forgotten which, but it was one of his sequels to 2001), one old lady is living in EPCOT Center (remember: it was originally designed as a living community, not just a scientific theme park), and she's described as having a newspaper clipping on her wall, from one of the last of the printed editions of the New York TImes.

Back then, I thought Clark was really stretching, because there's no way we'd want to read our newspapers hunched over a computer monitor. For that matter, I still prefer to read on paper, rather than on a screen. But the economics of the thing is catching up to it. Sigh.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

US removes last nukes from Great Britain

We've secretly taken out the last of our nuclear weapons from Britain. The US now relies more on the "southern" NATO locations (Italy and Turkey) than a northern location like Britain, according to the article.

It's the Guardian reporting this, so I should have expected the quotations and analysis to be exclusively from lefties like the Federation of American Scientists and similar groups. I just wish there'd been someone quoted to refute their attitude of knowing defense strategy better than the military does.

D.C. Gun Ban Unconstitutional

Scalia wrote the decision. Says Constitution guarantees an individual right, unconnected to service in a militia. Halleluja. I'd been getting a little ticked off with this session's decisions the last week or so.

Glenn Reynolds has more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Diamond and oil cartels

The New York Times' John Tierney has a thought-provoking discussion of cartels, especially in diamonds and oil. I've been intrigued with the diamond market, ever since I proposed to my wife and owned a loose diamond for all of about two weeks, before they set it in the ring. It made me feel like one of the guys on an episode of Simon & Simon who'd have a bunch of loose diamonds in a velvet bag get stolen, and the Simon brothers would have to infiltrate a smuggling ring or something. Actually, I think most of the guys running around with loose diamonds in detective shows in the '80s were the bad guys. But still, it felt really cool! Wait--I'm sure there were some good guys with loose diamonds that got stolen on these shows. They usually had them in a safety deposit box. Yeah.

OK, anyway, after listening to a BBC story about de Beers and how much money in diamonds they have sitting in their building in...London?...and how the trading works in Amsterdam, and how they have the mineral rights to all the diamonds in South Africa--I became fascinated by the economic model of it all. I don't like the principle of a cartel, but it's still fascinating.

Tierney points out the precarious nature of cartels and how so many of them have failed over the years. The diamond market itself is in trouble right now, thanks to artificial diamonds that are (apparently) indistinguishable by a jeweler. I don't know that I really want to have artificial diamonds being considered equivalent to the natural ones. There's a different feel to it, a cheapness, in knowing I had an imitation, even a nearly perfect one that was physically equivalent. But that's a psychological thing.

He makes the comparison to the pearl market, now that nearly all commercial pearls are cultured. But a pearl has to be grown inside of an oyster, whether you put the sand in its gullet or the tide did it. It's still the same natural process from that point on. I can see the additional desirability of a natural pearl, but I'm not as adamant about it as I am with diamonds. But sure, the advent of pearl farms certainly meant the market saw a glut and prices came down. And diamonds are maybe close to seeing that.

Oil? Well, if we could find a cheap, large-scale way of manufacturing artificial oil... Heh, heh, heh. Right. So OPEC doesn't have to worry about that kind of competition. But there are other sources of energy, and technology can bring the prices down. I hope we'll someday see that cartel get broken. But I don't know it'll be soon.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

More Google parterships with NASA

This time, they're building an office complex at NASA's Ames Research Center. Before this, I was only aware of their co-funding of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

We scientists could never do anything that would hurt people!

Report on a study tracking cell-phone users' movements to see how far they move around during the day. They did this in a foreign country and encrypted the cell numbers so the subjects were anonymous. Still, it's a little worrying, thinking about who's watching where you're going. And if they can do it, who else might be? A government?

These guys were obviously harmless, but I got an eye roll out of this quotation:

"In the wrong hands the data could be misused," Hidalgo said. "But in scientists' hands you're trying to look at broad patterns.... We're not trying to do evil things. We're trying to make the world a little better."

Go read Liberal Fascism and think of that quotation again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mark Steyn faces off his accuser's sock puppets

Pajamas Media has an almost depressing write-up of Mark Steyn's TV confrontation with his accusers. Depressing because he's convinced he'll lose the case and be effectively banned from the Canadian press. But he certainly got the better of them on TV, and I can only hope that the Canadian public is on his side, fat lot of good that'll do him in the kangaroo court.

Monday, May 19, 2008

UN racism investigator checks out our presidential election

So the UN is sending a "special rapporteur" to check out racism in the US. Reuters connects this with the presidential campaign, seeing as how we have a black running for president, and there are some people in the country who aren't voting for him. I don't know if that's the real reason for the "special rapporteur"'s visit or not, but I'll just highlight this deep, insightful line from the article: "However, the United Nations has almost no clout when it comes to U.S. domestic affairs and is widely perceived by many as interfering." No kidding?

Get the heck out of my country, and go bury your nose in someone else's business.

Obama to Tennessee GOP: lay off. Tennesee GOP to Obama: pthllbt!

Well, well. Obama doesn't want his wife to be discussed in the presidential campaign. Yet another item to put into the increasingly long list of things that'll be considered dirty, low-down attacks by his camp. I think if he wants to make discussion of his wife off-limits (in principle, that's a fine idea), then she ought to stop running down our country. She does that while campaigning for him, and she can't help but make herself an issue. This would have been the same with any candidate's wife or husband. If Laura Bush, of all people, or Barbara Bush (the two most nonpolitical First Ladies we've had in decades) had campaigned for their husbands and said that America was a "mean" place, or that seeing people supporting their husbands had made them "really proud" of their country for the first time in their adult lives, then you bet they'd have become political liabilities. You don't run down America and expect to be off-limits as a potential First Lady.

With that in mind, I think the Tennessee GOP's YouTube video welcoming Michelle Obama to Nashville is an excellent way of poking fun at her, and rather gently, too. It doesn't slam her but simply lets her words speak for themselves, interspersed with comments by patriotic Tennesseeans on what they love about America. Very nicely done.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Jenna Bush's wedding and the stone cross

Nice article on Jenna Bush's wedding at her parents' Texas ranch. One thing I noticed from the photo was the large, apparently stone, cross. I wondered if it were simply a temporary decoration for the occasion. The article clears that up: nope.

Jenna Bush and Henry Hager exchanged vows in front of a Texas limestone altar with an attached vertical limestone cross picked out personally by President Bush. The three-ton cross and altar are permanent and manmade from stone from a local quarry.

"My one contribution is to -- we put a giant cross made out of Texas limestone that will serve as the altar, but also serve as a landmark on our place for years to come," President Bush told ABC's Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview this week at the White House.

That's an interesting approach, and it speaks for the President's devotion. I've always liked the idea of worship services at home with the family (like is depicted in the beginning of Gone With the Wind), and this fits in that category. Reminds me of a smaller version of the one at the University of the South at Sewanee.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Armageddon, here we come!

A lot of my fellow astronomers didn't like the movie Armageddon, since it was pretty ridiculous in its science. True enough, but I don't mind turning off my brain and having a fun time at the movies, so I enjoyed it. But the idea of having astronauts land on an Earth-crossing asteroid is getting some serious consideration now. Rob Landis at Johnson Space Center has been promoting this as a practice for some of the tasks we'll need to master for the manned Mars mission in a few(?) years. He's proposing to use the new Aries/Constellation Crew Exploration Vehicle, which would "land" on the Earth-crossing asteroid 2000SG344. Because it's so small (yacht-sized) and spins, it'd be a tough approach and would have to be anchored to the asteroid.

Landis has a few papers out on this topic. The full text of one is available as a PDF here: Scientific Exploration of Near-Earth Objects Via the Crew Exploration Vehicle. The abstract of another is here.

I love the idea. My only complaint is the use of that horrible PC wording NASA's trying to promote: "crewed" or "human" as opposed to "manned." Ugh! It's a butchery of the English language: "...experience conducting crewed exploration missions..."

The best data recovery I've ever heard of

I see here that a computer hard drive from the space shuttle Columbia has been restored, and 99% of the experimental data on it has been recovered. Wow. This, despite the fact that the outside of the drive was a melted lump of metal and plastic, the seal had broken open, and part of the disk had been pitted with dust-sized debris. But because the computer was running DOS, which stores data in one place at a time, rather than scattering it across the disk, it chanced that the damage was not to the place the experimental data was stored, and 99% of the experiment's results were recovered.

The experiment probed the effect called "shear thinning," which is how substances like canned whipped cream come out like a liquid but then stiffen. They measured shear thinning in xenon near its critical point. NASA's write-up is here (with photos!), and this is a link to the article itself, coming out in Phys. Rev. E.

I think I remember some acquaintances or friends of friends at NASA who had another experiment on Columbia, but I don't know if any of their data were recovered.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Weekly Standard on The Newseum

The Weekly Standard has an interesting review of the Newseum, the new museum of journalism in D.C. I'm curious to see inside it, but I haven't read any good reviews of it yet on substance.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

At last, at long last!

(Also via Instapundit) Holographic computer memory finally comes to market. Next month, in fact. Man, I've been reading about this for well on 20 years, and I can't believe they're finally selling them.

The drive is $18,000, at least for now, but each removable disk holds 300 GB. And it's photographic, which means it's got a much longer life than most digital media (they're saying 50 years for this). I wonder if this will be a solution for the huge memory requirements of the LSST observatory, which will be recording half a petabyte (1 petabyte=1000 terabytes) of data per month. For 10 years. Imagine adding 500 1-TB hard drives every month to some warehouse-sized room. That's the amount of computer storage they're going to need. Now, the LSST doesn't come on line until 2012, and we can expect disk space to get denser and denser by then, but it's an amazing amount of material they're going to be storing. I'll bet they're looking at these holographic drives as a possibility.

Let the North seceed!

Via Instapundit, here's an annoying and insulting article by a damned Yankee who understands less about the South than a tick does about gardening. As far as Hirsh's throwaway line about the North seceeding, go right on ahead! Just be sure to take D.C. with you.

Dutch food and fun with computer translations

Ever since I went to Holland and got to have "slagroom" in my coffee, I've been trying to figure out how to make it myself. Slagroom is a kind of whipped cream, but it seemed a lot thicker than whipped cream here. I've tried taking heavy cream, adding various amounts of sugar (or powdered sugar), and beating it longer than you would for regular whipped cream. It seems to get close, but I'm not sure. In Holland, I was actually given a knife to cut it and put it in the cup.

Anyway, I've found a Dutch-language Wikipedia entry on slagroom, but not reading Dutch, I tried the "translate this page" option on Google. It worked out nicely, but with a few quirks I got a laugh out of. For one, you've got something like a mathematical degeneracy--multiple words being translated into the same one in English: Cream is one of several types of thin cream that of the whole milk is geschept. ...and the occasional untranslated word which sounds like Yiddish.

And here's my favorite: Traditionally eaten on whipped cream is also a lawyer. Well, the Dutch sure know something about tort reform! (The double-entendre was accidental, but I'm proud of it.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Democracy and the ability to lose

I remember a historian making the argument that American democracy was not demonstrated (or proven, maybe) with the election of George Washington in 1789, so much as with the election of Jefferson in 1800. In that year, the Federalists lost their first election, and Jefferson's Democratic Republicans came to power. It was a peaceful, orderly transfer of power from one party to another. You've got to have that, if you want a stable democracy.

In that vein, read Jerry Pournelle's comments on the Democratic party today:

And meanwhile the Democrats seem to be drifting toward the concept of prosecution of former office holders by criminalizing policy differences. That's a certain formula for civil war; perhaps not immediate, but inevitable. The absolute minimum requirement for democratic government is that the loser be willing to lose the election: that losing an election is not the loss of everything that matters. As soon as that assurance is gone, playing by the rules makes no sense at all.

I don't think we're heading towards civil war, but this attitude does undermine the stability of our system. An Instapundit reader adds some historical context to this, on the Roman civil war.

Re: E pur si muove

Figulus: it's unbelievable to me that there really are geocentrists out there in this day and age. (And, ironically, using such technology as the internet!) I've seen Robert Sungenis' website and read some of his arguments for it, and what strikes me about both him and the fellow you were debating is that they try to (mis)use some general principles of physics qualitatively but can't handle them quantitatively. You mentioned that General Relativity (GR) reduces to Special Relativity (SR) in the low-gravity/low-acceleration limit, which reduces to Galilean relativity in the low-velocity limit. The differences are incredibly small in the low-end case, so if we have a major problem there with Galilean relativity, we're going to have a major problem with the more sophisticated versions, too.

These guys have got to learn how to calculate. I doubt they can actually work their way through the numbers to get quantitative results from GR.

I had a student who had a similar problem last year--he's fascinated by physics, but he didn't have the math experience to go with it. So he'd come in and want to solve all kinds of cutting-edge problems conceptually, and his solutions would be wildly impractical. He knew some concepts, but he didn't know how to apply them to get actual answers. This year, he's taken all kinds of math courses and is starting again at the introductory physics level, and the difference is amazing. He gets the correct answers almost instinctively now, because he understands how to apply the concepts mathematically. And his flights of fancy are tempered by the mathematical reality. He's going to go on with great success now, I can tell. Grad school, definitely.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

E pur si muove

Two month's ago I got into an argument with some geo-centrists over at a liturgy blog. Comments are now turned off at that particular blog, which is just as well, since geocentrism is not really on topic for a liturgy blog. But in my zeal to fight the errors of the Bloch-heads (as I called them here), I figured I may as well respond here.

For the backstory, read the relevent comments here. The argument is between me (Rob F.) and RBrown and a few others.

RBrown said, "Since when is it falling prey to resentment or a lack of charity to say that someone is wrong?"

My apologies. I assumed that you must have some animus against Galileo because it seemed so farfetched to me that you would say that he did not understand his own Principle of Relativity, or that he secretly did not believe it.

RBrown later said, "I’m sure it made perfect sense for Galileo—but it also made sense for him to say that Scripture was wrong."

Galileo never said that Scripture was wrong. He said the earth moved; that's not the same thing, unless you interpret scripture to mean the earth does not move. That would be an erroneous interpretation of scripture, obviously.

RBrown also said, "Once again: Time is intrinsic to Motion—thus Motion cannot be considered to be relative as long as Time is considered to be absolute."

Position as well as time is intrinsic to motion. You can have relative motion if you have relative position, which is what Galileo said. If you have relative position, you do not need to have relative time as well. It doesn't hurt to have both, but you do not need both; one will do fine. As a matter of fact, we do have relative time as well, but Galileo had no reason, none at all, to assume that.

RBrown said regarding Einstein's General Theory, "Once again, I refer to the General Theory of Relativity. In the Special Theory Einstein assumes the uniformity of all inertial frames of reference. In the General Theory, however, inertial frames are jettisoned, replaced with curved Space-Time."

Since Einstein's General Theory (EGT) reduces to his Special Theory (EST) in low gravity fields (and his Special Theory reduces to Galileo's Principle (GP) at low velocities), it seems to me that proving that the earth revolves at low velocities in low gravity with Einstein's Special Theory (or Galileo's Principle) is equivalent to proving the same thing with Einstein's General Theory. After all, if GP is wrong at low gravity and low velocity, then EGT will be wrong too.

But let me offer a thought experiment that does not rely on Galilean or Lorentz invariants to prove my point. Consider the time dilation due the Earth's rotation around the Sun. Take two clocks, A and B, on Earth and synchronize them. Move A to the Sun and let both clocks keep ticking for some centuries. Then take A and move it back to Earth and compare it with B. There will be a discrepancy between A and B. Now correct for the effect of gravitational time dilation. There will still be a remaining discrepancy. This remaining discrepancy will be due to the time dilation in B due to the continuous acceleration of the Earth. If it were the Sun that were moving, the remaining time dilation would be in A. But EGT predicts the time dilation to be in B. That's because according to EGT, like EST and GP, says it is the Earth that is revolving around the Sun, and not the Sun around the Earth.

I do not expect this thought experiment to be carried out by NASA any time soon. I simply propose it to demonstrate that EGT cannot support geocentrism.

This thought experiment is quite analogous to subatomic particles revolving around a storage ring in a laboratory. It has been observed that such particles have their lifetimes dilated with respect to the laboratory clocks exactly as predicted by Einstein. This dilation demonstrates that it is indeed the particles that are revolving in the lab, and not the lab that is revolving around the particles!

These direct observations, along with observations of stellar parallaxes mentioned above by Fr. Augustine Thompson and observation of the aberration of starlight also mentioned previously, serve to demonstrate that there is indeed a qualitative and measureable difference between revolutional and rotational motion on one hand and translational motion on the other, and while translational motion is relative, neither revolutional nor rotational motion is, at least not entirely.

Any way you look at it, it still moves.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

They should have traded forgers

Kevin Kusinitz at the Weekly Standard's blog posts about the Los Angeles Times piece on the murder of rapper Tupac Shakur. A supposed confidante of Sean Combs is the story's source, providing FBI documents implicating Sean Combs.

Except it turns out those are crude forgeries, banged out on a typewriter "three decades after the feds switched to computers." Kusinitz reminds us of the CBS/Dan Rather/Bush/Air National Guard kerfuffle, but isn't it a beautifully symmetrical reversal?

The Bush forger used a computer to forge documents that were done on typewriters, while this guy used a typewriter to forge documents that are done on computer!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's religion speech

Drudge has the full text of Obama's speech. Not bad in places, but it still sounds as if he's trying to weasel out of questions about what he knew of Rev. Wright's anti-Americanism and apparent anti-white racism. Twenty years with the guy, remember. He asks us to partially excuse these outrageous sentiments, because there's some background to them that we shouldn't dismiss. OK, I'd like to see him say the same thing next time a white makes a racist comment. We've got to understand, don't you know?

One ugly moment was equating Geraldine Ferraro's mild and justifiable comments--on Obama's unremarkable political qualifications, aside from his race (I'll add, though, that he's a good orator)--with Wright's explicit and angry anti-American and anti-white diatribes. He put those right down on the same level! And he didn't excuse Ferraro, mind you--he implied a partial condemnation of Ferraro similar to his partial condemnation of Wright. Classy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

More on Wikipedia

Heh, heh, heh...I just came across this funny article about Wikipedia and accuracy. I especially enjoyed the author's response to a couple of readers who'd snidely (reasonable in principle, but it was snide in tone) suggested comparing Wikipedia and Britannica in the error rate per word, rather than per article:

Let's put to this to the test.
Here's a hypothetical entry, containing two serious errors.

Sir Isaac Newton was born in 1462 and published the Theory of Relativity.

We can see that it is 13 words long: an "error rate" of one every 6.5 words.
Now here's a longer version.

Sir Isaac Newton was born in 1462.
Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger snake
He published the Theory of Relativity.

This version is 114 words long, and contains only 2 errors - an "error rate" of one every 57 words. That's almost nine times more accurate - and very much proves Barry and Ernest correct.
We unreservedly apologize, and once again, must hail the power of "collective intelligence".

My rising frustration with Wikipedia

It came to my attention this week that there were some problems with the Wikipedia entry on a University of Pittsburgh physicist, David Snoke. I've linked to the Discussion page, rather than the entry itself, to demonstrate the bile and bad behavior that goes on in the process of making an "encyclopedia" entry at this site. It's disgusting.

Snoke is a respected condensed-matter physicist, albeit one who probably wouldn't have gotten a Wikipedia entry (well, except he is in Who's Who). The entry was created because of an article he co-authored on complexity in protein evolution. It has implications for intelligent design, and there's where the problems have come up.

The page has been run by anti-ID people and had for a while been worded more like a polemic against Snoke. Snoke has tried to correct some of it, but much of what he adds keeps getting deleted by his antagonists. I have never done any Wikipedia editing, just because I haven't felt like spending the time it seems to take, but this would be something worth contributing to, if I did.

I'm not convinced by ID, but it deserves a more respectful hearing than it's getting in this excuse for an encyclopedia. I'm glad that at my institution, we're able to have debates on it amongst the faculty, without this kind of behavior.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why I love the internet

While trying to find the link to The Nation in my previous post, I came across its Wikipedia entry and decided to read the history of the magazine. The history mentions a 1919 letter to The Nation which Franz Boas, father of American anthropology, angrily wrote, denouncing four (unnamed) scientists for acting as spies for the United States during WWI. They'd been using their scientific work as a cover, but they were real scientists. Boas was taken out to the woodshed for this, being quickly and overwhelmingly condemned by the American Anthropological Association.

I clicked on to Boas' entry for more. He wrote,

A soldier whose business is murder as a fine art, a diplomat whose calling is based on deception and secretiveness, a politician whose very life consists in compromises with his conscience, a business man whose aim is personal profit within the limits allowed by a lenient law -- such may be excused if they set patriotic deception above common everyday decency and perform services as spies. They merely accept the code of morality to which modern society still conforms. Not so the scientist. The very essence of his life is the service of truth. We all know scientists who in private life do not come up to the standard of truthfulness, but who, nevertheless, would not consciously falsify the results of their researches. It is bad enough if we have to put up with these, because they reveal a lack of strength of character that is liable to distort the results of their work. A person, however, who uses science as a cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist.

He was referring to the spy ring run by Sylvanus Morley, which was looking for evidence of German U-boat bases in Mexico and for German activity in that country. Don't forget that we'd intercepted the Zimmerman telegram in 1915, in which Germany tried to convince Mexico to attack the US in return for getting the Southwest back. So this wasn't some idle hobby for Morley--it was a serious bit of work he did to defend this country. Morley's own entry states that he's considered the best spy America produced in WWI, and his scientific work was an excellent cover. He was a real scientist, in fact. He worked on the Mayans and discovered Uaxactun, in Guatemala. He also did a lot of work on the Mayan hieroglyphs.

That set me off to my bookshelves, because I've got a few books on those. Sure enough, Morely's mentioned in them! I didn't think that a post on The Nation's rebuke of Chavez would send me all the way around to this, but that's the fun of these things.

"The Nation" on Chavez

Huh. I just saw The Nation on the newsstand, and their cover story asks whether comrade Chavez is starting to betray Venezuela's "experiment in democracy."

Wow. One of two the major left-wing opinion magazines questioning Chavez's democratic credentials?! Next thing, they'll be praising Reagan, and it's all downhill from there...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Clinton's awkward backtracking on Mississippi insult

"[T]he former first lady said the comments she made about the state in the run up to the Iowa caucuses "were not exactly what I said," even though they came directly from an interview she gave to the Des Moines Register in October. Let's review those comments, shall we?

The newspaper quoted the New York senator discussing Iowa and Mississippi being the only states that have never elected a woman governor or sent a woman to Congress.

"How can Iowa be ranked with Mississippi? That's not what I see. That's not the quality. That's not the communitarianism; that's not the openness I see in Iowa."

And how does she slither out of this one?

"What I said is what I learned is that neither Iowa or Mississippi had ever elected a woman statewide and I referenced the fact that I was the first woman elected statewide in New York and I told the Iowans that they had a chance to try to change that and now in Mississippi giving Mississippi voters a chance to change that."

Awww, how noble of her! Offering her humble services to lift the benighted Mississippians out of their backwardness.

Obviously, though, her original comment was insulting precisely because she was praising Iowa at the expense of Mississippi--using the latter state as the standard of backwardness. It does no good to say that Mississippi and Iowa both have opportunities with her candidacy. "How can Iowa be ranked with Mississippi?" She was flat-out slamming Mississippi.

Damn yankee. (And my apologies to nice yankees out there.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Eco nonsense

Why does the press give any attention to a group like "Friends of the Earth"? They're complaining that an American Airlines flight from New York to London had only 5 passengers on board...and (oh my gosh!) it still flew!!! They're spitting mad. They don't seem to notice that planes don't fly passengers in one direction only. That plane was going to turn around in London and fly right back to America, carrying more passengers. So what do you gain by not flying out there? You strand another whole planeload of passengers who were going to go the opposite direction!

Nutty environmentalists.

Chicago strikes at the heart of the drug problem

...by wanting to ban Ziplock bags with either length or width under 2". Like the ones I buy to store nuts or loose candy. Or the kind you get sewing and button repair kits in. Right, that'll fix the drug problem. Love this line: the ordinance will be an "important tool" to go after grocery stores, health food stores and other businesses. Yep; those are the ones to go after. Stinkin' grocery stores!

Captured laptop documents Venezuelan aid to FARC

Well, this has got to be embarassing. After killing the FARC leader Raul Reyes, the Colombians have captured a rebel laptop with all kinds of neat-o documents on it. Including discussion of what may be a $300 million gift from Chavez to the rebels: "Who, where, when and how will we receive the dollars and store them?" What to do, what to do?

It also reveals the US (who has some citizens being held hostage by FARC) has been making overtures to them in some odd way. I hope we're not really negotiating with this bunch, but I understand the motivation to do so. Weird is this passage, though:

Writing two days before his death, Reyes tells his secretariat comrades that "the gringos," working through Ecuador's government, are interested "in talking to us on various issues."

"They say the new president of their country will be (Barack) Obama," noting that Obama rejects both the Bush administration's free trade agreement with Colombia and the current military aid program.

Reyes said the response he relayed is that the United States would have to publicly express that desire.

Huh. Well, I'd like to see more about what that means!

Hillary pulls through

Well, I didn't expect this to happen last night: Clinton won both the Ohio and Texas primaries. The Democrats had both a primary (2/3 of the delegates) and a caucus (1/3) in Texas, and while Obama's ahead in the caucus delegates right now, they've not counted all of those, yet.

Now, I want McCain to win the general election, but I'm pulling for Hillary to get the Democratic nomination, since I think she'll be easier to beat. And I agree with Limbaugh's desire to see the Democrats stretch out their primary fight as long as possible. The longer they're beating up on each other, the less we need to do it. The best outcome would be a brokered convention, even. Besides causing more havoc on their side, it would simply be fun to watch. I haven't seen one of those in my lifetime.

Still, I wonder if an extended Democratic primary season is wholly good for our side. The longer their season goes on, the longer the press will be giving them the bulk of the attention. I've been listening to XM Radio's P. O. T. U. S. '08 channel, which is devoted to Presidential campain coverage, and the discussion is mostly about the Democrats, because they're the ones still debating amongst themselves. POTUS '08 has great coverage--I'm not complaining about them; it's inevitable the Democrats will attract more attention as long as there's an actual contest on their side.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Neat, fascinating weirdness in computer science

I mostly use computers for straightforward computational work (and for playing around on the internet), and I don't do a lot of fancy programming. For my astronomy work, I use IDL, IRAF, and SuperMongo (SM). IDL has a kinship with FORTRAN that makes it easy to pick up and simple to crunch your way through a heavy computational problem, and it's adapted for image processing, which we do a lot of in astrophysics. IRAF is its evil-mad-scientist cousin, which is also for image processing, but screwy to deal with and has a lot of black boxes. And SM is a language for making publication-quality plots, as well as calculating things from large tables.

When it comes to writing a quick program to calcuate what I need, I prefer IDL and its FORTRAN-like simplicity and directness. But I have a fascination with the varieties of programming languages out there, and especially the totally different concepts behind some of them. It's like breaking out of the Indo-European languages most of us reading this are familiar with (say, English, German, Spanish, Latin, Russian, and even Sanskrit and ancient Hittite), with their conjugations of verbs and declensions of nouns...and seeing how the Semitic languages work (Hebrew verbs have gender, and expressing the genitive case is done by putting two nouns next to each other). Or Vietnamese, which has neither plurals nor past tense, and differences in meaning come in part through the tone of voice.

In that vein, take a look at some of the "Esoteric Programming Languages" listed here in Wikipedia. If your familiar with the simpler BASIC or FORTRAN, see how different the concepts can be and still get the job done. One of my favorites is perhaps the extreme case of a single-instruction language. If chosen carefully, you can do any computation with clever arrangements of that one instruction!

I've taken too long in posting this and want to go on to something else, so I'll get back to it later--more weirdness in programming to come, as well as how this connects with frontiers of physics!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Scholarly shenanigans in Koranic studies?

Nuts--I couldn't find another s-word to put in that title. Oh, well.

Anyway: I've been excited to discover that Christoph Luxenberg's The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran has finally been translated into English. This had previously been available only in German, but it still made a real sensation when it was first published in 2002 or '03. You may have read about the conclusion that the supposed 72 "virgins" the islamist terrorists think they're going to get in heaven might actually be raisins. Really, though, it's not as silly as that: the pseudonymous author says that the passages of the Koran talking about the things in paradise are vague, and the passage that's been thought to refer to virgins awaiting the martyrs doesn't say that explicitly. It speaks of something "white" or "white-eyed" (I'm doing this from memory, so don't quote me on this), and while that's traditionally been thought to refer to virgins, the word is more usually applied to grapes (or raisins). And it would make sense in context, where it's describing the fruits of paradise. Literal fruits, in this case!

But back to our topic: it's now out in English, and I can't wait to get a copy! The publisher quite helpfully links to positive, mixed, and negative reviews of the book. The negative review is written by Angelika Neuwirth, of the Free University of Berlin. From what I've seen on the web, she's considered Germany's foremost Koranic scholar. In trying to find out more about her, I came across this recent notice in the American Thinker's blog. Apparently, the Bavarian Academy of Science had taken photographs of a number of early manuscripts of the Koran, and these photos were (incorrectly) said to have been destroyed during the bombings in WWII. But a scholar there had hidden the photos for decades and (from what I gather) lied about their destruction. His student was this same Angelika Neuwirth. (You can read the Wall Street Journal's article about this here.) She's now leading a team to study them, but very slowly, and without having released the copies of those early manuscripts. They're wanting to produce the first "critical edition" of the Koran--one which accounts for the textual variations amongst the manuscripts. This is the sort of thing that's been done for a long time with the Bible, but never before for Islam's holy book.

Considering the much more direct claim of divine authorship of the Koran and its comparatively recent origin, any textual variations are liable to cause some problems for Moslem theologians. This has been speculated about for some time, but someday, the world will see what those manuscripts actually say. 'Til then, this would all make for an interesting Moslem version of The DaVinci Code!