Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Matt Sludge has up a story about protestors calling for the resignation of the head of the National Hurricane center. This looks like a Rovian disinformation campaign to me, but who knows. There are some idiots on our side too.

SILVER SPRING, MD – Hundreds of concerned citizens and leaders from across the nation will join Hurricane Katrina survivors Wednesday to call for the resignation of the heads of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the NOAA Headquarters just outside of Washington, D.C. During an 11 a.m. demonstration, advocates will demand that NOAA stop covering up the growing scientific link between severe hurricanes and global warming while insisting on real solutions to the problem of global warming.

The protest comes at the start of the 2006 Hurricane season, which officials at the NHC predict will be “a hectic, above-normal tropical storm season.” Speeches begin at 11 a.m. EDT and protestors will carry dramatic props and photographs of Hurricane Katrina. A 37-hour demonstration will follow, lasting until midnight on June 1st, with picketing during the day and a candlelight vigil by night.

Demographic Transition

Brad Delong links to another uber cool tool from Google.

In particular, the example is great for looking at the so called demographic transition - the link between per capita income growth and population growth. The initial configuration plots fertility versus per capita income for most of the worlds countries. You can set the graphs in motion to see how things have changed over the past 30 years. The tool also allows you to select individual countries and display their tracks. Very interesting cases are China, India, Mauritius, The Bahamas, Korea, Botswana, and Saudi Arabia.

I also like the fact that it pretty clearly seems to show my idea that low fertility precedes rather than follows economic growth. Almost every country with low fertility, however poor, seems to accelerate toward advanced country income levels.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Did the Ecoterrosists Win?

Henry Paulsen, our new treasury secretary designate, seems to be both highly qualified and very Green. He is chairman of the Nature Conservancy and a very generous donor to environmental causes. Brad Delong has this

Mr Paulson is expected to be a stronger figure within the administration. He has been chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs since June 1998. He was paid a total of $38.8m last year, $30.1m of that in retricted stock. He has worked in government before, as a member of the White House domestic council from 1972 to 1973 and served as an assistant to the secretary of defence from 1970 to 1972....

"Paulson will make a fantastic treasury secretary but it is hard to see any economic policy of consequence being made in the remainder of the Bush term," said Mark Zandi, chief analyst at Moody's "The president is engulfed with the problems in Iraq and the attempts at reforming social security and the tax system have fallen flat. The only possible aspiration would be to make the first term tax cuts permanent and Paulson may have the weight to help achieve this but it is a tough battle."

"The administration may hope that he will make a more effective advocate of the administration's economic policy," he added. "But it is hard to see how any message will resonate when half the US population is suffering from low wage growth, rising fuel costs and higher debt levels."

The best line I have heard on the Paulson appointment comes from Robert Waldmann:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Reality-Based Economic Policy?: Looks like [the Bush White House is] so desperate for a treasury secretary who adds rather than removes credibility that they have resorting to scraping the top of the barrel.

Of course, Paulson won't get Rubin's Job without fighting for it...
The big inner quote is from Financial Times.

Monday, May 29, 2006


I should write about Haditha, but it's just too damn depressing. One rumor has it that the evidence against the Marines includes a cell phone picture taken by a Marine of another Marine shooting a woman and her children as she knelt begging for mercy.

So why did he take the picture?

Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. "I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: 'I am a friend. I am good,' " Fahmi said. "But they killed him, and his wife and daughters."

An image from a videotape shot by a Haditha journalism student Nov. 19 shows what appears to be a morgue after an alleged retaliatory raid by U.S. Marines. (Associated Press)

The 24 Iraqi civilians killed on Nov. 19 included children and the women who were trying to shield them, witnesses told a Washington Post special correspondent in Haditha this week and U.S. investigators said in Washington. The girls killed inside Khafif's house were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1, according to death certificates


Brad DeLong quotes Paul Krugman:

Paul Krugman on James Hansen
Paul writes:

Swift Boating the Planet

- New York Times: A brief segment in "An Inconvenient Truth" shows Senator Al Gore questioning James Hansen, a climatologist at NASA, during a 1989 hearing. But the movie doesn't give you much context, or tell you what happened to Dr. Hansen later.

And that's a story worth telling, for two reasons. It's a good illustration of the way interest groups can create the appearance of doubt even when the facts are clear and cloud the reputations of people who should be regarded as heroes. And it's a warning for Mr. Gore and others who hope to turn global warming into a real political issue: you're going to have to get tougher.... Dr. Hansen was one of the first climate scientists to say publicly that global warming was under way. In 1988, he made headlines with Senate testimony in which he declared that "the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now." When he testified again the following year, officials in the first Bush administration altered his prepared statement to downplay the threat. Mr. Gore's movie shows the moment when the administration's tampering was revealed.

In 1988, Dr. Hansen was well out in front of his scientific colleagues, but over the years that followed he was vindicated by a growing body of evidence. By rights, Dr. Hansen should have been universally acclaimed for both his prescience and his courage. But soon after Dr. Hansen's 1988 testimony, energy companies began a campaign to create doubt about global warming, in spite of the increasingly overwhelming evidence. And in the late 1990's, climate skeptics began a smear campaign against Dr. Hansen himself.

Leading the charge was Patrick Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia who has received substantial financial support from the energy industry. In Senate testimony, and then in numerous presentations, Dr. Michaels claimed that the actual pace of global warming was falling far short of Dr. Hansen's predictions. As evidence, he presented a chart supposedly taken from a 1988 paper written by Dr. Hansen and others, which showed a curve of rising temperatures considerably steeper than the trend that has actually taken place.

In fact, the chart Dr. Michaels showed was a fraud -- that is, it wasn't what Dr. Hansen actually predicted. The original paper showed a range of possibilities, and the actual rise in temperature has fallen squarely in the middle of that range. So how did Dr. Michaels make it seem as if Dr. Hansen's prediction was wildly off? Why, he erased all the lower curves, leaving only the curve that the original paper described as being "on the high side of reality."

The experts at, the go-to site for climate science, suggest that the smears against Dr. Hansen "might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become." But I think they're misreading the situation. In fact, the smears have been around for a long time, and Dr. Hansen has been trying to correct the record for years. Yet the claim that Dr. Hansen vastly overpredicted global warming has remained in circulation, and has become a staple of climate change skeptics, from Michael Crichton to Robert Novak...

Dishonesty is the ultimate scientific crime. The fact that Michaels and his sponsors resorted to it shows both their moral and intellectual bankruptcy.

Memorial Day

Bush decides that the best way to honor those who have given life and limb for his stupid war is to give them more company.

Our nation mourns the loss of our men and women in uniform. We will honour them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, by advancing the cause of liberty and by laying the foundation of peace for a generation of young Americans," Bush added.

The US death toll in Iraq is now about 2,470 and has increased by more than 800 since the president's last Memorial Day wreath-laying at Arlington Cemetery, in the Washington suburbs.

About ten times that many have been severely wounded, losing limbs, suffering brain damage, etc. The carnage among the Iraqi's in the civil war Bush started is many tens of times as large.

The sorriest aspect of this is that the Bushies have apparently now decided that they can't win, or at least can't win without raising taxes, and so have decided to expend a few more thousand American soldiers to punt this one down the road to the next president.


I am going to attempt to phase out haloscan comments. After having three long (and no doubt brilliant) comments trashed by haloscan today, I am fed up. At some point in the future I will remove the feature from my blog. I may also start replying even to haloscan comments in the regular blogger comments.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Gore and Hitler

Joel Achenbach's portrait of Bill Gray, Fred Smith, and some other leading climate skeptics in today's Washington Post Magazine is a masterpiece of science reporting. Achenbach's story has exceptional literary style and vivid dramatis personae.

As evidence mounts that humans are causing dangerous changes in Earth's climate, a handful of skeptics are providing some serious blowback

IT SHOULD BE GLORIOUS TO BE BILL GRAY, professor emeritus. He is often called the World's Most Famous Hurricane Expert. He's the guy who, every year, predicts the number of hurricanes that will form during the coming tropical storm season. He works on a country road leading into the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, in the atmospheric science department of Colorado State University. He's mentored dozens of scientists. By rights, Bill Gray should be in deep clover, enjoying retirement, pausing only to collect the occasional lifetime achievement award.

He's a towering figure in his profession and in person. He's 6 feet 5 inches tall, handsome, with blue eyes and white hair combed straight back. He's still lanky, like the baseball player he used to be back at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington in the 1940s. When he wears a suit, a dark shirt and tinted sunglasses, you can imagine him as a casino owner or a Hollywood mogul. In a room jammed with scientists, you'd probably notice him first.

He's loud. His laugh is gale force. His personality threatens to spill into the hallway and onto the chaparral. He can be very charming.

But he's also angry. He's outraged.

He recently had a public shouting match with one of his former students. It went on for 45 minutes.

He was supposed to debate another scientist at a weather conference, but the organizer found him to be too obstreperous, and disinvited him.

Much of his government funding has dried up. He has had to put his own money, more than $100,000, into keeping his research going. He feels intellectually abandoned. If none of his colleagues comes to his funeral, he says, that'll be evidence that he had the courage to say what they were afraid to admit.

Which is this: Global warming is a hoax.

"I am of the opinion that this is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people," he says when I visit him in his office on a sunny spring afternoon.

He has testified about this to the United States Senate. He has written magazine articles, given speeches, done everything he could to get the message out. His scientific position relies heavily on what is known as the Argument From Authority. He's the authority.

"I've been in meteorology over 50 years. I've worked damn hard, and I've been around. My feeling is some of us older guys who've been around have not been asked about this. It's sort of a baby boomer, yuppie thing."

Gray believes in the obs. The observations. Direct measurements. Numerical models can't be trusted. Equation pushers with fancy computers aren't the equals of scientists who fly into hurricanes...

Gray believes in the obs. The observations. Direct measurements. Numerical models can't be trusted. Equation pushers with fancy computers aren't the equals of scientists who fly into hurricanes.

"Few people know what I know. I've been in the tropics, I've flown in airplanes into storms. I've done studies of convection, cloud clusters and how the moist process works. I don't think anybody in the world understands how the atmosphere functions better than me."

In just three, five, maybe eight years, he says, the world will begin to cool again.

We sit in his office for 2 1/2 hours, until the sun drops behind the mountains, and when we're done he offers to keep talking until midnight. He is almost desperate to be heard. His time is short. He is 76 years old. He is howling in a maelstrom.

The Shakespearian imagery is deliberate - Joel calls his piece "The Tempest." There is pathos as well as a bit of humor in this image of Gray as Lear, howling into the storm.

Next up on Joel's show is Fred Smith, head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
...when you step into the realm of the skeptics, you find yourself on a parallel Earth.

It is a planet where global warming isn't happening -- or, if it is happening, isn't happening because of human beings. Or, if it is happening because of human beings, isn't going to be a big problem. And, even if it is a big problem, we can't realistically do anything about it other than adapt...

AL GORE IS ABOUT TO COME ON THE BIG SCREEN. Fred Smith is eagerly awaiting the moment. We're at a media preview of "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary on Gore and global warming (it debuts this week in Washington). Smith is not exactly a Gore groupie. He is the head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a factory for global warming skepticism.

CEI has 28 people on staff, "half a platoon," Smith likes to say. They're in the persuasion business, fighting for the free market. They lobby against government regulations of all kinds. Smith writes articles with titles such as "Eco-Socialism: Threat to Liberty Around the World." These promoters of capitalism don't really operate a commercial enterprise; like any think tank, CEI relies on donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. The most generous sponsors of last year's annual dinner at the Capital Hilton were the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Exxon Mobil, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Pfizer. Other contributors included General Motors, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Plastics Council, the Chlorine Chemistry Council and Arch Coal.

Smith is short, stocky, bearded. He talks extremely fast and sprinkles his remarks with free market jargon, climate change lingo, historical references and various mysterious words that seem to come from a secret conservatives-only code book.

As we wait for the movie to start, I ask him how he would define his political beliefs. "Classical liberal," he says. He explains that civilization is a means for allowing individuals to liberate their energies and their genius -- an emergence from primitive, tribal, collectivist social arrangements. When humans switch from collectivism to private property, he says, "you have greater freedom of ideas." This prompts the thought that the federal government owns way too much land in the West. Much of it should be privatized, he says.

After this slightly comic interlude, Gray/Lear comes back on stage:
Somehow Hitler keeps popping into the discussion. Gore draws a parallel between fighting global warming and fighting the Nazis. Novelist Michael Crichton, in State of Fear , ends with an appendix comparing the theory of global warming to the theory of eugenics -- the belief, prominently promoted by Nazis, that the gene pool of the human species was degenerating due to higher reproductive rates of "inferior" people. Both, he contends, are examples of junk science, supported by intellectual elites who will later conveniently forget they signed on to such craziness.

And Gray has no governor on his rhetoric. At one point during our meeting in Colorado he blurts out, "Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews."

When I opine that he is incendiary, he answers: "Yes, I am incendiary. But the other side is just as incendiary. The etiquette of science has long ago been thrown out the window."


Gray's crusade against global warming "hysteria" began in the early 1990s, when he saw enormous sums of federal research money going toward computer modeling rather than his kind of science, the old-fashioned stuff based on direct observation. Gray often cites the ascendancy of Gore to the vice presidency as the start of his own problems with federal funding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stopped giving him research grants. So did NASA. All the money was going to computer models. The field was going off on this wild tangent.

Numerical models can't predict the future, he says. They don't even pretend to predict the weather in the coming season -- "but they make predictions of 50 or 100 years from now and ask you to believe the Earth will get warmer."

The modelers are equation pushers.

"They haven't been down in the trenches, making forecasts and understanding stuff!"

The news media are self-interested.
Some other climate skeptics have walk on parts. Richard Lindzen gets a minor supporting role. Non skeptics are mostly cast in the spear carrier roles.
The Web site Real Climate, run by a loose group of climate scientists, recently published a detailed refutation of Gray's theory, saying his claims about the ocean circulation lack evidence. The Web site criticized Gray for not adapting to the modern era of meteorology, "which demands hypotheses soundly grounded in quantitative and consistent physical formulations, not seat-of-the-pants flying."

The field has fully embraced numerical modeling, and Gray is increasingly on the fringe. His cranky skepticism has become a tired act among younger scientists. "It's sad," says Emanuel, who has vowed never again to debate Gray in public.

When I ask Gray who his intellectual soul mates are regarding global warming, he responds, "I have nobody really to talk to about this stuff."

That's not entirely true. He has many friends and colleagues, and the meteorologists tend to share his skeptical streak.

I ask if he has ever collaborated on a paper with Richard Lindzen. Gray says he hasn't. He looks a little pained.

"Lindzen, he's a hard guy to deal with," Gray says. "He doesn't think he can learn anything from me."

Which is correct. Lindzen says of Gray: "His knowledge of theory is frustratingly poor, but he knows more about hurricanes than anyone in the world. I regard him in his own peculiar way as a national resource."
Meanwhile, the center is having a little trouble holding in the comic relief team as well.
Our Friend CO2

Ten years ago, Fred Smith says, the Competitive Enterprise Institute had contributions from companies across the board in the petroleum industry. It still gets money from Exxon Mobil, the biggest and most hard-line oil company on the climate change issue, but many of its donors have stopped sending checks.

"They've joined the club."

The club of believers in global warming.

The executives don't understand "resource economics." They lack faith in the free market to solve these issues. And they go to cocktail parties and find out that everyone thinks they're criminals.

"Or their kids come home from school and say, 'Daddy, why are you killing the planet?'"

Smith never sounds morose, though. He's peppy. He thinks his side is still winning the debate. Look at the polls: Americans don't care about global warming.

He'd like to get people believing once again in good old-fashioned industrial activity. CEI has created a new public-service TV spot. Smith and several colleagues gather round as we watch it on a computer monitor. The ad begins with images of people picnicking in Central Park on a beautiful day. A child is shown blowing the seeds of a dandelion. A woman's voice, confident, reassuring, says that all these people are creating something that's all around us:

"It's called carbon dioxide," she says, "CO2."

There's an image of an impoverished woman hacking the ground with a hand tool.

"The fuels that produce CO2 have freed us from a life of backbreaking labor."

We see kids jumping out of a minivan. There are politicians out there who want to label CO2 as a pollutant, the narrator says. We return to the child blowing the dandelion seeds.

"Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution. We call it life."

End of ad.

"It should always bring a tear to your eye," Fred Smith says, delighted.
I know it does to mine.

The whole story is well worth reading.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

American Dream

Kevin Drum has up this graph of median income, in 2004 dollars, for men and women since 1947. There are several dramatic features shown, but the most interesting to me was the rapid and continuous income growth for men from 1947 to 1973, followed by stagnation and actual decline since. Per capita GDP has approximately doubled since then, so who got all that money? Women's income increased a little, so they got a small piece of it. Ditto, the young (under 26) and old (over 65). The overwhelming share of it went to the wealthy though. While median wage earners lost ground, the very rich (top 1/1000 and top 1/10000) saw huge increases in their incomes (several hundreds of percent).

A more important question is why this happened. Several possibilities have been mentioned: the entry of the baby boomers into the labor force, globalization, and increased immigration. It's hard to disbelieve, though, that a crucial aspect was the dramatic changes in the tax code that increased taxes on most workers (mostly social security taxes) and decreased top tax rates for the wealthy. Note that almost all of this occurred befor the Bush tax cuts, which seem certain to dramatically increase inequality.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Doprah's Book Club

I used to belong to a great books discussion group and enjoyed it.

I wonder if it would be possible to do that in blog format. The idea would be to pick a book, or a selection from a book, agree to begin discussion at some later date, read and discuss. If anyone has any interest, I'd like to hear nominations. I have a copy of Lisa Randall's Warped Passages that I really should read sometime.

Anyone? Bueller?

Da Vinci Again

Having now seen the movie, and having not been especially disappointed, I have to repeat that the critics are nuts. I do think it was a better book than movie, but that's true of almost every book that's been made into a movie.

The particular brand of stupidity the critics exhibit here reminds me a lot of the stupidity of the David Broeders and Richard Cohens. It comes from living in an echo chamber where the loudest sounds you hear are each others voices.

Vladamir Nabakov told a story of teaching a university literature class, and asking the students why they studied literature. Most students were able to generate some nonsense in whatever critical paradigm was popular in the day, but one had the nerve to admit to just liking stories. Nabakov thought that was the only sensible answer and I can only agree.

Many critics found the dialogue in the movie utterly implausible, but since when is that a literary crime? Is the dialogue in Hamlet plausible? Many of the same critics don't like the artificially archaic language of the Lord of the Rings, which is an impossibly obtuse criticism, since that language is a crucial element in the texture of the story - and the story is, you see, the point.

The dialogue in The Da Vinci Code may be implausibly expository, but that, Oh critic, is not a flaw but a feature. The ideas propounded in DVC may be familiar or obnoxious to professional critics, but they aren't familiar to most readers. DVC combines a lot of ideas in a short, suspensefull plot.

I've noticed that these same critics often love The Soprano's, which I regard as an irritating and tedious formula the only charm of which is having human but deplorable characters who routinely get away with murder and other crimes. Cruelty and the desire for impunity may strongly stir our emotions, but they don't constitute art.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and "We call it Life!"

The professional climate change deniers have mounted a campaign denouncing climate "alarmism" which started with editorials in major papers by Richard Lindzen and a couple of right wing hacks. The idea seems to be to counter Al Gore's new movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Phase II from denial central is the so-called "Competitive Enterprise Institutes" pro CO2 ads now running in a few cities.

Jeff Masters of Wunderblog, no environmental bomb thrower, takes a close look at the CEI and its ads. He starts by pointing out who it is that is paying:

Who funds the Competitive Enterprise Institute?
A variety of businesses fund CEI, but the fossil-fuel industry is one of their main contributors. Exxon documents show that the company gave $270,000 to CEI in 2004 alone. $180,000 of that was earmarked for "global climate change and global climate change outreach." Exxon has contributed over $1.6 million to CEI since 1998. Other oil companies, such as Amoco and Texaco, also contribute to CEI, through the American Petroleum Institute. So, it is safe to mentally replace the "paid for by the Competitive Enterprise Institute" tag on the ads with, "paid for by the fossil fuel industry." I speculated in an April blog that the Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT (and other op-eds that appeared nationwide about the same time) were funded as part of an orchestrated public relations campaign by the fossil fuel industry. The appearance of the new TV ads are also likely part of the same PR campaign. The ads use language similar to the April op-ed pieces, using the word "alarmist" or its variations to describe those who warn that climate change presents a danger. The ads were timed to launch just before the opening of Al Gore's new film on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth", due out today in New York City.
Quite a coincidence that the funders happen to be exactly those outfits for whom the truth of anthropogenic global warming is most inconvenient.

So what about the content?
Here is the full transcript of the narration for the second ad, titled "Glaciers":

You've seen those headlines about global warming. The glaciers are melting, we're doomed. That's what several studies supposedly found.

But other scientific studies found exactly the opposite. Greenland's glaciers are growing, not melting. The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner.

Did you see any big headlines about that? Why are they trying to scare us?

Global warming alarmists claim the glaciers are melting because of carbon dioxide from the fuels we use. Let's force people to cut back, they say. But we depend on those fuels, to grow our food, move our children, light up our lives.

And as for carbon dioxide, it isn't smog or smoke, it's what we breathe out and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution, we call it life.

Masters takes a look at the studies the ads point to, and finds that the CEI interpretation to be dubious at best. The author of one of the two cited studies is more blunt:
In a University of Missouri press release issued May 19, Dr. Davis states:
"These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate. They are selectively using only parts of my previous research to support their claims. They are not telling the entire story to the public."

Lies and damned lies are just about all the denialists have left.

Meanwhile a new study shows that global deserts are creeping northward with a change in the jet stream.
Deserts in the American Southwest and around the globe are creeping toward heavily populated areas as the jet streams shift, researchers reported Thursday.

The result: Areas already stressed by drought may get even drier.

Satellite measurements made from 1979 to 2005 show that the atmosphere in the subtropical regions both north and south of the equator is heating up. As the atmosphere warms, it bulges out at the altitudes where the northern and southern jet streams slip past like swift and massive rivers of air. That bulging has pushed both jet streams about 70 miles closer to the Earth's poles.

Since the jet streams mark the edge of the tropics, in essence framing the hot zone that hugs the equator, their outward movement has allowed the tropics to grow wider by about 140 miles. That means the relatively drier subtropics move as well, pushing closer to places like Salt Lake City, where Thomas Reichler, co-author of the new study, teaches meteorology.

"One of the immediate consequences one can think of is those deserts and dry areas are moving poleward," said Reichler, of the University of Utah. Details appear in Thursday's Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science.
Is sure is getting dry here in New Mexico.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Advice from the MacDaddy

Matthew Yglesias has this over at TPM.

John McCain's victory strategy for Iraq: "One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit.'"
Maybe next time John get a chance to hug or kiss Bush he could ask him to too.

Not Such Good Publicity

Juan Cole quotes this story:

Palestinians: Settlers once more assault schoolchildren

By Michal Greenberg, Haaretz Correspondent

Palestinian schoolchildren from the West Bank village of Umm Tubba were assaulted Sunday morning by settlers who approached them from a community called Ma'on ranch, Palestinians said.

The children who were making their way to school were escorted by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, but the escort did not prevent the assault.

The children said a woman pushed two of them unto thorn bushes at the side of the road.

The IDF [Israeli army] has been escorting the Palestinian children to school daily due to the intensified assaults by settlers.

On Sunday three soldiers and an army jeep escorted the children, but the Palestinians say that the soldiers did nothing to stop the settlers from assaulting the children.

I have no idea how credible this story is, but Haaretz is a generally liberal English language Israeli newspaper. With friends like these, enemies should be easy to find too.

Tree Hugger

Joan Baez is up a tree to save it.

Folk singer Joan Baez and tree-sitter Julia "Butterfly" Hill have taken up residence in a tree to raise awareness about a 14-acre urban farm threatened with demolition.

Joan Baez is a 1960's folk singing icon and war protester, but is better known to physicists as John Baez's aunt.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Da Vinci and the Critics

For some reason The Da Vinci Code, book and movie, drives critics into frothing mouthed fury. Andrew Brown, for example, creates a whole (and wholly improbable) system of philosophy to explain the book's popularity.

The Da Vinci Code really does raises an important and ancient mystery: why do bad books sell better than good ones? (And I don't mean, why do Dan Brown's books sell better than those by other authors named Brown?)

...And even if you think JK Rowling is a bad writer, or a worse one than many children's authors who sell almost infinitely less than she does, it is easy to come up with explanations for her success that involve the things she does well.

We say, for example, that the invention and the plotting in her books mask the flatness of the style. Like the Ford Anglia, she may be ugly and unstylish in some ways, but she can fly. This sort of explanation holds that there are worse things than a pedestrian style: plain prose that gets the job done will do as well as anything more fancy. It also suggests that bad books would sell even better if their style were improved. And here the first problems arise.

Not all bad books would sell better if they were better written: if you rewrote The Lord of the Rings so that it did not read like a translation from invented dead languages, a lot of the book's strange credibility would vanish, though by no means all. Its deeper credibility is non-stylistic and has more to do with the experience of war and loss than anything else.

But there is a class of author where even this kind of explanation breaks down: Dan Brown, Dennis Wheatley, and some other thriller writers like Robert Ludlum fall into this category. They all produce books so aggressively badly written that no virtues of plot or characterisation - even if they existed, which they clearly do not - could make up for the deficiencies of style.

In this case, I think we have to admit that the badness of the prose style is integral to the books' attraction; if better written, they would sell worse. This explanation requires a special sort of bad writing. It is not vulgarity, not mere inelegance and certainly not lack of refinement: it transcends all these flaws. It requires that every sentence throw up obstacles to comprehension, that every other word be redundant.
Fortunately Mr. Brown (not the DVC author but the Mr. Brown nobody ever heard of) has a diagnosis:
It is not just that they are written by people who can't, in any interesting sense, write; they are read by people who have not properly learned to read.
Most people, you see, are not fully literate.
The links between speech and reading and writing are, in a fully literate person, so strong that all three appear to be aspects of the same activity.
Fully literate or otherwise, I find Mr. D. Brown's books quite an amusing read, whereas Mr. A. Brown's essay - no so much.

The always invaluable Juan Cole has a more interesting theory.
[One] pole of the film reflects the authoritarian side of modern institutions and culture. It isn't about Catholicism at all, or about Opus Dei. It is about the unchallengeable doctrines (norms) of society, and about the constant danger that ordinary obedience to the law can turn into a cultic exaltation of the law above principle and spirit. The Silas's of the US are the Ollie Norths and the Irv Lewis Libbys, apparatchiks who are willing to break any law and throw over any constitutional principle in order to serve their masters. (I.e. Cheney gets to play Aringosa in the Plame scandal). As for patriarchy, it is still dominant in much of American life, from the presidency to the CEOs in the boardroom to the US officer corps, and it is linked to the bands of brothers who form gangs and go overboard in imposing conformity. Joe Wilson had to be punished for challenging the orthodoxy that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The other pole in the Brown narrative is the priory around the female descendants of Jesus through Mary Magdalene. This pole is about paganism, feminism, individualism, scientific rationality and sexual freedom. This pole, likewise, can become corrupt and antinomian. Thus, the pagan orgy or hieros gamos repulses Sophie Neveu and causes an almost fatal break between the Grail (herself) and the priory. Likewise, scientistic society has led her to become an unbeliever, so that the Grail itself is corrupted by doubt. Sir Leah Teabing is the symbol of this pole gone to unethical extremes. In his quest for the Grail, he is willing to deceive and to kill. He is Silas's structural analogue.


By the way, Shiite Islam exhibits many of the features discussed in the film. The Prophet Muhammad did marry, Khadijah. And Muhammad and Khadijah's daughter was Fatimah, the equivalent of Sarah in the film. Fatimah had children by her husband Ali. So exactly the kind of dynasty issuing from the Prophet's daughter existed in Shiism as exists in the film as the sang real. Indeed, there are lots of Muslim women called Sayyida who claim descent from the Prophet, just as Sophie Neveu claims descent from Jesus of Nazareth. By the way, they sometimes have difficulty finding husbands because they are obliged to marry up.

The practice of self-flagellation also exists in popular Shiism, when believers mourn the martyred grandson of the Prophet, Huaayn, by beating themselves, sometimes with chains. Only a few Shiites go anywhere near in their flagellations as far as Silas in the film, though.

The Brown narrative does not advocate replacing the patriarchal,authoritarian, self-denying Church with the feminist, individualistic, pagan, libertine priory.

It is, in fact, only the melding of the two poles that would create the happy medium. That would lie in gender equality, and in moderation in each of the values of authority and individualism, self-denial and self-indulgence, law and ethical principle.

That is the centrist position the public is looking for. It is religious, but for the most part values individualistic spirituality above dry Church discipline. It is willing to sacrifice, but not at the price of giving up self-actualization and individual ethical integrity. It is increasingly challenging patriarchy, though that struggle is lively. It recognizes the need for authority but is suspicious, in the Madisonian tradition, that too much authority will corrupt its holders.

The film is popular because it isn't about Catholicism or France or some odd conspiracy theory centered on Mary Magdalene. It is popular because it is about the dilemmas of secular modernity.

Usual Suspects

It's not that the Bush Administration keeps making mistakes. It's more that they keep making the identical mistake over and over. The New York Times has an extensive series examining the attempt to create an Iraqi police force.

As chaos swept Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, the Pentagon began its effort to rebuild the Iraqi police with a mere dozen advisers. Overmatched from the start, one was sent to train a 4,000-officer unit to guard power plants and other utilities. A second to advise 500 commanders in Baghdad. Another to organize a border patrol for the entire country.

Three years later, the police are a battered and dysfunctional force that has helped bring Iraq to the brink of civil war. Police units stand accused of operating death squads for powerful political groups or simple profit. Citizens, deeply distrustful of the force, are setting up their own neighborhood security squads. Killings of police officers are rampant, with at least 547 slain this year, roughly as many as Iraqi and American soldiers combined, records show.

The police, initially envisioned by the Bush administration as a cornerstone in a new democracy, have instead become part of Iraq's grim constellation of shadowy commandos, ruthless political militias and other armed groups. Iraq's new prime minister and senior American officials now say the country's future — and the ability of America to withdraw its troops — rests in large measure on whether the police can be reformed and rogue groups reined in.

Like so much that has defined the course of the war, the realities on the ground in Iraq did not match the planning in Washington. An examination of the American effort to train a police force in Iraq, drawn from interviews with several dozen American and Iraqi officials, internal police reports and visits to Iraqi police stations and training camps, shows a cascading series of misjudgments by White House and Pentagon officials, who repeatedly underestimated the role the United States would need to play in rebuilding the police and generally maintaining order.

The same mistake as always: assume the best case scenario, ignore and disparage the advice of experts, depend on political cronies and contractors when experience is needed, and, when everything falls apart, lie, cover-up, claim up is down. The suspects to are the same old bunch, Rumsfeld, Condi, Feith, and, of course, the Decider. As usual, Colin Powell played the role good soldier who gave reasonable advice, saw it ignored, and rolled over to be kicked again.
After Baghdad fell, when a majority of Iraqi police officers abandoned their posts, a second proposal by a Justice Department team calling for 6,600 police trainers was reduced to 1,500, and then never carried out. During the first eight months of the occupation — as crime soared and the insurgency took hold — the United States deployed 50 police advisers in Iraq.

Against the objections of Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, the long-range plan was eventually reduced to 500 trainers. One result was a police captain from North Carolina having 40 Americans to train 20,000 Iraqi police across four provinces in southern Iraq.

If stupidity were a crime under American law, we could send the whole bunch to the gallows. Instead, our whole country will continue to suffer the casualties, the expense, and the well-earned hatred of all those whose lives we have destroyed.

The whole series is well worth reading, if you can stand it. Someday, no doubt, it will be part of all the textbooks on how not to run an occupation - where it will lie unread by the idiots who start wars to win elections.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Are We There Yet?

Doctor: I have some bad news for you. You have six months to live.

Tom Friedman: Well, uh, I guess that's OK as long as we can keep it that way.

FAIR reports that Tom, on the eleventh of this month (5/11/06) said to Chris Matthews, on MSNBC's hardball:
"Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we're going to have to just let this play out."

FAIR's research showed that this wasn't exactly the first time Tommy boy had made such a prediction. For example:
"The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time."
(New York Times, 11/30/03)

"What I absolutely don't understand is just at the moment when we finally have a UN-approved Iraqi-caretaker government made up of—I know a lot of these guys—reasonably decent people and more than reasonably decent people, everyone wants to declare it's over. I don't get it. It might be over in a week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months, but what's the rush? Can we let this play out, please?"
(NPR's Fresh Air, 6/3/04)
Besides these three, FAIR found eleven other times Friedman had made such a prediction in print or on the air in the meantime.

TF was once a pretty good reporter in the Middle East, and he had won a lot of credibility for his reporting and columns. He is a student of the ME, and he speaks Arabic and was stationed in Beirut and Jerusalem.

He chose to squander his credibility backing Bush's stupid war, and having done so, can't face his mistake but, like the gambler who can't resist making just one more bet to try to get even. Unfortunately, the country bet with him, and every six months costs another several hundred American soldiers and a hundred billion dollars. He has become a figure both pathetic and despicable - pathetic because his error was well intentioned - despicable because his central failure is the moral failure to face his mistake.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Days of Rage

Tommy Hilfiger reportedly attacked Axl Rose in a New York nightclub.

Tommy Hilfiger really showed his "Appetite for Destruction" yesterday when he pummeled Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose in a dispute over a VIP table at Rosario Dawson's birthday party, sources said.

Hey, I would have fought for Rosario Dawson too.

Most observers seemed to think that fashion designer Hilfiger was pretty lucky Rose did not choose to retaliate.

Meanwhile, Luboš has a great video here of a Czech political dispute.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum points out that at the above political dispute, there was no, repeat, no, defenestration involved.
A meeting of disgruntled dentists? In Prague? At least no one got tossed out a window.
Personally, I'm looking forward to a Rich Lowry - Al Franken cage match.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Dr. Houghton has a Question

John Houghton, in his book Global Warming : The Complete Briefing, has an exercise:

“It is sometimes argued that the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide is negligible because its absorption band in the infrared is so close to saturation that there is very little additional absorption of radiation emitted from the surface. What are the fallacies in this argument?”

Indeed it has been so argued, by Harvard Physics Prof Lubos Motl quite recently. This post is in answer Houghton’s question.

As I remarked in a previous post, the energy balance of absorbed radiation and emitted radiation has to be in nearly exact balance. The amount absorbed implies that the Earth has a mean radiating temperature of -18 C, which is to say it emits as much radiation as a black body at -18 C. I need to start with a few more relevant and probably familiar facts:

a)The atmosphere gets colder as you get higher, until you reach the stratosphere.

b)The surface emits a more or less continuous spectrum centered in the infrared, but the atmospheric gases emit and absorb only in discrete bands. See for example this link provided by Lumo.

c)Much of the Earth's emitted radiation is in the so-called window region between 8 and 14 micrometers where surface emission is highest and the atmosphere is relatively transparent, but another large fraction is emitted in the absorbing regions above 14 micrometers. The distribution can be seen in figure 2.4 (page 19) of Houghton's book, which can be accessed here (do a search on 19 or 2.4).

Because absorption is nearly saturated in much of the absorbing region, radiation emitted in such a region is likely to be absorbed before it exits the atmosphere. Such absorbed radiation will be re-emitted, again in an absorption band (because molecules emit in the same bands as they absorb). It will be re-emitted with an intensity characteristic of the temperature of the atmosphere where it is emitted, and cooler temperatures imply less emission - all this is shown in figure 2.4.

Thus, the absorbing regions of the spectrum exhibit an intensity characteristic of a cooler temperature than the surface. The greater the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, the higher the level at which photons need to be emitted in order to be likely to escape. Consequently, increasing the CO2 decreases the emission from the absorbing portions of the spectrum, a decrease which needs to be balanced in order to maintain thermal equilibrium. That balance can only come from increasing the emission from the window region, which in turn implies increase in the surface temperature.

There is a second, probably less important, factor at work as well. The CO2 bands don't have sharp cut-offs, but gradually decreasing shoulders. Increasing the CO2 increases the "width" of those shoulders, narrowing the radiation passband between 8 and 14. Once again, an increase in surface temperature is required to balance the decrease in radiation from the partially blocked region.

Which is to say Lumo, about that 1-exp factor - nope, not really!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

GWB: A Modest Proposal

The Great Wall of Bush is a modest proposal for the enhancement of our border security. It is based on two principles: Most immigrants to the US are seeking work, and barbed wire is ugly. No American could be proud of a gigantic version of the iron curtain running along our Southern border, but a stylishly antiqued and crenellated stone fortification could be a tourist attraction of the same scale and character as the Great Wall of China.

Of course it would be difficult to find Americans willing to do that kind of hard and detailed manual labor, but luckily, there is plentiful unskilled and eager labor just south of our border. Millions of Mexicans could live in their own country, amongst their own people, availing themselves of the cheaper living conditions there while constructing this beautiful and distinctive American monument.

Such a barrier might prove only a fairly slight obstacle to determined immigrants, it’s true, once the work of construction was done, which is where the second part of my plan comes in. Once the wall was completed, construction could be begun on a vast sea level channel connecting San Diego and Brownsville. In order to avoid contribution to global warming, all work would be done without carbon fuel powered aids.

What, you might ask, would be done with all the excavated rock? It is here that the true beauty of my plan is revealed. The excavated rock and soil would be trundled, possibly in wheelbarrows, to the Gulf of Mexico, where it would be used to construct a system of hurricane dikes and barrier islands to protect the entire Gulf coast, from Brownsville to Miami.

I fondly imagine pausing on the bike path along the wall in southern New Mexico and letting my gaze run from the cliffs of Mexico a few miles away to the great plume on my left where the Rio Grande plunges four thousand feet down El Paso falls to the sky blue sea below.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Greenhouse Effect from A to B

(Some notes on the basics of the so-called greenhouse effect.)

Sometimes outrage fails, and even I tire of Bush bashing. Reading over Lumo's latest essay in climate science, I realized that there were a number of gaps in my knowledge, not to mention other peoples. I decided (I'm a decider) to write out some notes, mainly for my own understanding, on the fundamentals of the greenhouse effect. I started with a qualitative discussion of first principles as I understand them. I would appreciate comments, critiques, and questions from experts as well as non-experts. Part I follows.

Part I: Introduction

The Earth is heated by the electromagnetic radiation (light) that it absorbs from the Sun. The Earth in turn radiates heat into space, and the heat radiated by the Earth is almost exactly equal to that absorbed. This balance is a consequence of two fundamental facts: first, that the radiation from the Sun is almost constant, and second, that the heat radiated by a hot body like the Earth is proportional to the fourth power of the temperature (Stefan’s law.) Thus, if the Earth is radiating a little more than it receives, it will cool, causing it to radiate less, and, if radiating less that it receives, to warm up until balance is achieved.

Because the Sun is much hotter than the Earth, most of the Sun's radiation is in or near the visible part of the spectrum, whereas essentially all of Earth's is in the mid-infrared and invisible to the human eye. While the atmosphere is mainly transparent in the visible, in the infrared, not so much. In some portions of the infrared spectrum radiation can only travel a few meters before being absorbed. The Sun also emits a fair amount of radiation in the ultraviolet and near infrared, much of which is absorbed in the atmosphere.

The laws of absorption and emission of radiation take their simplest form for an idealized object, called a “black body,” which absorbs all the radiation it receives. Real objects reflect some of the radiation they receive, and the fraction they absorb is called the absorption coefficient, which is 1 for a black body, 0 for a perfectly reflector, and somewhere in between for almost everything else. The absorption coefficient varies with wavelength, and that fact will be important for our discussion of the planetary temperature.

Since we know the amount of radiation we receive from the Sun, and can fairly accurately measure the absorption coefficient of the Earth, we can calculate what the Earth’s temperature should be if the atmosphere had no effect. That (average over the whole Earth) temperature would be a chilly -18 C (0 F). In fact, our average temperature is about 15 C (59 F). The difference is due to the so-called (and misnamed) “greenhouse effect.”

To explain how it works, it’s best to start with an analogy. Imagine a lamp on a pole, with a light bulb inside a clear globe. Further imagine that there is a thermometer attached to the globe, but shielded from the direct light of the bulb. Electrical power (say 40 watts) flows into the globe, is converted to light and radiated to space. Some of the energy coming out of the light bulb will heat up the globe, and it will in turn emit infrared radiation. Suppose we now substitute a much darker globe that absorbs much of light emitted by the bulb. Now the same 40 watts of electrical power is still flowing into the globe but much less light is flowing out.

So what happens to the extra power? At first it goes into heating up the globe, but as the globe heats up, it will emit more infrared radiation until a balance is restored via Stefan’s law. Once again balance has been achieved, but at a higher temperature. (If you try this experiment at home, it might be useful to use a fluorescent bulb – ordinary incandescent lights already emit such a large proportion of their light in the infrared that the warming might be hard to measure).

In our greenhouse Earth picture, the role of the electrical energy flowing into the bulb is played by Sunlight, which is mostly unimpeded by the clear atmosphere, and the role of the dark globe is played by the atmospheric greenhouse gases – gases which absorb outgoing infrared radiation from the Earth. We know the gases that are in the atmosphere, and how much radiation each absorbs, so except for a few complications, it is still reasonably straightforward to calculate how much they warm the Earth’s surface. If the complications are ignored, and the heating is calculated, it is found that the average temperature of the surface should be about 72 C (162 F)!

Thus, it turns out that we really can’t afford to ignore the complications. The most important such complication is convection. Sunlight, as we have said, is mostly unimpeded by the (clear) atmosphere, so it is absorbed (or reflected) by the ground. Some of the absorbed energy is reradiated as infrared radiation, but much of it goes into heating the ground which in turn heats the air in contact with the ground, or causing evaporation, which puts moisture into the atmosphere. Warm air and moist air are both lighter than their cooler and dryer counterparts, so they tend to rise in the atmosphere.

Such convection takes warm air up from several thousand to several tens of thousands of feet, in the process transporting heat past some or most of the absorbing blanket of greenhouse gases, where it can more easily be radiated to space. Convection has another very important effect: it produces clouds. Condensation of water vapor releases a lot of heat up where it can efficiently be radiated to space, and clouds also tend to block out Sunlight. Both effects tend to cool the Earth. Clouds are double edged in climate, though. They may reflect Sunlight onto the Earth, or they may re-reflect reflected light back to Earth. Especially if you live in one of the higher and dryer parts of the world, you have doubtless noticed that the coldest nights are clear rather than cloudy. This occurs because clouds absorb infrared radiation emitted by the Earth and reradiate some of it back towards the ground.

Vignette: Infrared in Action

If you park your car outside, under the sky, you may have noticed that frost sometimes forms on the windows. Windows partially facing the sky, especially rear windows, typically have the most and hardest frozen on frost. Those which are perpendicular to the sky usually have less frost, or perhaps even only fog. Why so?

Glass is a good absorber and radiator of infrared radiation. Glass surfaces facing the sky radiate their heat into space and get little back. Those facing trees, buildings, or other relatively warm surfaces get back almost as much heat as they radiate, and hence remain warmer.


Weart, Spencer (2005): The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect

The CEO Presidency

Josh Marshall finds another little management glich in the war on terra:

It seems the whole security clearance process is shutdown indefinitely at the Pentagon because Steve Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management can't work out a silly billing dispute.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance?

Brad Delong has this:

The Bush Clown Show: You Couldn't Make This Stuff Up

President George W. Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff are the clown show. Bush says he is sending the National Guard to guard the U.S.-Mexico border. Chertoff says that that is a really stupid idea:

TPMmuckraker May 16, 2006 08:35 AM: Chertoff: National Guard on the Border Would Be "Horribly Over-Expensive and Very Difficult" By Justin Rood - May 16, 2006, 8:35 AM: On the occasion of President Bush's announcement he will post the National Guard along the southern U.S. border, CQ's Patrick Yoest finds this gem -- DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff pooh-poohing the idea less than six months earlier on the O'Reilly Factor:

"Why don't you put the National Guard on the border to back up the border patrol and stop the bleeding, and then start to increase the Border Patrol, the high-tech and all of that?" 'Reilly asked. . . .

"Well, the National Guard is really, first of all, not trained for that mission," Chertoff told O'Reilly. "I mean, the fact of the matter is the border is a special place. There are special challenges that are faced there."

Chertoff added that that it would take a huge amount of National Guard troops, that they would need new training. But couldn't the National Guard pull it off, O'Reilly asked? "I think it would be a horribly over-expensive and very difficult way to manage this problem," Chertoff said. "Unless you would be prepared to leave those people in the National Guard day and night for month after month after month, you would eventually have to come to grips with the challenge in a more comprehensive way."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Answer Man

CIP: Will 2006 be the hottest year ever?

TAM: Yes

CIP: Will Democrats take the House this fall?

TAM: Yes.

CIP: Is string theory falsifiable?

TAM: Yes.

CIP: Will Karl Rove be indicted this week?

TAM: Only if there is any justice in this world! Could definitely be a Rovian disinformation ploy, though.

CIP: What should America do about high gas prices?

TAM: Get used to them!

CIP: About the stock market?

TAM: "Stocks will fluctuate" - J P Morgan

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Larry Johnson Might Not be a Fan

Are we sure that George Bush is really the progeny of George H.W. and Barbara Bush? Any chance he is the long lost grandson of Joseph Stalin, sent to destroy the CIA from the inside? How else to explain the debacle underway with the Hookergate/Duke Cunningham bribe fest, the resignation of Goss, and the nomination of General Mike "What Fourth Amendment" Hayden?

From The Foggo of War at the TPM Cafe.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Luboš Motl has this this post on one attempt to tame the landscape. Lumo has this important observation on the landscape:

We're missing something and we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we're not.

In the ever popular gotcha department, commenter Marcel catches Lumo in a slight numerical error in calculating the power set of the set of landscape vacua:
Moreover, if you want to consider not only random vacua from a set of 10^{350} vacua but even random subsets of this set, let me warn you that there are more than 10^{10^{350}} different subsets of the set of vacua.

Wow! I guess I should have participated in these Olympiads - my estimate would have been at least a factor 5^{10^{350}} smaller!

What's the Time?

What's The Time?
Well It's Gotta Be Close To Midnight
My Body's Talking To Me
It Says, 'Time For Danger'
.....................Mimi, in Rent

Time is a subject of endless fascination. It seems like most of the songs in Rent feature time as a major character. Proust's great novel is called "The Search for Times Lost" (more or less).

Physics has quite a bit to say about time, but a lot of it does violence to our familiar perceptions. Nothing in physics is more counterintuitive than the notion that the present is a sort of illusion. Classical physics, including special and general relativity tend to give us a picture of time as a sort of four-dimensional block, with a continuum leading from past to future with absolutely nothing special about the present. gr-qc/0605049 by G F R Ellis takes on this notion of "block time" and presents a sort of alternative.
The Block Universe idea, representing spacetime as a fixed whole, suggests the flow of time is an illusion: the entire universe just is, with no special meaning attached to the present time. This view is however based on time-reversible microphysical laws and does not represent macro-physical behaviour and the development of emergent complex systems, including life, which do indeed exist in the real universe. When these are taken into account, the unchanging block universe view of spacetime is best replaced by an evolving block universe which extends as time evolves, with the potential of the future continually becoming the certainty of the past. However this time evolution is not related to any preferred surfaces in spacetime; rather it is associated with the evolution of proper time along families of world lines

The answer to Mimi's question, it seems, comes down to a matter of coarse graining:
...unpredictability is a result of the implicit coarse-grained description of the physical system: changes in space time curvature occur that cannot be predicted from external view of the objects because that description does not include details of the internal mechanisms, including the specific bits making up the stored computer programme (these would be represented at a much finer level of description).

I hope he is right, because I really hate block time.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

It's Official

More Americans now believe that the Moon is made of green cheese than think Bush is a good President. New Washington Post Poll. Not coincidentally, roughly similar numbers believe the Sun goes around the Earth and think Bush is doing a good job on the economy. They are pretty much the same 20%.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Thane of Feith

Doug Feith is a brilliant strategic thinker.
................General Tommy Franks

OK, so that's not really what Franks said about Feith. What he actually said might offend the tender ears of some of my readers.

Via Brad Delong, A Tiny Revolution unearthed an example of Feith's brilliant strategic thinking:

Until today I'd never heard of this special Douglas Feith plan after September 11th:

Days after 9/11, a senior Pentagon official lamented the lack of good targets in Afghanistan and proposed instead U.S. military attacks in South America or Southeast Asia as "a surprise to the terrorists," according to a footnote in the recent 9/11 Commission Report. The unsigned top-secret memo, which the panel's report said appears to have been written by Defense Under Secretary Douglas Feith, is one of several Pentagon documents uncovered by the commission which advance unorthodox ideas for the war on terror. The memo suggested "hitting targets outside the Middle East in the initial offensive"...
Specifically, Feith wanted to bomb the “triple border region” where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet. I think one thing's for sure: that would have been "a surprise." And, not just for Osama bin Laden.

Moreover, if the criteria was just that our response be violent and "a surprise to the terrorists," attacking South America is thinking kind of small. Here's what I would have suggested:

• assassinate the Dalai Lama
• blow up the moon
• have the entire Bush cabinet dress up as Carmen Miranda and then, on national television, commit hara-kari

The coffee had actually been ejected out my nose before I realized he (Feith) was serious.

The Grave Robber?

The Yale Alumni Magazine reports new evidence of a long rumored grave robbing by the President's grandfather and friends. Prescott Bush went on to a distinguished career as a US Senator, banker to Hitler, and multi-presidential ancestor, so a little vampire blood doesn't seem to be any handicap in those regards, but the part of the story that interested me was an AP follow-up in which Stephen Singer listed noted Skull and Bones alums:

Only 15 Yale seniors are asked to join Skull and Bones each year. Alumni include Sen. John Kerry, President William Howard Taft, numerous members of Congress, media leaders, Wall Street financiers, the scions of wealthy families and agents in the CIA.
Anybody else find it odd that two Presidents named Bush are not mentioned? (Both were members).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

We're Number One!

In incarceration rate, convincing crushing old line police states like Kazakstan and Belarus, and handily beating Russia. Locally, Texas is the champ, with one out of each hundred citizens in the slammer.

In newborn death rate, the US, with the worlds highest density of neonatal physicians, finishes second. From the bottom, that is (among developed countries - if you can count Latvia as developed). Truly we have the best (as well as by far the most costly) medical care system in the world.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Closing the Ring

W can still fool 31% of the people.

Not a modern record, but exceeded only by Truman, Carter, Nixon, and Dad. GW's disapproval rating (65%) is only exceeded by Nixon on the eve of his resignation.

The scary thing is that he still has three more years (almost) to contine screwing up the country.

Motl on Baez

I have mentioned before that Luboš Motl was my original provocation for starting a blog. In honor of that, I try to reference his stuff pretty frequently, but lately most of his posts have been sour missives from the Crazytown School of Climate Science. Fortunately, he now has up this article on John Baez's recent This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 230).

Motl's post is rather muddled and distorted in its decription of Baez's article, and is also warped by a juvenile attack on Baez and Peter Woit, though the technical part about string theory might be useful to those who know enough algebra and strings. John Baez's article, though, is a typically facinating introduction to many interesting facets of math.

Baez is one of the best, and probably the very best, expositors of mathematical physics. He almost always includes some bits that are intelligible to even the slightly mathematically educated.

Baez once advised every aspiring mathematical physicist to buy the two volumes of Analysis, Manifolds, and Physics by Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat and Cecile Dewitt-Morette, and keep it at his/her bedside until the entire contents were mastered. I only have volume one by my bedside, and somehow, every time I get to page 15, I feel my eyes closing, so clearly I wasn't meant to be a mathematical physicist.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Hot Times on the Roof

From the Independent:

Global warming is rapidly melting the ice-bound roof of the world, and turning it into desert, leading scientists have revealed.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences - the country's top scientific body - has announced that the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau are vanishing so fast that they will be reduced by 50 per cent every decade. Each year enough water permanently melts from them to fill the entire Yellow River.

They added that the vast environmental changes brought about by the process will increase droughts and sandstorms over the rest of the country, and devastate many of the world's greatest rivers, in what experts warn will be an "ecological catastrophe".
More sandstorms, drought, and spreading desertification are only part of the problem. The big worry is loss of water supply:
Perhaps worst of all, the melting threatens to disrupt water supplies over much of Asia. Many of the continent's greatest rivers - including the Yangtze, the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Mekong and the Yellow River - rise on the plateau.

In China alone, 300 million people depend on water from the glaciers for their survival. Yet the plateau is drying up, threatening to escalate an already dire situation across the country. Already 400 cities are short of water; in 100 of them - including Beijing - the shortages are becoming critical.

Even hopes that the melting glaciers might provide a temporary respite, by increasing the amount of water flowing off the plateau - have been dashed. For most of the water is evaporating before it reaches the people that need it - again because of the rising temperatures brought by global warning.

It would be comforting to believe Bill Gray's story of a soon to occur global cooling cycle to cut in, triggered by his THC fluctuations - but I don't.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ho, Ho, Ho

Linker not thinker edition.

Josh Marshall:

The House Committee on Homeland Security plans to investigate the questionable $25 million worth of contracts the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie maintains that the contract is "just perfect."

Federal investigators have apparently interviewed prostitutes involved in the Wilkes-Wade parties.

At some point the excesses of Republican Criminal Conspiracy (CCC) will become as tedious as the last days of the Roman Empire, but we aren't quite there yet. Hookers & Congressmen makes for a good human interest story. I'm looking forward to Tim Russert's interview.

Good to be King?

Or maybe even minor royalty, in the US.

The recent drug problems of Rush Limbaugh and Patrick Kennedy show just how good a deal it is to be in the oligarchy. If Joe, Jose, or Devonte Six-Pack gets high and crashes his car into a concrete barrier while narrowly missing a patrol car, what do you suppose happens? Living in a democratic country where all are equal under the law, my guess is that maybe the cops will pat him on the back, drive him home, and advise him to check into a clinic. Right?

Do You Believe in Magic?

Real Climate has a post on Bill Gray's meetings paper for the 27th Conference on Hurricans and Tropical Meteorology. The post argues that Gray, who attributes Hurricane frequency and some aspects of global warming to changes in the Thermohaline Circulation (THC), is pretty much making shit up. The case they make sounds convincing to me - not that I needed a lot of convincing to be skeptical of a paper that starts with Senator Inhoffe and ends with science fiction writer Michael Crichton.

The THC is undoubtedly important to climate, because it transports heat from one place to another. However it cannot do magical things. It cannot created energy out of thin air (or thick water), nor can it make energy mysteriously disappear. Thus, Gray's statement that "The average THC circulation cools the ocean by about 3 W/m2" is a scientific absurdity.
My italics.

I wrote a comment on this several days ago and submitted it to RC. I quoted the passage above and said, more or less:
Bill's number might be wrong, but is it a "scientific absurdity" dependent on magic? My radiator cools my auto engine without any magic, and we think CO2 warms the Earth by equally unmagical means. It is certainly true that ocean currents transport heat polewards. This transported heat may warm continents, be radiated into space or otherwise have the effect of changing the average ocean temperature, and certainly the temperature of the tropical ocean. Am I wrong?

The reason I mention it here is that I know some climate smart types occasionally visit, and for some reason, RC has apparently found my comment problematic or unsuitable - perhaps it's less germane than the other comments covering epicycles, the Catholic Church, petroleum geology, and the moose populations of Maine and Minnesota - and I would like to know the answer.

Oh Goody

He said with notable lack of enthusiasm.

(via Josh Marshall)
The Wall Street Journal has this on Porter Goss's replacement at the CIA:

A senior Bush administration official says Gen. Mike Hayden is the "leading candidate" to be named director of the CIA. The senior official says Mr. Goss' successor will be named "early next week."

Gen. Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency, is currently deputy director of national intelligence under John Negroponte. Though he's been in the center of controversy in recent months over the administration's program of warrantless wiretaps of suspected terrorists, he has long enjoyed good relations with lawmakers of both parties.

The Journal article also has confirmation of widely rumored investigations of the CIA number three man.
Mr. Goss's resignation also comes amid the controversy regarding the man he appointed to the CIA's third-highest post, Mr. [Kyle "Dusty"] Foggo. Mr. Foggo is under federal criminal investigation relating to the awarding of CIA contracts, people with knowledge of the inquiry said Friday.

When Mr. Goss became CIA head in 2004, Mr. Foggo was his surprise choice for executive director. Although Mr. Foggo had been with the CIA for more than 25 years, he had mainly been assigned to middle-management logistical and administrative jobs, and had never held any senior headquarters position.

Mr. Foggo has been a close friend since junior high school with Poway, Calif., defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes. The criminal investigation centers on whether Mr. Foggo used his postings at the CIA to improperly steer contracts to Mr. Wilkes's companies.

Mr. Wilkes earlier this year was implicated in the charges filed against Mr. Cunningham, as an unindicted co-conspirator who allegedly had paid about $630,000 in bribes to Mr. Cunningham for help in obtaining federal contracts.

No charges have been filed against Mr. Wilkes, although federal prosecutors in San Diego are working to build a case against him, as well as Mr. Foggo, people with knowledge of the investigation said.

Also from Josh:
Time: General Michael V. Hayden, "who has a close rapport with Vice President Cheney", likely to get CIA top job.

That's a shot in the face, all right. Certainly inspires my confidence.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Another One Down

CIA director Porter Goss got a perfunctory attaboy and his walking papers today. Speculation in the blogosphere likes the idea that he might be swept up in the hookergate scandal, though more mainstream theories exist - fired for incompetence or lost a turf war, for example. The incompetence theory seems improbable, despite his evident incompetence. Has Bush ever fired anybody for incompetence?

Or maybe Josh Bolton just wants a new guy.

What Happened to Wolfgang?

Yo - Wolfgang. You still in the blogosphere?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Richard Cohen is a Funny Guy

Steven Colbert on the other hand... We know all this because Cohen tells us so in a column about Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondent's dinner.

First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy. This is well known in certain circles, which is why, even back in elementary school, I was sometimes asked by the teacher to "say something funny" -- as if the deed could be done on demand. This, anyway, is my standing for stating that Stephen Colbert was not funny at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner...
It gets worse.
The commentary, though, is also what I do, and it will make the point that Colbert was not just a failure as a comedian but rude.

Cohen was pretty upset that an alleged comedian took advantage of the President's status as a virtual prisoner at the dinner to confront him with some uncomfortable truths.

A friend of mine felt obliged to send Cohen an email:

Dear Mr. Cohen,

Thank goodness I read your column. All my friends thought Colbert was funny, and I thought I might be losing it. You, sir, are funny. I was reminded of something you wrote back on Feb 6 of 2003:
"The evidence he presented to the United Nations -- some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail -- had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise.

Now that's funny! As funny as one of those planeloads of coffins your credulous sychophancy helped produce. And you weren't even rude. Unless you count fools and Frenchmen.

Let's review the bidding:

We have a Presidency where all televisions are tuned to Fox News. We have a President who famously doesn't read the papers, a President whose aides were afraid interrupt his vacation to tell him that an American city was being destroyed - clearly such a President has a very sensitive temperment, and for a comedian to take advantage of an opportunity to tell him what nobody else would is just really, really, really rude.

Damn but you are a funny guy!

I think I'd better quit before I think of something rude.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

We Don't Need No Stinkin' CDM*...N+1?

Charles Francis asks Does a Teleconnection between Quantum States account for Missing Mass, Galaxy Ageing, Lensing Anomalies, Supernova Redshift, MOND, and Pioneer Blueshift? (gr-qc/0604047)
Teleparallel gravity seems to trace it's origins to a 1930 attempt by Einstein to unify GR with E&M, and involves replacing curvature with torsion. Charles version involves applying the teleconnection to quantum states. Frankly, I couldn't really understand it.

The most dramatic differences appear to be in the interpretations of redshifts at large differences. In particular he claims that it can explain all the effects in the title - an impressive feat if true. It suggests that the Universe is a few gigayears older than current estimates, and in particular that the z=6 redshifted galaxies are several times as old as in the standard model. Perhaps the greatest virtue of his model is that it can easily be falsified - some more high redshift supernovae, perhaps a reanalysis of the pioneer data, and some already planned missions to look at precise stellar positions in our galaxy should provide a good test.

UPDATE: * Acronymn correction due to Lee

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Scientific Credibility Gap?

Lawrence K Altman, MD has story in today's NYT on a "credibility gap" for the peer-review system:

Virtually every major scientific and medical journal has been humbled recently by publishing findings that are later discredited. The flurry of episodes has led many people to ask why authors, editors and independent expert reviewers all failed to detect the problems before publication.

He links some of the fraud problems to the embargo policies of major journals, though I'm afraid I can't quite follow the logic.

The thing I did notice was that every cited example involved medicine. I'm not sure MD's are more dishonest than other scientists, but there certainly is a lot more money at stake - both for drug makers who sponsor research and for the profit making, advertising accepting journals involved.

Physics has mainly moved beyond print journals to the Arxiv. Gatekeeping there is picking up speed, but so far is mainly concerned with excluding authors who don't like string theory.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Opinionator on Immigration

I was chatting with my opinionated friend, aka, the opionator or TO, as we call him for short, when the subject of the Mayday immigratin rallies came up.

TO: A really, really, stupid idea, which pisses off even people who might otherwise be sympathetic.

CIP: Well, immigrants sometimes feel invisible, and they want the country to realize how much we depend on them.

TO: Americans don't want to depend on illegals! And they crtainly don't want to depend on a bunch of people waving Mexican flags.

CIP: Most of the flags I saw were American or Californian - but there were some Mexican flags.

So what do you think of the the House bill to make illegal immigration a felony.

TO: F*&#ing brilliant. Just what we need. Twelve million more people in prison!

CIP: Guest worker program?

TO: Yeah, that's worked really well in Germany, right? And, oh yeah, Saudi Arabia.

CIP: So smart ass, you don't like anybody else's ideas, do you have any?

TO: That's easy - control the border, issue work permits with a moderately difficult path to citizenship, give everybody a difficult to forge SS card, and punish anyone employing illegals - we know who they are, and it's the work that attracts people.

You got any more beer?

CIP: Dos Equis or Corona?