Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mikey Likes It (sort of)

Lubos reads a new paper by Alain Connes and can't immediately dismiss it. Is it possible that the Avenging Angel of String Theory might have found some new (non-stringy) physics he likes?

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Feynman's TOE and Motl's Convenient UnTruth

Feynman's Lectures contain his description of a theory of everything, written as U=0, where U is a sum of terms for all the physical laws we know (F-ma, etc.) It is, as Lubos Motl says, a sort of joke, since all the information is contained in the individual terms. As Frank Wilczek puts it in Physics Today:

It's the sum of contributions from all the laws of physics:

U = UNewton + UGauss + . . . ,

where, for instance, UNewton = (F ­- ma)^2 and UGauss = (­del · E - rho)^2.

So we can capture all the laws of physics we know, and all the laws yet to be discovered, in this one unified equation. But it's a complete cheat, of course, because there is no useful algorithm for unpacking U, other than to go back to its component parts.

Lubos latest post is a rant attacking Thomas Thiemann's latest paper(hep-th/0608210) in which he claims of Thiemann's "Master Constraint" program that
...Thiemann's biggest discovery is thus exactly equivalent to Feynman's joke.

True? Not exactly. In fact it is a distortion so drastic as to be of the form conventionally labelled a lie.

The irony is that Motl fairly faithfully describes parts of what Thiemann did well enough that one can call "bullshit" purely on the basis of LM's own text. Thiemann has a set of constraint equations labelled by some indices. He packs these equations up into a single matrix equation. This packing has several points, which I will briefly describe, but most importantly, there is a way for "unpacking" his M, unlike Feynman's function.

The most elementary point is notational simplicity - a lot of equations are summarized as one. When Maxwell wrote down his equations, there were twelve of them: four sets of three component equations. The development of vector analysis allowed those to be simplified to the four vector equations undergrads learn today. Moreover, the vector notation makes manifest the equation's independence of particular coordinates. Four-tensor or differential form notation introduces additional concision and makes manifest the euations crucial Lorentz invariance.

Thiemann's master equation is like that. The second point of the equation is to, as he puts it:
...use the associated freedom to regularise the square of the constraints:

The generalization preserves the information present in the original equations but allows additional degrees of freedom to be exploited in solving them - this is a common tactic in physics at all levels, as Lubos well knows. In addition, such reformulations often have heuristic value, making possible new approaches and ideas.

Note that I haven't made any judgement on the usefulness or even validity of the Master Constraint Program. I have rather merely pointed out that Motl has described in a completely, and unfortunately characterically, dishonest fashion.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Looking Up from Down There

"What bothers me," says Donald Rumsfeld, "is how clever our enemy is."

What bothers me is how stupid *our* leaders are. I've been reading Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq , the military history of the Iraq conflict, and it is striking how often Rumsfeld and his band of dolts (Perle, Newt Gingrich, and the others) over-ruled the judgement of military professionals in order to make striking blunders.

I guess if you are looking up from IQ Rumsfeld, even Nasrallah and bin Laden look like Lex Luthor on smart pills.

Trouble with Physics: Woit

Peter Woit has a review of Lee Smolin's new book The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. It is, as Peter says, not

... a usual sort of review, since I’ll mainly concentrate on discussing the parts of Smolin’s book that I found most interesting, and my perspective here is kind of unique, having spent a lot of time writing about many of the same subjects that he covers.

I will throw in one more excerpt for flavor:
What most fascinated me about Smolin’s book is the personal story behind it. He was a graduate student at Harvard during the same years that I was an undergraduate there, and describes well that place and time. The standard model had just been formulated a few years earlier, and experimental confirmation was pouring in. Many of the people responsible for the standard model were there at Harvard, and there was more than a bit of justifiable pride and arrogance. Smolin was of a philosophical bent, and initially put off:

The atmosphere was not philosophical; it was harsh and aggressive, dominated by people who were brash, cocky, confident, and in some cases insulting to people who disagreed with them.

I strongly recommend the review, especially to those who might not read the book. It is nicely complementary to Sabine Hossenfelder's more conventionally structured (and also excellent) review of the same book.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Science and Civility

The Twentieth Century was the biggest century for physics since Newton, and the revolutionary developments provoked a lot of impassioned debate. Most of this debate was conducted with the utmost civility, most famously the great Einstein - Bohr debate. Probabably not coincidentally, this debate was extremely fruitful in clarifying the foundation of quantum theory.

We are now about 30 years into the dog days of fundamental physics. We have a good old theory (the standard model) which explains almost everything, and some new theories which are yet to explain anything measurable. Meanwhile, scientific debate has become acrimonious.

For Lubos Motl, self-professed reactionary, this is wonderful. He has a post up celebrating a recent speech by Alan Guth denouncing a rival's theory and emphasizing his point with a picture of a monkey.

Let's take reaction back another couple of centuries. In those days, Neil Turok (the victim of Guth's infantile critique) would have had no choice but to respond to Guth by killing him - or at any rate challenging him to a duel in which one of them would be likely to be killed. The loss to science might be significant (I own books by both the protagonists), but the gain for civilized behavior would compensate. A side effect would be that LM would only be alive if he was the greatest swordsman in the world - in which case I wouldn't dare to make fun of his spelling.

So what's responsible for the current outbreak of infantilism, aside from the prohibition against dueling? LM links to a story in The Australian in which Peter Woit is quoted:

The academic world is often thought to be one of reasoned debate rather than vitriol. What is driving the heated emotions? Peter Woit, an advanced maths lecturer at Columbia University, in New York, believes he has an explanation for the present fury: the physicists are simply getting bored.

Yes, but. Boorish behavior has always existed. Once upon a time, though, institutions would not have tolerated it.

Friday, August 25, 2006

How Bad Would it Be

for Iran to get nukes? Well, it would be pretty bad for Israel, that's for sure. It would also be moderately bad for Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. It could also be pretty bad for the US and every other power that depends on Gulf oil - Europe, China, Japan, etc. Russia might not care too much - what could Iran do, attack them?

So what to do about it?

Sanctions - not likely to work and likely to cause trouble, like $125/bbl oil.

Bomb Iran? Likely to get us chased out of the Middle East. Think $200 oil. Also not likely to work in the long run.

I think that the only real hope is a comprehensive world treaty, with strict rules and strict enforcement.

One slightly crazy idea would be for the traditional great powers (US, China, Russia, France, Britain and maybe India) maintaining a near monopoly on nuclear weapons. Israel and Pakistan might be permitted to keep a few under strict supervision. All other countries would be guaranteed against attack by the great powers. Any country attempting to develop nuclear weapons and refusing inspection would be subject to the death penalty.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More Physics Blogs

Most of the "physics blogs" on my list are really more discursive, but Not Even Wrong is somewhat of an exception. Peter Woit runs a pretty tight ship and likes to keep the subject on physics and math and the comments on topic. It is probably my all around favorite for supplying interesting ideas in physics. The title refers to his Crusade against String Theory, or at least what he considers its excesses, and he has a new book out with the same title. Besides being a good blog, it also gets a very classy group of commenters, who frequently supply more interesting stuff.

Arun Gupta's Musings is mostly not about physics, but he does write occasionally on physics and is a frequent commenter on physics blogs and this one. Mostly I read his blog for the non-physics stuff, especially stuff on Indian history and culture.

Backreaction started out as a joint blog, though it may be just Sabine (Bee) and Stephen now. Bee is more prolific and likes to present long, nicely reasoned pieces on some aspect of physics or even laces for running shoes. She somehow manages to be very polite and sensible even when dealing with Lubos at his most unreasonable. She also has a nice review of Lee Smolin's new book and an interview with him.

I should say something about Wolfgang Beirl, who writes The Statistical Mechanic and has had a number of other blogs, which tend to pop in and out of existence, which is too bad, since he was very good at finding interesting and quirky facts of all kinds. He was once a frequent commenter here, but lately is pissed off at me. Blogging, unfortunately, is a good way to make enemies, at least if you are as argumentative as I am. Wolfgang knows a lot of physics, but I found his non-physics posts at least as interesting.

I still have a few more I want to mention, but they will have to be later.

The Planet Pluto

By now you probably know that the International Astronomical Union has voted to demote Pluto to dwarf planet status. If you don't like that, and you aren't a member of an IAU member society, feel free to ignore it. I know I will. Nobody delegated the IAU to speak for me. Come to think of it, feel free to ignore it even if you are an IAU member society member.

The whole thing seems a bit silly to me. The planets in our solar system are different enough that each is something of a special case, anyway. When we know more about extrasolar planets, we might be able to make more sensible distinctions.

Clyde Tombaugh's widow admitted to being somewhat upset, but said today that she thought Clyde would have understood. Well maybe. The last time I recall speaking to him we were climbing up a platform in his backyard, more or less into a tree as I recall, to take a look at Halley's comet. He was 84 then, tiny and bent with arthritis, but still spry and intellectually curious.

Anyway, I still live in a star system with nine planets. I doubt that many of my astronomer friends will be confused if I mention the discoverer of the ninth planet, Pluto.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Some Physics Blogs

I only read a few physics blogs, so my list is something of a random sample. I won't include climate blogs, even though climatology is now more or less a branch of physics, because I will probably treat them later, with a black hats versus white hats theme.

Numero Uno, at least on my list, is Cosmic Variance, which I tend to think of as Sean Carroll and some other people. This is mainly because I started reading Sean's old blog a long time ago, but also because I think he's still the best, though I have to admit that Joanne's battle with the tomato stealing roof rat was pretty cool. Sean's blog was also probably the first science blog I read. Sean blogs about cosmology and lots of other stuff, and is liberal except for being a pretty totalitarian feminist. He has written a nice book on Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity and videos of some of his excellent lectures are online. Sean is now a research prof at Caltech, which modestly admits to being at the center of the astronomical universe.

I suppose the second physics blog I started reading was Lubos Motl's The Reference Frame. Lubos is an assistant professor of physics at Harvard and writes lots of crazy stuff on all sorts of topics. Most of what he writes is egregious nonsense, like his current post on Hurricanes. He also writes about string theory, but for the most part I can't understand that.

Let me expand on why this current post is nonsense. He starts by quoting some Newspaper guy predicting that 2006 might be worse than the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season of 2005. This is a typical Motl strawman, since I know of no expert who predicted that. He then lays into Bill Gray, one of the microscopic number of mainstream scientists who holds the same crackpot view of global warming that Motl does, for his group's prediction that 2006 would be a "much more active than usual" season - but much less active than 2005.

This prediction, which is purely statistical in nature, was made a year ago. No one believes that such a prediction can be highly skillful, but Dr. Gray's predictions have shown signifigant skill and his work has greatly clarified our understanding of what it takes to make a hurricane. To add insult to injury, he attributes Gray's prediction to global warming theories, in which Gray disbelieves and does not use.

Some hurricane experts have argued that global warming has increased the average intensity of tropical cyclones. That theory is controversial and totally irrelevant to the current Atlantic hurricane season in any case. No scientist is claiming, as Motl says "that global warming causes hurricanes." By the way, this has already been a severe season in the Pacific.

In any case the Atlantic hurricane season is barely underway, so it's a bit early to declare that this will be a below average season. Motl wants hurricane scientists fired because they can't predict how many hurricanes there will be next year very well. What they have become pretty good at is predicting approximately where hurricanes will go a few days in advance. That is very useful information, or I should say potentially very useful information, since if the politicians and people are too stupid to act on it quite preventable disasters can still happen, as in Katrina, which was an obvious horrible threat at least five days in advance.

Motl says:

Until the "experts" are fired or otherwise punished when their predictions fail so miserably - which can only happen if there is some real competition in their field - the world of the hurricane predictions won't have a chance to become a scientific world. And that's the memo.

That from a guy who gets paid to work in a field which 1) has no foreseeable practical application, 2) has absorbed about 1000 times the scientific manpower that long-term hurricane prediction has, and 3) has yet to make a testable prediction of any kind.

Hmmm. I didn't get far with physics blogs. I'll have to get to the others later. I still really want to talk about some terrific blogs (Sabine, Peter Woit, John Baez, and Chad Orzel, for example)

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Lubos has banned me from commenting on his blog, no doubt because he is tired of being shown up as a dope. I remain an avid reader though, partly out of a sentimental attachment to crazy geniuses, and partly out of something like the same sick fascination that draws us to train wrecks. He does manage to be prolific, interesting, and always outrageous.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Enough with the Stupid Questions

I always complain about the stupid questions the press asks the Prez, so I guess I should submit mine:

1) After three and one half years in Iraq, at a cost of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, the security and economic situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate. Isn't this pretty clear evidence that your strategy is faulty and should be changed?

2) For three and a half years your Secretary of Defense has insisted that we had all the troops in Iraq we needed and all that our Generals had asked for. Given that every independent observer in Iraq hears that that is not the case, and given that the Sec Def insisted on invading Iraq with many fewer troops than military planners had asked for, isn't it time to fire him?

3) Robert McNamara has reported that on his trips to postwar Vietnam he is always asked "Hadn't any of you ever read a history book?" Mr. President, have any of you ever read a history book, and if you have, how have you managed to make so many textbook mistakes in the management of the war in Iraq?

4) Do you really not understand why the Iraqi's hate us?

5) Your administration unconscionably ignored clear warnings and thus failed to prevent 9/11, similarly failed to prepare for and cope with Hurricane Katrina, and made a total hash of Iraq, so what do you plan to do differently in your last 2 and 1/3 years in office in order to do better.

Jo No Mo

I just listened to Joe Lieberman being interviewed by Wolf what's his name. I can't believe I voted for that sanctimonious hypocrite. All he had was a more coherent presentation of the Bush talking points.

Some Democrats would like to kick him out of the Party or take away his committee assignments. Cooler heads, we may hope, will prevail. If he manages to win in Connecticut and the Democrats pick up five other seats, he will be the most popular and important guy in Washington. That is true to a lesser degree if the Democrats pick up three, four, or six seats. We may not like him, and we had better not trust him, but we can't afford to throw him out yet. Politics is still the art of the possible.

If he loses to Lamont, we can wave goodbye or just quietly forget him.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Peter Woit has more links to stories about Grigory Perelman, the mathematician who seems to have proved the Poincare Conjecture. One of them, in The Telegraph, tells a pretty grim story.

A maths genius who won fame last week for apparently spurning a million-dollar prize is living with his mother in a humble flat in St Petersburg, co-existing on her £30-a-month pension, because he has been unemployed since December.

The Sunday Telegraph tracked down the eccentric recluse who stunned the maths world when he solved a century-old puzzle known as the Poincaré Conjecture.

Grigory "Grisha" Perelman's predicament stems from an acrimonious split with a leading Russian mathematical institute, the Steklov, in 2003. When the Institute in St Petersburg failed to re-elect him as a member, Dr Perelman, 40, was left feeling an "absolutely ungifted and untalented person", said a friend. He had a crisis of confidence and cut himself off.

Other friends say he cannot afford to travel to this week's International Mathematical Union's congress in Madrid, where his peers want him to receive the maths equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and that he is too modest to ask anyone to underwrite his trip.

Interviewed in St Petersburg last week, Dr Perelman insisted that he was unworthy of all the attention, and was uninterested in his windfall. "I do not think anything that I say can be of the slightest public interest," he said. "I am not saying that because I value my privacy, or that I am doing anything I want to hide. There are no top-secret projects going on here. I just believe the public has no interest in me."

Sylvia Nasar (who wrote A Beautiful Mind) is on the case. She and David Gruber have a piece in this weeks New Yorker, which, unfortunately, is not on line.


Christo-fascist is my term for anybody who believes that the term Islamo-fascist is not offensive to Muslims as a group. Of course it has no descriptive value or etymological justification, but language precision is hardly the issue here, right? At least nobody ought to be offended, since non-CFs will recognize themselves as non targets and CFs shouldn't find the term offensive.

Kevin Drum mentions that Spencer Ackerman found a different reaction in Michigan:

ISLAMOFASCISM....Spencer Ackerman spent last week visiting the Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan, and comes back with a news flash for the president about the term "Islamofascist":

Practically everyone I've spoken with in Dearborn, from oncologists to students to clerics, brings up the term unprompted to explain how they feel themselves under collective suspicion from the Justice Department, a tone they feel Bush has set himself by using the phrase.

....Last week in the Weekly Standard, the apparent inventor of the phrase, Stephen Schwartz, dismissed those who'd be offended by "Islamofascism" as "primitive Muslims." That should tell you all you need to know about those who use the term. I confess to using it, if ironically, in a recent piece, and here in Dearborn I learned precisely why you and I shouldn't. The people it infuriates aren't primitive. They're the moderate, pro-American, well-integrated Muslims who form one of the greatest bulwarks against Al Qaeda that the U.S. possesses, and they see the term as draining their Americanness away.

It's remarkable that anyone needs to be told this, but obviously they do. So now they've been told. And I have some advice of my own for George Bush: you should probably avoid any phrase that's used primarily in the fever swamps of the hawkish blogosphere. Following their lead will merely dig you into an even deeper hole than you've already dug all by yourself.

Dark Matter

Sean Carroll has the goods on dark matter. Complete with great pictures, an animation, and links.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bergman's Review of Not Even Wrong

(Via Not Even Wrong) Aaron Bergman has put up an eleven page review of Peter Woit's book Not Even Wrong. Aaron is a string theorist with an impeccable pedigree (Yale, Princeton, now at UT Austin) and an excellent writer. More importantly, he is well informed and fair minded.

Unsurprisingly, Aaron is not best pleased with Peter's argument. He notes that many of the problems Peter points out are well known to String Theorists and complains that:

Dr. Woit has instead chosen to write a tendentious account providing little guidance as to why, even in the face of such criticism, so many have chosen to work on string theory.

I highly recommend Aaron's review to anyone interested in these issues, and also Peter's response (both linked above).

I do have a couple of comments or questions.

NEW evidently includes the following comment about the Bogandov affair:
So no one in the string group at Harvard can tell if these papers are real or fraudulent. This morning told that they were frauds, everyone was laughing at how obvious it is, This afternoon, told they are real professors and that this is not a fraud, everyone here says, well, maybe it is real stuff.

Aaron replies:
The implication here is that string theorists are incapable from telling legitimate research from nonsense. I cannot speak for the group at Harvard, but at the time I was a graduate student at Princeton, and I can speak for my own involvement. I first learned of the relevant papers in a posting on the internet by Dr. John Baez. Having found a copy of one of the papers available online, I posted that “the referee clearly didn’t even glance at it.” While the papers were full of rather abstruse prose about a wide variety of quite technical areas, it was easy to identify outright nonsense in the areas about which I had some expertise. The above quotation about Harvard surfaced a week later in an e-mail that I and many others received from the Bogdanovs. I cannot speak to the authenticity of any of it, but I find it hard to believe that the faculty at Harvard would be unable to see the nonsense that I, as a graduate student, found easily.

Could it be that Aaron doesn't know the identity of the Harvard string theorist who is one of the Bogandov's most ardent defenders? It is someone he (and we) know well.

Later Aaron says:
Chapter 12 is devoted to attacking both supersymmetry and string theory. Neither theory necessitates the other, however, and, while there is a substantial overlap, there are many who work on one subject but not the other.

I can see where supersymmetry is independent of string theory, but is the converse really true? I thought ST without SS only had bosons.

When have the Rich Gotten so Much Richer?

Well, right now, for example and dramatically so. Brad DeLong reports but does not fully buy into Paul Krugman's analysis(subscription required). From Krugman:

...I've been studying the long-term history of inequality in the United States. And it's hard to avoid the sense that it matters a lot which political party, or more accurately, which political ideology rules Washington. Since the 1920's there have been four eras of American inequality:

The Great Compression, 1929-1947: The birth of middle-class America....
The Postwar Boom, 1947-1973: An era of widely shared growth....
Stagflation, 1973-1980: Everyone lost ground....
The New Gilded Age, 1980-?: Big gains at the very top, stagnation below. Between 1980 and 2004, real wages in manufacturing fell 1 percent, while the real income of the richest 1 percent -- people with incomes of more than $277,000 in 2004 %u2014 rose 135 percent.

What's noticeable is that except during stagflation, when virtually all Americans were hurt by a tenfold increase in oil prices, what happened in each era was what the dominant political tendency of that era wanted to happen. Franklin Roosevelt favored the interests of workers while declaring of plutocrats who considered him a class traitor, "I welcome their hatred." Sure enough, under the New Deal wages surged while the rich lost ground.

What followed was an era of bipartisanship and political moderation; Dwight Eisenhower said of those who wanted to roll back the New Deal, "Their number is negligible, and they are stupid." Sure enough, it was also an era of equable growth.

Finally, since 1980 the U.S. political scene has been dominated by a conservative movement firmly committed to the view that what's good for the rich is good for America. Sure enough, the rich have seen their incomes soar, while working Americans have seen few if any gains.... Bill Clinton was president for eight years. But for six of those years Congress was controlled by hard-line right-wingers. Moreover, in practice Mr. Clinton governed well to the right of both Eisenhower and Nixon.

Krugman concedes that other factors have been at work, and DeLong is not sure that government policies made all the difference. Let me just mention what a few of those policies have been.

From Roosevelt to Kennedy, taxes on the rich were very high. Under Roosevelt, a lot of pro-union legistlation was enacted. Kennedy reduced taxes a bit, and Reagan cut them dramatically for the rich while increasing them considerably for the middle and lower class. Reagan and the conservatives who followed also eroded protections for workers and unions. Both Democratic and Republican controlled congresses have been very generous in allowing the rich to hide or shelter their income from taxation. Bush junior has greatly exacerbated all the factors that tend to impoverish the working class and enrich the very rich. (by permitting hordes of illegal immigrants as well as through tax and labor - or rather, anti-labor, policies.)

Lord of the (Tree) Rings

One of the issues in the Hockey Stick Graph climate debate is the reliability of ancient tree rings as temperature proxies. Noted Hockey Stick denier Steve McIntyre wants to make a bet, and James Annan, the original climate prediction bettor, has some details.

Via Backseat driving, I see that Steve McIntyre wants to bet over tree rings. His contention seems to be that they are a very limited or perhaps even useless indicator of temperature:
Do any of the warmers want to bet that European tree rings in the very warm year of 2003 did not show very wide rings such as predicted by the MBH assumption of a linear relationship between temperature and ring width?

Or that Sheep Mountain bristle ring widths in the period 1990-2005 were as wide or wider than projected by a linear model - we can define the model, but essentially it’s the linear assumption of MBH.

I’ll bet either.

Regular readers will be unsurprised that I consider this bet idea to be in principle a good one, although no doubt there's a debate to be had over the precise details. I don't know anything much myself about the reliability of tree rings as an indicator of temperature myself, and (especially given the confusion over the NAS definition of "plausible" etc) I would be very interested to find out the real opinions of the experts in the tree ring circus, as demonstrated by their willingness to put their money where their mouths are.

The comments on this post are as interesting as the post itself. My favourite includes this Eli Rabett Damon Runyon quote:
“‘Son,’ my father told me, ‘there will come a time when you are out in the world and you will meet a man who says he can make a jack of hearts spit cider into your ear. Son, even if this man has a brand-new deck of cards wrapped in cellophane, do not bet that man, because if you do, you will have a mighty wet ear.’”

Saturday, August 19, 2006

"The Best Guerrilla Force in the World"

Edward Cody and Molly Moore have this Washington Post story, title as above, on Hizbullah. The Hizbullah training, weapons, and immunity from penetration by Israeli intelligence combine to make it a very formidable fighting force. The extensive tunnels, bunkers, and fortifications clearly also played a key role in its highly effective resistance.

Hezbollah's irregular fighters stood off the modern Israeli army for a month in the hills of southern Lebanon thanks to extraordinary zeal and secrecy, rigorous training, tight controls over the population, and a steady flow of Iranian money to acquire effective weaponry, according to informed assessments in Lebanon and Israel.

"They are the best guerrilla force in the world," said a Lebanese specialist who has sifted through intelligence on Hezbollah for more than two decades and strongly opposes the militant Shiite Muslim movement.

Hezbollah was entrenched in friendly Shiite-inhabited villages and underground bunkers constructed in secret over several years, a withering Israeli air campaign and a tank-led ground assault were unable to establish full control over a border strip and sweep it clear of Hezbollah guerrillas -- one of Israel's main declared war aims. Largely as a result, the U.N. Security Council resolution approved unanimously Friday night fell short of the original objectives laid out by Israel and the Bush administration when the conflict began July 12.

Moreover, Hezbollah's military leadership carefully studied military history, including the Vietnam War, the Lebanese expert said, and set up a training program with help from Iranian intelligence and military officers with years of experience in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The training was matched to weapons that proved effective against Israeli tanks, he added, including the Merkava main battle tank with advanced armor plating.

Wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles were the most effective and deadly Hezbollah weapons, according to Israeli military officers and soldiers. A review of Israel Defense Forces records showed that the majority of Israeli combat deaths resulted from missile hits on armored vehicles -- or on buildings where Israeli soldiers set up observation posts or conducted searches.

Most of the antitank missiles, Israeli officers noted, could be dragged out of caches and quickly fired with two- or three-man launching teams at distances of 3,200 yards or more from their targets. One of the most effective was the Russian-designed Sagger 2, a wire-guided missile with a range of 550 to 3,200 yards.

It seems very likely that Hizbullah's Iranian allies have taken these lessons to heart and are preparing a similar welcome for us should we invade Iran. I only hope that our own senior military and civilian leadership have as well. Iran is 150 times as large as Lebanon, and twenty times as populous. Moreover, it controls a very significant portion of the worlds oil and presents a serious strategic threat to the crucial straight of Hormuz.

It has been America's fate to have confronted some serious challenges during the Presidency of George Bush. He has failed miserably at most of them, but Iran dwarfs all the others.

I Want My anti-PirB

From Times online, scientists seem to have found a Protein block that makes the old less able to adapt to the new.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School believe that they have found the biological mechanism that makes people become set in their ways as they get older. They have identified a protein that stops new neural connections forming in adult brains.
The results of the study, which are published in the journal Science Express, indicated that the brains of adult mice that lacked PirB retained the same rewiring ability of much younger brains. Without PirB to hold them back, the old mice were, in effect, able to learn new tricks...

The great thing about the new protein we have found is that it is the same for everyone. If you could make a drug to target this, it would be like a skeleton key which could be used on anyone.”

My progressive stupidification with age is a huge annoyance.


I hope that none of you non-doltish Republicans were offended by the title. I wasn't talking about you, I was just talking about the Republicans who are dolts.

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg takes a close look at "Islamo-fascism" in an LA Times article:

IT WASN'T THE first time President Bush had described the United States as at war with "Islamic fascists." But coming in his remarks about the arrests of two dozen terror suspects in Britain last week, the phrase signaled that the administration was shopping for new language to defend its policies at a time when the evocations of the "war on terror" don't seem to stem rising doubts about the wisdom of "staying the course" in Iraq.

Hence the appeal of using "Islamo-fascism," as people often call it, which links the current conflict to images from the last "just war": Nazi tanks rolling into Poland and France, spineless collaborators sapping the national will, Winston Churchill glaring defiantly over his cigar, the black ink spreading across the maps of Europe and Asia in Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" newsreels...
But in the mouths of the neocons, "fascist" is just an evocative label for people who are fanatical, intolerant and generally creepy. In fact, that was pretty much what the word stood for among the 1960s radicals, who used it as a one-size-fits-all epithet for the Nixon administration, American capitalism, the police, reserved concert seating and all other varieties of social control that disinclined them to work on Maggie's farm no more.

... Of course, it's the point of symbolic words such as "fascist" to ease the burden of thought — as Walter Lippmann observed, they "assemble emotions after they've been detached from their ideas." And it may be that Americans are particularly vulnerable to using "fascism" sloppily, never having experienced the real thing close up.

But like "terror," and "evil" before it, "Islamic fascism" has the effect of reducing a complex story to a simple fable. It effaces the differences among ex-Baathists, Al Qaeda and Shiite mullahs; Chechens and Kashmiris; Hezbollah, Hamas and British-born Asians allegedly making bombs in a London suburb. Yes, there are millions of people in the Muslim world who wish the U.S. ill, and some of them are pretty creepy about it. But that doesn't mean they're all of a single mind and purpose, or that a blow against any one of them is a blow against the others. As Tolstoy might have put it, every creep is creepy in his own way.

I like that phrase, "assemble emotions after they've been detached from their ideas." It so perfectly captures the whole essence of name-calling.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Motl's Dark Materials

Always eager to rush in where the wise might fear to tread, Lubos has this post on the declining representation of Blacks in elite New York City science schools. After opening with an improbably ironic tale of happy Darkies down on the Czech plantation, he presents his explanation: genetic inferiority of IQ. I suppose that's also the reason for even larger (as a percentage of the whole) declines in the number of whites. (Graph from This NewYork Times Story)

I don't want to get into that particular can of worms, but he does have a link to the Wikipedia article on Race and intelligence. There is quite a lot of information, discussion, and controversy there, but a couple of items caught my eye. One is that the most recent large scale adult IQ comparison appears to have been done a quarter century ago. Statistics beyond racial means are very hard to come by. A second interesting comparison with more recent data is the GRE scores. Asians outperform all other categorized groups, but their superiority to whites and "others" (whomever they may be) is purely in the quantitative test. There are, of course, many reasons why GRE's are poor proxies for IQ.

Also interesting is the fact that almost nothing is known about the biological basis of IQ differences. The coming onslaught of detailed genetic sequencing data seems likely to clarify what role genes play, but this may be ten or even 15 years hence.

Lubos's post drew a Nazi or two, and his usual fans, but little dissent. That is perhaps because he has banned most of his critics (like your humble corespondent) - or it may just be that most people have lost interest.

Our Dark Materials

John Baez has some information/speculation on the discovery of hard evidence of dark matter on This week's finds number 238. A couple of clusters of galaxies seems to have collided about 4 billion light-years away. The x-ray image above shows a smaller cluster moving to the right trailing a shock wave.

Baez's explanation:

Markevitch and company have been studying the "Bullet Cluster", a bunch of galaxies that has a small bullet-shaped sub-cluster zipping away from the center at 4,500 kilometers per second. Here's a picture of it from the above paper:

To help you understand this picture a bit: the official name of the Bullet Cluster is 1E0657-56. The "exposure" for this X-ray photograph taken by Chanda was apparently 0.5 million seconds - 140 hours! The distance scale shown, 0.5 megaparsecs, is about 1.6 million light years. The cluster itself has a redshift z = 0.3, meaning its light has wavelengths stretched by a factor of 1.3. Under currently popular ideas on cosmology, this means it's roughly 4 billion light years away.

Anyway, what are we seeing here?

You can see rapidly moving galaxy cluster with a shock wave trailing behind it. It seems to have hit another cluster at high speed. When this kind of thing happens, the gas in the clusters is what actually collides - the individual galaxies are too sparse to hit very often. And when the gas collides, it gets hot. In this case, it heated up to about 160 million degrees and started emitting X-rays like mad! The picture shows these X-rays. This may be hottest known galactic cluster.

That's fun. But that's not enough reason to call a press conference. The cool part is not the crashing of gas against gas. The cool part is that the dark matter in the clusters was unstopped - it kept right on going!

How do people know this? Simple. Folks can see the gravity of the dark matter bending the light from more distant galaxies! It's called "gravitational lensing". Here are the mass density contours, as seen by this effect.

To see the other picture you will have to go to John's site.

He is part of a cool new physics-math group blog, too called The n-Category Café.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Modest Proposal

Vicious Mama has a radical proposal for Middle East peace. You need to check out the link for details, but mainly it involves moving Israel to the American Southwest. Based on her Sitemeter map, it has drawn interest from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and several other Muslim countries, not to mention the US, Canada, and Russia.

She didn't precisely suggest a location, so I have a suggestion: How about that roughly triangular patch of Texas bounded by the Jordan River (formerly known as the Rio Grande) and the line from El Paso to the tip of the big bend. This would include the nine big counties from El Paso in the West to Terrell. They don't fit that well with the rest of Texas anyway - some of them even vote Democratic.

El Paso, of course, would become the New Jerusalem. It would be a big confidence boost to EP which is always the little brother of TX politics and economics anyway. The climate shouldn't be too different from Israel.

Best of all, next Passover, when somebody raises a glass to toast to "Next year in Jerusalem," I could get up, say, "Why wait? Let's go down to Moshe's for a beer and some tamales." Maybe I could finally even get a decent bagel.

How do you say Tamale in Hebrew?

I approve. The Palestinians approve. Iran's President Ahmadinejad approves. Who could possibly object?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Well, Duh!

Even hard core conservatives are starting to grasp the obvious. Joe Scarborough gets a bit shrill:

For the past six years George W. Bush has been the target of ridicule from liberal circles. But now, instead of laughing at Democrats’ ill-directed arrogance, Republicans are quietly joining the left in questioning the President’s intellectual prowess.

The biggest knock on Bush’s brain is his lack of intellectual curiosity. Former administration officials still close to the White House will tell you Mr. Bush detests dissent, embraces a narrow world view and is intellectually incurious.

Worse for this White House is the fact that George W. Bush has daily smackdowns with the English language and the English language usually wins.

His gaffes are funnier than most SNL skits. But more disturbing are his rambling, disjointed press conferences like the one he held earlier this week.

Friends and foes alike agree that George W. Bush is one political figure who gets worse with age. Look back at his performance as Texas governor and you will see a funny, self-assured public figure who inspires confidence. But these days, the mere opening of Mr. Bush’s mouth makes many GOP loyalists shake in their tasseled loafers.

So does it matter in the end whether our president is articulate and intelligent?

You bet your life, it does. I’m not saying we need to elect a dork like Michael Dukakis, who famously spent vacations at the beach reading books on Swedish land use or was so overwhelmed with the details of the old SALT treaties that he would sulk off to bed depressed.

But when America is fighting a global war on terror where the battle is for hearts and minds instead of beachheads and landing strips, we need a leader who can explain to friend and foe alike why America is in Iraq, why we keep sending arms to Israel and why liberal democracy really is preferable to Islamic fascism.

Right now, George W. Bush is not that leader.

Once again, well, duh!

The only true curiosity is the observation, which has been made before, that Bush wasn't always so inarticulate and incoherent. So what is it? Stress of office? Alcoholic dementia? Some more subtle brain disease?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Poincare Conjecture

If you are at all a math fan, or just interested in the vagaries of human nature, take a look at Dennis Overbye's New York Times story on the Poincare Conjecture and the elusive mathematician who proved it after 100 years.

Grisha Perelman, where are you?

Three years ago, a Russian mathematician by the name of Grigory Perelman, a k a Grisha, in St. Petersburg, announced that he had solved a famous and intractable mathematical problem, known as the Poincaré conjecture, about the nature of space.

After posting a few short papers on the Internet and making a whirlwind lecture tour of the United States, Dr. Perelman disappeared back into the Russian woods in the spring of 2003, leaving the world’s mathematicians to pick up the pieces and decide if he was right.

Now they say they have finished his work, and the evidence is circulating among scholars in the form of three book-length papers with about 1,000 pages of dense mathematics and prose between them.

It looks like he has indeed done it. Since there is a Fields Medal and a $1 million prize involved, you might expect Grisha to be doing the talk show circuits, or at least partying with Jeffrey Epstein, but instead he seems to have disappeared.
In a series of postdoctoral fellowships in the United States in the early 1990’s, Dr. Perelman impressed his colleagues as “a kind of unworldly person,” in the words of Dr. Greene of U.C.L.A. — friendly, but shy and not interested in material wealth.

“He looked like Rasputin, with long hair and fingernails,” Dr. Greene said.

Asked about Dr. Perelman’s pleasures, Dr. Anderson said that he talked a lot about hiking in the woods near St. Petersburg looking for mushrooms.

Dr. Perelman returned to those woods, and the Steklov Institute, in 1995, spurning offers from Stanford and Princeton, among others. In 1996 he added to his legend by turning down a prize for young mathematicians from the European Mathematics Society.

Until his papers on Poincaré started appearing, some friends thought Dr. Perelman had left mathematics. Although they were so technical and abbreviated that few mathematicians could read them, they quickly attracted interest among experts. In the spring of 2003, Dr. Perelman came back to the United States to give a series of lectures at Stony Brook and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also spoke at Columbia, New York University and Princeton.

But once he was back in St. Petersburg, he did not respond to further invitations. The e-mail gradually ceased.

Recently, Dr. Perelman is said to have resigned from Steklov. E-mail messages addressed to him and to the Steklov Institute went unanswered.

I couldn't really follow Overbye's explanation of the Poincare Conjecture, but there is a good (but mathematical) explanation here at Wolfram MathWorld.

Ricci flow (which plays an important role in the proof) is explained here in the Wikipedia.

Two Lies and a ?

One reason conservatives and other people spend so much time talking past each other is that they live in separate universes. From my point of view, that is because conservatives believe so many things that just aren't so. This isn't necessarily an accident. If you are the sort of person who listens to and believes the main stream media, our elected leaders, and even a bit of the wingnut media, you will hear and believe a lot of lies.

I have absolutely no brief to defend Iran's President Ahmadinejad, but I am very concerned that my country not be led into another war through a campaign of lies and propaganda. To that end, let me expose some lies about Ahmadinejad that are almost universally believed in the US. It's very easy to distort the remarks of someone who speaks a language few Americans understand.

(1) Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier. This one is everywhere, including Wikipedia. It's is also a total distortion of what he said, which had the following point: If European's killed six-million Jews, why should the Palestinians have to suffer for it? A CNN translation of his remarks:

If you have burned the Jews why don't you give a piece of Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to Israel. Our question is, if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for this crime?
(from this site
Another version:
'If the Europeans are telling the truth in their claim that they have killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the World War II - which seems they are right in their claim because they insist on it and arrest and imprison those who oppose it, why the Palestinian nation should pay for the crime.

That "if" is the slender thread from which the massive lie of Holocaust denial hangs.

So who spreads this particular lie. Wikipedia, the BBC, and the Washington Post, not to mention the usual idiot freepers, littlegreenfartballs, instadolt and their ilk. Ironically, the most honest report I've read of his remarks content came from an Israeli Zionist site. Besides not constituting Holocaust denial, his remarks make logical sense - not that I'm endorsing them. Israel is a fact on the ground and has been for three generations. Turning back the clock is not an option.

(2) Ahmadinejad wants to "wipe Israel off the map." This one is usually interpretated as him wanting to kill or chase all Jews out of Israel. What Ahmadinejad has actually said, more than once, is that he wants to end the illegal and expansionist "Zionist Regime." This would end Israel, the Jewish state, but their is no implication that the Jews would either be killed or expelled. Naturally the Israelis take offense at this, but there is no need to blow this serious threat out of proportion

(3) Haven't you heard the things that the Iranian president has said? He's clearly making the case for a new 'religous cleansing' in which anyone who isn't Muslim will be persecuted or killed. (from a comment by RA in the What is Fascism post). A large number of Google searches revealed any number of variations on this statement. The only problem is that none of them had an attribution. When or where is he supposed to have said this? He has a number of times said things that flatly contradict this idea. (See, for example, his long letter to President Bush). There and elsewhere he says that Iran wants to live in harmony with other nations - though not Israel, which he believes is a crime against Islam and the Palestinian people.

If he has made such a claim, I'd like to know where and when. If you read it, what source was cited? Until I see some evidence, this looks like another bit of propaganda to me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Scientific American Reviews Smolin and Woit

George Johnson leads off Scientific American's September book review page with a joint review of Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong and Lee Smolin's Trouble with Physics. It's a book review, not a critical evaluation, so Lubos and the Stringy Legion will doubtless be reduced to apoplexy. Johnson does make clear that Peter and Lee are serious thinkers with serious points.

George Allen -> Racist

The Washington Post has this story on the "makkakah" incident. They coyly mention that:

In some European cultures, macaca is also considered a racial slur against African immigrants

They fail to note that it's also common on American White Supremacy sites as a slur against Blacks, Asians, and Arabs. George Allen seems a lot more familiar with the vocabulary of the Aryan Brotherhood than the Washington Post is.

George Allen Uses the M-Word

A few of us more sheltered types were a bit puzzled when Senator George Allen (R-VA) singled out an American of Asian extraction at a campaign rally and called him a "makkaka."

From Josh Marshall:

Sen. George Allen (R-VA) singles out Indian-American Webb volunteer S.R. Sidarth at a campaign event, calls him "Macaca" and 'welcomes' him to America. "Lets give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," said Allen.

Josh notes that Jeffrey Feldman did the research:
There has been some question as to what this word 'macaca' means, so I took some time to fire off some searches on Google.

In the remainder of this post I will list key findings under headings of the search terms plugged into google.

'Macaca' or 'macaque' is a nasty racial epithet alright. It is often used by American white supremacists to describe black people. In Belgium, it is a racial slur for 'dirty arab.' Could this be George Allen's Mel Gibson moment?...

[many examples culled from white supremacist sites]

The term 'macaque'--also pronounced 'mukakkah'--is a commonly used racial slur on par with the word 'nigger' in the united states.

In Europe, the word 'macaque' is largely a racial slur used to insult people of North African descent. It is roughly synonomous with 'dirty arab.'

Most of the results that came back in these searches took me to well known white supremacy websites--and to posts from the past two or three years. So this is a phrase that is still in use.

Also returned where hundreds of 'ethnic slur' dictionaries online, all of which list this term as a 'Belgian' racial slur.

This incident tells us a lot about whom George Allen hangs out with - and more about whom he is.


By many accounts, Bush and Cheney are eager for war with Iran. Sometime in November, Iran will give its answer as to whether it will get rid of its uranium enrichment capability. It is widely predicted that it will say no.

A lot may depend on what has happened in the Congressional elections. If the Republicans hang on, another, much grimmer, could be in the cards. If Democrats take back one or both houses, it might be tougher for Cheney to pursue his path to $500/bbl oil and world chaos.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Royal Blood

I've been doing a little geneological research, and it seems that I have some Royal Blood. So does everybody else, says Matt Crenson of The Washington Post in this article.

Actress Brooke Shields has a pretty impressive pedigree -- hanging from her family tree are Catherine de Medici and Lucrezia Borgia, Charlemagne and El Cid, William the Conqueror and King Harold II, vanquished by William at the Battle of Hastings.

Shields also descends from five popes, a whole mess of early New England settlers, and the royal houses of virtually every European country. She counts Renaissance pundit Niccolo Machiavelli and conquistador Hernando Cortes as ancestors.

What is it about Brooke Shields? Well, nothing special -- at least genealogically.

Even without a documented connection to a notable forebear, experts say, the odds are virtually 100 percent that every person on Earth is descended from one royal personage or another.

"Millions of people have provable descents from medieval monarchs," said Mark Humphrys, a genealogy enthusiast and professor of computer science at Dublin City University in Ireland. "The number of people with unprovable descents must be massive."

Bad Vibrations

Peter Woit has links to some String Landscape articles here. He is especially interested in Washington Taylor's inaugural talk (video here) at the Santa Barbara (KITP) semester-long program on String Theory phenomenology.

Taylor’s talk was quite remarkable, very explicitly going over exactly how bad the current situation is for efforts to get any prediction at all out of string theory. There was a lot of discussion with the audience, and much nervous laughter. Unfortunately I found some of Gross’s comments hard to hear. Taylor explained that after spending ten years himself working on trying to better understand what string theory is (he worked in string field theory), he doesn’t see any realistic prospects for significant progress on this problem during the next ten years. He listed the basic problems as the lack of a non-perturbative definition in anything but special, non-physical backgrounds, the inability to do even perturbative calculations in the kind of Ramond-Ramond backgrounds that people are using to stabilize moduli, and the lack of any definition of string theory when supersymmetry is broken by a positive CC, and thus the background is deSitter.

Discussing the landscape, he said that there was no evidence for a dynamical principle that would select the vacuum, with no hint at all of how such a thing would work, and that there is no known mechanism that would destabilize the known conjectured constructions of vacua. He goes on to ask “what can we do even if we don’t know what we’re talking about?”

Iran Preview?

Seymour Hersh has another great article in The New Yorker, proving once again that he is our best journalist. It is a multi-faceted exam of the American role in Israel's current war. I will extract a few bits:

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Israel, of course, had it's own reasons, but Olmert and his Defense Minister, both lacking military background might have been a bit credulous in accepting US (and IAF) theories of how the war could be won on the ground.
“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

The theory was one dear to Bush and Cheney.
The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign.

...The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

...“The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top—at the insistence of the White House—and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely,” he said. “It’s an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.’s strictures, and if you complain about it you’re out,” he said. “Cheney had a strong hand in this.”

The plan didn't work, of course.
...The surprising strength of Hezbollah’s resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert told me, “is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back.”

Nonetheless, some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. “There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this,” he said. “When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran.”

Will Bush and Cheney be deterred from attacting Iran? Not likely.
Even those who continue to support Israel’s war against Hezbollah agree that it is failing to achieve one of its main goals—to rally the Lebanese against Hezbollah. “Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it,” John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me. Arquilla has been campaigning for more than a decade, with growing success, to change the way America fights terrorism. “The warfare of today is not mass on mass,” he said. “You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focussed on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.”

And they are insane.

What is Fascism?

My post on "Islamofacism" provoked a number of opinions as to what "fascism" is, so I thought I ought to look into a bit of history. Aside from being a general term of disapprobation, what is facism? Wikipedia has a nice history and some variations on the various definitions that have been popular here.

Fascism is a radical totalitarian political philosophy that combines elements of corporatism, authoritarianism, extreme nationalism, militarism, anti-anarchism, anti-communism and anti-liberalism.

Hmmm. So far I can't see anything Lubos would disagree with, but how well does it fit the various Islamic terrorists, insurgencies, and other violent sectarian groups? How about a little table?

Characteristic............. LM.......... bin Lad..........Hizb

corporatism .................Yes..........No................No
authoritarianism ...........Yes .........Not really........?
extreme nationalism...... Some.......No.................Some
militarism .....................Yes.........Yes...............Yes
anti-anarchism ..............?............ ?..................?
anti-communism........... Yes......... Yes ..............Yes
anti-liberalism ..............Yes......... Yes.............. Yes

I report - you decide.

Empty Haircut

One ungrammatical little tic Republicans have adopted is referring to the Democratic Party the "Democrat Party." They do it because they know it irritates Democrats and other people with positive IQs.

The CBS program Face the Nation had some empty haircut sitting in for Bob Shieffer today. He had a relentlessly hostile interview with Ned Lamont (consisting purely of Rove-Lieberman talking points) this morning, which, however, Lamont handled very well.

Empty Haircut really managed to piss me off, though, with his repeated references to the "Democrat" party. Lamont managed to ignore this provocation, but I wonder if he really should have. What if he had just politely interrupted, pointed out to Haircut that there is no "Democrat" Party, that the word "Democrat" is not even a f*#king adjective, and ask him to stop being a witless Republican shill for the rest of the interview?

Would anybody have been offended?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Crawford Implausible

The Prez has been reported to have read Camus's The Stranger as well as the new Oppenheimer biography American Promethius at Crawford this year.

Yeah. Right. The same President who couldn't be bothered to read his one page daily intelligence summary. The same President who spent several months of intensive Bible study on three New Testament chapters - only funny thing, afterwards the leader of the group was clueless about their content.

Maybe Condi is summarizing them for him. Since as she can't land at any Middle Eastern city but Jerusalem, she may have some time on her hands. Between contractions in the birth of the new Middle East.

A Reader Asks

Speaking of doctored up photos I notice that is one story you've let slide under your radar. Hmmm?

I never found the story interesting enough to read, and I do have a job, a life, and other interests, but - since you asked, I did read up in this story in The Jerusalem Post - no Islamofacist outlet that.

My conclusion: A truly nothing story. Some guy put a little extra smoke in a scene of smoke rising from Beirut, multiplies the number of flares dropped by an Israeli Jet, and some woman is shown in two different pictures wailing about the ruins of her house. Oh yeah, and some injured guy gets up and later manages to walk away from the blasted remains of some building. The guy who altered the picture was stupid and got fired for it.

There are plenty of real pictures of ruined buildings, dead children, and blasted bridges, so what difference does this guy's misbehavior make. It sold him a few more picture initially, then got him fired, but it doesn't change our picture of the war in the slightest. A war, let me remind you, where the Israeli Defense minister instructed his subordinates to "turn South Lebanon into dust."

As for the story, what should be a trivial story of one photographer's bad behavior and punishment was blown up by the right wing noise machine into a cause celebre. In reality, it is irrelevant to the war, and useful only for obscuring the facts.

The "I-F" Word

One of the stupidest and most destructive memes propagated by the right wing slime machine is this "Islamofascist" word. Nothing could be more calculated to 1) promote bin Laden's "war of civilizations" idea and 2) bring every Nazi crawling out from under their rocks and decaying logs.

They are crawling out, by the way. I had to ban a Nazi from this site. Lubos (who naturally is irresistably attracted to the word as he is to any other bit of right wing nutjobbery) has a commenter - wait, let me rephrase that in the form of another wingnut meme recently adopted by LM - one "member of the Reference Frame community" is promoting "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," while another is advocating nukeing all the major Muslim cities of the world, gleefully toting up the hundreds of millions of casualties.

Friday, August 11, 2006


While the British were breaking up an al Quaeda bomb plot, Bush was cutting funds for bomb detection technology.

Meanwhile, Bush counterintelligence officials were also busy:

The two top officials of Counterintelligence Field Activity at the Defense Department resigned this week amid investigations into their agency’s classified contracts with a businessman who has pleaded guilty to bribing department officials and Representative Randy Cunningham.

From David D. Kirkpatricks story in the New York Times

Thursday, August 10, 2006

That Figures

From Yahoo: Bush seeks political gains from foiled plot

The London conspiracy is "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation," the president said on a day trip to Wisconsin.

"It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America," he said. "We've taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously we still aren't completely safe."

His remarks came a day after the White House orchestrated an exceptionally aggressive campaign to tar opposition Democrats as weak on terrorism, knowing what Democrats didn't: News of the plot could soon break.

Nice Guys All

I just saw a short TV segment on several of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers. They had interviews with several women who had known them. They all reported cheerful, kind men.

I think maybe a lot of women are spectacularly bad judges of male character.

There He Goes Again

George Bush, in reaction to the terrorist plot uncovered in London:

this nation is at war with Islamic fascists.

Can we imagine language much more shaped to convince every Muslim in the World that they are in Bush's gunsights? Bush, like bin Laden, seems determined to push for a so-called war of civilizations.

If, as seems likely, this turns out to be an al Quaeda plot, it will be more evidence of Bush's folly in deciding to let bin Laden escape while he plotted his folly in Iraq.

Having calamitously failed almost every challenge of his Presidency, Bush now seems bent on pursuing some sort of wider war, perhaps hoping this will allow him to cling longer to impunity. Don't be surprised if he tries to trump up this plot into some kind of excuse for war with Iran. Evidence of an Iranian connection, no matter how implausible, is likely to be conjured up.

I would be extremely surprised if there turns out to be any real Iranian involvement, though we should have no doubts about its capability to carry out considerably more sophisticated attacks.

Jo Jo

Josh Marshall on Senator Lieberman.

I'm sorry. I just don't see it.

Mike Allen has a piece in Time arguing that Republicans are thanking their lucky stars and Democrats are shaking in their boots because of the cudgel Ned Lamont's victory in Connecticut has given them for November...

The heart of the matter here is that everyone knows Joe in DC. They like him. They think he's a nice guy, which he is. His staff likes him, which also makes him seem like a nice guy. He's schmoozed the city for two decades.

But really he's just a pol who ignored his constituents, went into serious denial about a major foreign policy disaster, was more lockstep with the president's non-policy than many Republicans, and got bounced by his constituents.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Reader Service Page

Reading this NYT story about great Czech beer (The Ultimate Beer Run in the Czech Republic ), I was reminded that Lubos's dot and Wolfgang's dot are largely superposed on my Sitemeter map. You can hardly be more than a couple or three hours apart. So why don't you guys get together, drink a few of those exquisite Czech beers, and take turns berating global warming, LQG, and the Pig. I'd love to be there in person.

Odd News

(via Drudge)
From an even more unlikely combination of sources. David Keyes, reporting in the Jerusalem Post:

A US Navy sailor, Ariel J. Weinmann, is suspected of spying for Israel and has been held in prison for four months, according to an article published Monday in the Saudi daily Al-Watan. It reported that Weinmann is being held at a military base in Virginia on suspicion of espionage and desertion.

According to the navy, Weinmann was apprehended on March 26 "after it was learned that he had been listed as a deserter by his command." Though initial information released by the navy makes no mention of it, Al-Watan reported that he was returning from an undisclosed "foreign country." American sources close to the Defense Department told Al-Watan that Israel was the country in question. ...

The veracity of Al-Watan's claim that Weinmann is suspected of spying for Israel remains in question, and military and Pentagon spokesmen are remaining tightlipped. A public affairs officer at the Office of Naval Intelligence told the Post that he was unaware of the allegations against Weinmann.

Al-Watan speculated that if Weinmann spied on behalf of the Mossad, it would be the biggest espionage case since Jonathan Pollard's arrest. Pollard, who worked as a civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy, was caught in 1985 and convicted of spying for Israel. He is currently serving a life sentence in the US.

I'm not sure what is odder, that a Saudi paper would break this story or that the JP would repeat it. I have no idea how much credibility, if any, ought to be attached to this story.

UPDATE: The rumors now say Russia

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

El Nino

We seem to have entered a (so far)weak El Nino period. This decreases the probability that this will be a severe hurricane year, and improves the odds for my prediction that 2006 would be the hottest on record.

Juan Cole on Bush

Bush, Islamic Fascism and the Christians of Jounieh

Bush is on vacation, his favorite place to be during a major crisis. The August retreat is the only open admission he makes that Cheney and Rumsfeld are actually running the country, and he just doesn't need to be in his office.

It's a long, angry article, mourning the murder of a country, and I will only further quote the end:
The idea that the whole Eastern Mediterranean had to be polluted, that the Christian Lebanese economy had to be destroyed for the next decade or two, that 900,000 persons had to be rendered homeless, that a whole country had to be pounded into rubble because some Lebanese Shiites voted for Hizbullah in the last election, putting 12 in parliament, is obscene. Bush's glib ignorance is destroying our world. Our children will suffer for it, and perhaps our grandchildren after them.
I don't know that there is anything to Cole's prediction, but if it does come true, much of the world will believe we deserved it - and Bush will be responsible for that.

Ambivalent Zionist

Josh Marshall has a few posts up on in response to readers who wondered why he wasn't talking about the Middle East. His reply is typically illuminating and insightful.

I'm hearing two streams of conversation about the war -- two whole worlds of conversation and debate, you might say, often as distinct from each other as night and day.

One is the one we all see every day in the mainstream news -- the major papers and news networks and so on. And then there's another -- one I'm exposed to largely, but not exclusively, through email we get at TPM.

And it's this latter conversation that's engaged my attention, rattled me and intensified and deepened my belief in Zionism.

There's a whole detailed and after a while sterile debate about what sort of criticism of Israel amonts to 'anti-Semitism' and what doesn't. Suffice it to say that many of these emails have breathed a tone of hostility and double-standard toward Israel specifically and sometimes Jews generally that have left my head spinning. They range from wild conspiracy theories about the origins of this war to the blanket assumption that every civilian death in Lebanon was an intentional killing of civilians and a war crime. From there -- where to begin? -- we have debates over just when it was that Israel forfeited its right to exist -- the murder of Rabin, through a rather inverted logic, seems to be a favorite -- to where the Israelis should be deported to when the state is liquidated, and so on.

I don't think it's quite that simple. There is a whole vast range of nuance between the extreme anit-Zionists and Nazis on the one hand and the Fox News and Israeli government line. It's this middle that both the Nazis and the Israeli propagandists want to eliminate. They want to force everybody into the Procrustean bed of "you are with us or against us."

In a later post he adds some clairification.
In my post I referred to "my core belief in the Zionist project." And a number of readers have written in to ask what I mean by that.

Zionism is too multifaceted and controversial a subject to define here at TPM. And in any case what Zionism 'is' or 'means' isn't really relevant in this case. What's relevant is what I mean or meant when I identify myself with it.

Here's what I mean. I believe in the project of building a democratic and secular Jewish state in Palestine.

Some of Israel's enemies and too many of her friends and advocates use the word to mean in a Jewish state in all of historic Palestine or even, as used to be the Revisionist credo, a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River.

That's not what I believe.

I believe there should be a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza. Not a collection of autonomous cantons but a full state, with the border being the Green Line or some very near approximation of it. As Ben-Gurion saw from the beginning and others like Moshe Dayan realized not that long after, trying to settle the West Bank and Gaza was a terrible mistake, one born of Israeli triumphalism, fed by coalitional politics in Israel and constantly enabled by the intransigence of the Arab states

It's easy to see why most American Jews are Zionists, and I have considerable sympathy for this view. My own view is more muddled. Israel has existed for almost three generations now, and it is unreasonable to expect that it should now be undone. My bottom line is almost identical to Josh's (or John Stewart's, mentioned in a previous post).

I also think that only a political settlement can give the region any kind of peace. Israel has had more than thirty years of peace with Egypt and Jordan, and overall it has worked pretty well. The standard reply is: "You can't negotiate with terrorists!" What crap. The founders of Israel were terrorists before they were a state (look up the Stern Gang, and its leadership). For that matter, the American revolution started with acts of terrorism. You can negotiate with anyone who is willing to negotiate with you. That doesn't imply you need to "trust" those you negotiate with. Sensible agreements always include provisions for verification and enforcement of their terms.

I'm afraid I lack a "core belief in the Zionism project" though. I think it was a big mistake. If Britain and the rest of the UN wanted to created a new Jewish homeland, wouldn't it have been fairer to give them a piece of Germany and Austria? Or maybe part of one of their own countries. Scotland or Wyoming, say.

Trying to undo the mistakes and injustices of history is hopeless however. For one thing, I, and most of my readers, would have to leave this country.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Risky Business

It's getting more dangerous to criticize Lubos. Someone unnamed evidently took offense at one of his posts [about some recently arrested billionaire] and asked other bloggers to stop linking to him. Lubos, it seems, is now contemplating the offender's demise. From remarks in his blog:

But I think - and I hope - that you will be killed before you succeed to do all these things. Good luck. ;-)

I'm no lawyer, but I fear that Lubos may have gone over the line from wacko to potentially criminal here. Contemplating someones murder is not a crime, but telling them that you think and hope they will be killed sure sounds like one to me.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Deal or No Deal?

The US and France have agreed on a UN ceasefire resolution, an agreement hailed as a victory for the US and Israel. None of the combatants has yet accepted the deal, and it's pretty clear that real issues are concentrated in an envisaged second resolution. Sheryl Gay Stolberg, writing in The New York Times notes:

The draft resolution called for a truce, asked the current United Nations peacekeeping force to monitor the border area, and laid out a plan for a permanent cease-fire and political settlement. The text called for immediate cessation of all attacks by Hezbollah, and of offensive military operations by Israel.

But it did not include a prisoner exchange or require Israel to immediately withdraw from Lebanon...

Without the second resolution, I don't expect much to happen:
The accord envisaged a second resolution, to create a new international force to patrol a zone to between the Blue Line at the Lebanon-Israel border and the Litani River to keep it free of all military personnel and weapons, except those of the Lebanese Army and United Nations-mandated forces.

That resolution would also set established borders for Lebanon, including in the disputed Shebaa Farms area, lay out the procedure for disarming Hezbollah, order an international embargo on arms shipments into Lebanon, and empower the Lebanese military to extend its authority throughout Lebanon, particularly in areas in the south controlled by Hezbollah.

The international force is a big if, and is unlikely unless Hizbullah is on board. If it is created, it could be that France wants to be part of it. This would have plusses and minuses for several actors. The Israelis might actually get some security, if the political deal can be made and holds. Lebanon might also wind up more secure. Israel is in no position to challenge France with impunity. France is one of only about a half-dozen countries with clear military superiority to Israel, and it is geographically closer than any of the others.

The big winner could well be France, which was once the colonial power in Lebanon and Syria and aspires to be a player once again. Despite the conventional wisdom, the biggest loser could be the US. With France in place, it could easily become the main player on the Israel - Lebanon - Syria - Jordan stage. Meanwhile, the US is intractably bogged down in Iraq, and seems likely to be largely driven out in the next few years.

Sound Retreat

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel and Democratic Senator Chris Dodd were on the tube this talking about how we get out of Iraq. Even the White House is now floating rumors that "if a civil war breaks out" we might withdraw. It's obvious that a low to medium intensity civil is already underway, and that the more security functions we turn over to the Iraqis, the more intense the civil war has become.

Hagel repeatedly said "There are no good options left." He sees the war as lost. Dodd doesn't see how we can continue to send American soldiers to Iraq to serve as referrees in a civil war.

George Bush started this war, fought it with incredible ineptitude, and now appears to have lost it. We will be dealing with the consequences of this disaster for decades.

There is an eerie similarity between this disaster and the Vietnam war - the only competition for greatest foreign policy disaster in recent American history. The most discouraging thing for me was that the military itself appeared to have learned nothing from Vietnam. No doubt some of the blame belongs to the clearly demented Mr. Rumsfeld, but how could the military have been institutionally so utterly unprepared to fight a counterinsurgency? I'm not sure, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the way they have been integrated into the military industrial complex. Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman have no interest in skills and tactics of counterinsurgency - you can't make money teaching Arabic and Middle Eastern culture, but there are tons of money to be made in selling billion dollar airplanes (the B-2) or even those cheapie hundred million dollar ones.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Juan Cole presents but does not endorse a theory for why Israel destroyed Lebanon. In this scenario, it really is the opening salvo of WW III, and Iran is not the enemy, but the unwilling bride. The real strategic rivalry is between the US and China and India.

The wholesale destruction of all of Lebanon by Israel and the US Pentagon does not make any sense. Why bomb roads, roads, bridges, ports, fuel depots in Sunni and Christian areas that have nothing to do with Shiite Hizbullah in the deep south? And, why was Hizbullah's rocket capability so crucial that it provoked Israel to this orgy of destruction? Most of the rockets were small katyushas with limited range and were highly inaccurate. They were an annoyance in the Occupied Golan Heights, especially the Lebanese-owned Shebaa Farms area. Hizbullah had killed 6 Israeli civilians since 2000. For this you would destroy a whole country?

It doesn't make any sense.

Moreover, the Lebanese government elected last year was pro-American! Why risk causing it to fall by hitting the whole country so hard?

And, why was Condi Rice's reaction to the capture of two Israeli soldiers and Israel's wholesale destruction of little Lebanon that these were the "birth pangs" of the "New Middle East"?

Now my vote would have been for stupidity, arrogance, and callous sadism, but the theory has a rationale. A European reader had told him of a meeting he attended where a major oil player had spoken:
JFR [the player] explained to the astonished audience that Iran was the most valuable country on the planet. They have one of the biggest holdings of gas and oil reserves in the world. second in gas, second in oil. On top of that they have direct access to the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Caspian Sea what makes them a potential platform for the distribution of oil and gas to South Asia, Europe and East Asia. JRF called Iran 'the prize' . . .

The disaster in Lebanon actually was also part of JFR's presentation. He explained that the US government is 100% convinced, fanatically and completely convinced, that both, Hamas and Hizballah are creatures of Iran and that Iran uses them to undermine US goals in the region . . .

The presentation got kind of freaky then. He said the US government wanted to stop state-controlled Iranian or Chinese (or Indian) companies from controlling the oil. JFR says the US Government is convinced that this battle will decide the future of the world. It sounded like he was talking about 'the one ring' in lord of the rings. he who controls Iran controls them all. '

George Orwell was only slightly early.

A Small Right Wing Conspiracy

Writing in tommorow's Haaretz, Daniel Levy takes a close look at one of the most successful and calamitously misguided conspiracies in modern history. In Ending the neoconservative nightmare he looks at the history of the so-called neoconservative machinations in the Middle East.

In 1996 a group of then opposition U.S. policy agitators, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, presented a paper entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" to incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The "clean break" was from the prevailing peace process, advocating that Israel pursue a combination of roll-back, destabilization and containment in the region, including striking at Syria and removing Saddam Hussein from power in favor of "Hashemite control in Iraq." The Israeli horse they backed then was not up to the task.

They had to wait to get their chance.
Ten years later, as Netanyahu languishes in the opposition, as head of a small Likud faction, Perle, Feith and their neoconservative friends have justifiably earned a reputation as awesome wielders of foreign-policy influence under George W. Bush.

The key neocon protagonists, their think tanks and publications may be unfamiliar to many Israelis, but they are redefining the region we live in. This tight-knit group of "defense intellectuals" - centered around Bill Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Elliott Abrams, Perle, Feith and others - were considered somewhat off-beat until they teamed up with hawkish well-connected Republicans like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Newt Gingrich, and with the emerging powerhouse of the Christian right. Their agenda was an aggressive unilateralist U.S. global supremacy, a radical vision of transformative regime-change democratization, with a fixation on the Middle East, an obsession with Iraq and an affinity to "old Likud" politics in Israel. Their extended moment in the sun arrived after 9/11.

Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite shooting, no talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran, with Gingrich calling this a third world war to "defend civilization."

It looks like some in Israel, the proposed beneficiary of these policies, are starting to wake up to the fact that it could be the next victim.
Disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neocon "creative destruction" in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for Israeli policy-makers. An America that seeks to reshape the region through an unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots, devoid of local contextual understanding, alliance-building or redressing of grievances, ultimately undermines both itself and Israel. The sight this week of Secretary of State Rice homeward bound, unable to touch down in any Arab capital, should have a sobering effect in Washington and Jerusalem.

Afghanistan is yet to be secured, Iraq is an exporter of instability and perhaps terror, too, Iranian hard-liners have been strengthened and encouraged, while the public throughout the region is ever-more radicalized, and in the yet-to-be "transformed" regimes of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, is certainly more hostile to Israel and America than its leaders. Neither listening nor talking to important, if problematic, actors in the region has only impoverished policy-making capacity.

Israel does have enemies, interests and security imperatives, but there is no logic in the country volunteering itself for the frontline of an ideologically misguided and avoidable war of civilizations.

My guess is that Bush and Rove, hope to ride the Israeli - Hizbullah war to cling to power, while Gingrich still schemes to make a comeback. Levy has some advice for the rest of us:
Beyond that, Israel and its friends in the United States should seriously reconsider their alliances not only with the neocons, but also with the Christian Right. The largest "pro-Israel" lobby day during this crisis was mobilized by Pastor John Hagee and his Christians United For Israel, a believer in Armageddon with all its implications for a rather particular end to the Jewish story. This is just asking to become the mother of all dumb, self-defeating and morally abhorrent alliances.

When the peasants finally storm the American Enterprise Institute with pitchforks and torches, they might want to remember to bring some wooden stakes. And hammers.

No God but Strings

Lubos Motl, writing in a comment on Backreaction: string theory, the equivalence principle is a derived fact.

Joe Polchinski, writing in String Theory, volume I, page 115:
Because of the force from dilaton exchange, there is no equivalence principle, and so no way to single out a preferred metric.

From Wikipedia:
String theory, supergravity and even quintessence, for example, seem to violate the weak equivalence principle because they contain many light scalar fields with long Compton wavelengths. These fields should generate fifth forces and variation of the fundamental constants. There are a number of mechanisms that have been suggested by physicists to reduce these violations of the equivalence principle to below observable levels.

There seems to be a contrary view.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Trouble with Physics

Bee at the always interesting backreaction has long review of (a manuscript version of) Lee Smolin's new book Trouble with Physics. It's not just a String bashing book, she says. She claims to be rather critical of the book, or maybe she was just critical to Smolin in person, but I thought she put the book in a rather positive light. She also includes a short interview with Smolin.

I will buy the book, but then I was always going to anyway.