Saturday, March 31, 2007

Land Ho!

Eric Mayes, writing in a comment on Cosmic Variance claims to have a paper coming out Monday that derives the MSSM from string theory, complete with lepton masses and neutrino mixing ratios (at least for known particles). Very exciting if true - especially if their derivation gives masses for particles not yet measured. I'm not sure what the status of the measurement of neutrino mixing ratios is.

We can now competely derive the MSSM from string theory, including the quark, tau lepton, and neutrino mass matrices and mixings (see our paper on Monday), so these people should sit down and be quiet.

I don't know if this is truly legit, but there does seem to be a real Eric Mayes at Texas A&M.

UPDATE: Via Wolfgang, the paper is here.

No Cabinet for Judy

Apparently there is no Cabinet post for Judith in the Giuliani administration.

That's actually a pretty good idea. It would be a shame to have to fire your Secretary of State just because you moved a new girl friend into the White House.

Woodshedding Broder

It has become fashionable to bash Washington Post columnist and occasional TV talking head David Broder as a semi-senile Bush sychophant. As one entering my semi-senility myself, I prefer the term "clueless sychophant," but, whatever. One of the hazards of membership in the punditocracy in the age of the intertube is the ease of dredging up the evidence of prophecies past, as Joe Klein recently learned to his sorrow. Josh Marshall finds a good one from a Broder column six days after Hurricane Katrina (quote is from Broder's column):

It took almost no time for President Bush to put his stamp on the national response to the tragedy that has befallen New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, a reminder that modern communications have reshaped the constitutional division of powers in our government in ways that the Founding Fathers never could have imagined.
Because the commander in chief is also the communicator in chief, when a crisis emerges the nation's eyes turn to him as to no other official. We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public.

We have seen this before. Bill Clinton was foundering in his third year in office when the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City shocked the nation and set the stage for his flawless performance of the symbolic rites of healing and comfort for the victims.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Connecting the Dots

Via Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen connects two important dots in the Cunningham -US Attorneys - Gonzales - Rove mystery:

From 1991 to 1993, a young lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve was working as a program manager in a Pentagon intelligence office. His name was Mitchell John Wade. His boss, the assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, was Duane P. Andrews. Andrews's job at the Pentagon was essentially to serve as intelligence advisor to the secretary of defense. The secretary of defense at the time was someone that Andrews knew well and respected immensely: Dick Cheney...

Among the many lingering unanswered questions on this aspect of the case is who, in May 2002 -- just two months in advance of Wade getting the White House contract -- facilitated MZM getting authorized to be a federal supplier in the first place. This was done through a small branch of the Department of the Interior called the Minerals Management Service. That service and the Department itself have reportedly become the subject of their own sprawling corruption probe.

Wade, recall, is the convicted Cunningham briber who trail is also entangled with other Congressmen involved in getting Carol Lam fired.

Cheney is a rich guy who doesn't need any piddling bribes from Wade and friends, so who put the fix in? And why would Rove and Cheney want to protect them? It's a puzzle.

Cap Answers it All

Cap tries to explain greenhouse warming. Critiques welcomed - especially from those who know.

From a comment on her blog by Rae Ann

RA -

cip, I'm sorry I still don't really understand how exactly the greenhouse effect on Venus or even Mars can be applied to Earth. You should explain it the way that you would explain it to a child.

I just don't see how you can plug 96% and .003% into the *same* calculations and get any kind of meaningful result.

These are good questions, but unfortunately the answers are complicated, which is why I’ve delayed answering it. Let me say a word about the second question first. One of the most important discoveries in the history of physics was Newton’s realization that the same force that brought the apple from the tree to the Earth dragged the moon in its orbit about the Earth (and the Earth about the Sun, and so on). So it doesn’t surprise a physicist when a single equation explains phenomena differing by many orders of magnitude. Incidentally, it’s not the percentage CO2 that is important, it’s the total amount. Since Venus has about 90 times as much atmosphere as the Earth has, it has about 300,000 times as much CO2 between planet surface and space as the Earth does. So that one thing that needs to be explained is why 300,000 times as much CO2 produces 500 C of greenhouse on Venus, which is a lot, but not nearly 300,000 times the 10 C or so produced by the pre-industrial CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.

As first noted by Arrhenius in 1896, the effect of CO2 is approximately logarithmic – a geometric increase in CO2 producing an arithmetic increase in temperature, that is, if doubling the amount of CO2 produces 3 C increase in temperature, 4 times as much CO2 would increase the temperature T by 6 C, 8 times as much CO2 would increase T by 9 C, and so on. The equation isn’t an explanation though, so I will try a simple one.

There is a long term balance between the amount of heat energy being absorbed by the Earth and the amount being emitted (because increasing the temperature causes more heat to be emitted and decreasing it causes less to be emitted, while the Sun’s output is fairly steady). Because the Sun emits mainly in the visible, most of the heat energy absorbed by the Earth is visible radiation, some of which is reflected, but little of which is absorbed by the atmosphere. Consequently, most of the heating of the Earth takes place at the surface, so that the Earth’s atmosphere is heated from below.

Cooling is a more complex process. While a visible light photon has an excellent chance of passing through the atmosphere without being absorbed, the same is not true for the infrared photons the Earth (and its atmosphere) emit. Water vapor, CO2, and some other gases in the atmosphere tend to absorb infrared. Depending on frequency, an infrared photon is likely to travel anywhere from several hundreds of meters to less than one meter before being absorbed. As infrared radiation works its way outward, the atmosphere gradually thins, so the average distance traveled between absorptions (or mean free path) increases until the radiation escapes into space. The average photon emitted from the earth into space come from several kilometers above the surface.

We now need two more facts to complete the argument. We are all familiar with the fact that the Atmosphere cools with height for the first dozen or so kilometers. Consequently, photons emitted from higher up are emitted by a colder atmosphere. Second, it is a fundamental principle of physics that the amount of radiation emitted increases with increasing temperature. Thus, an observer looking down on Earth from space, or near space, can tell the average height from which photons were emitted by measuring the radiation intensity or (equivalently, the so called brightness temperature).

Now for some pictures, from a very cute toy called MODTRAN shown to me by a certain wascally lagomorph:

The red trace is spectral intensity versus wave number (equivalent to frequency) as seen looking down from 70 km up – for an atmosphere with no CO2 whatsoever. The other colored curves are the calculated spectral intensities for a perfectly absorbing (so-called black body) at the temperatures. Notice that on the left, much of the red trace is between the yellow and purple curves, at say 240 or 250 Kelvins (compared to a surface temperature here of 300K), indicating that on average the photons were emitted 7 or 8 km up. On the other hand on the right, and right center, brightness temps are near 300K, indicating emission from the surface or near to it.

The difference between the surface temperature and the mean radiating temperature (the average of those brightness temperatures) is what is responsible for the greenhouse effect. Here is the argument: the Earth adjusts its temperature until the mean radiating temperature is just sufficient to balance absorbed solar radiation. If there were no greenhouse gases, the mean radiating temperature would be close to the surface temperature. Because there are greenhouse gases, and because the Earth’s atmospheric temperature decreases with height (in the troposphere), the temperature at the surface is higher than the mean radiating temperature. Adding more greenhouse gases increases the average height from which photons are emitted, since the average photon encounters more obstruction (more greenhouse gas molecules) before it can make its escape into space. Consequently, the mean radiating height increases, and since the same solar radiation is received, the mean radiating temperature stays about the same, so the surface temperature must increase. I said it was a little complicated.

Compare the previous picture where there was no CO2 with this one. The addition of CO2 at pre-industrial levels (280 ppm) has taken a big bite out of the middle of the radiating spectrum. In order to achieve the same mean radiating temperature the other temperatures, and consequently the surface temperature, would need to be compensatorially increased.

Our model doesn’t allow for Venusian conditions, but we can get a little clue by putting in a very high amount of CO2 (96%), as below.

For various reasons, including the factor of 100 more CO2 in the Venusian atmosphere, pressure broadening, and the presence of other absorbers, this underestimates the magnitude of the effect for Venus.

The cognoscenti (OK, maybe not the *real* cognoscenti, but people like me) might ask: "What's that hump in the middle of the CO2 absorption band in the last picture."

Well, it's warmer in the stratosphere than in the upper troposphere, and when there is this much CO2, even the stratosphere is optically thick.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Over The Waterfall

The case of the fired US Attys seems to be the scandal that keeps on giving. Congress turns over one rock and a million uglies stagger, crawl, and stumble out into the light. The list of WH and DoJ chiefs likely to face serious legal problems just keeps on growing. From Josh Marshall:

Not good, not good. The White House Counsel's Office gave explicit sign off to the DOJ's letter falsely claiming Rove and Miers played no role in Tim Griffin's appointment as US Attorney. And the sign off came from Chris Oprison, the guy at the Counsel's office who Sampson had told about Rove's and Miers' role only a couple months earlier.

Commenters are having a bit o'fun imagining a bit o'prison for Mr. Oprison.

The trails all seem to point in the direction of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers. W might want to start checking out that old pardon pen - I don't think it works after you get impeached and removed.

This has got to be a great time to be a major criminal defense attorney in DC. Maybe better than Watergate.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Cunningham Connection

Josh Marshall reports a big story uncovered by Marcus Stern and colleagues at Copley News Service.

Mitchell Wade paid the bribes to former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) that eventually led to both men pleading guilty to multiple felonies. Almost two years ago we noted the odd news that the first federal contract Wade ever received was with none other than the White House, the White House itself, which is officially called the Executive Office of the President in federal contracting-speak.

The contract was signed on July 15th, 2002 and it was supposedly for "office furniture."

On December 5th, 2005, the LA Times reported that the contract was "to provide office furniture and computers for Vice President Cheney."

Now, a lot of people have wondered for a long time just what that contract was really for. Remember, this was the maiden contract for a company specializing in defense and intelligence services. (The company was approved for federal contracting two months earlier.) And they bag a contract to deliver a bunch of desks and chairs to Vice President Cheney's office? Add to the mix that, as we and others have long reported, Wade has long bragged that he had pull with the Vice President and those in his office and the whole thing starts to sound a bit fishy.

See Josh's story for the rest of what's known so far. This is beginning to smell like a motive for the firing of Carol Lam (the prosecutor who jailed Cunningham).

Swept Away

Timothy Egan has this story on what is happening in the high Southwest in the NYT. For those of us who have been watching the slow erosion of these ancient ecosystems, it feels like a harbinger of doom foretold:

SUMMERHAVEN, Ariz. — High above the desert floor, this little alpine town has long served as a natural air-conditioned retreat for people in Tucson, one of the so-called sky islands of southern Arizona. When it is 105 degrees in the city, it is at least 20 degrees cooler up here near the 9,157-foot summit of Mount Lemmon.

But for the past 10 years or so, things have been unraveling. Winter snows melt away earlier, longtime residents say, making for an erratic season at the nearby ski resort, the most southern in the nation.

Legions of predatory insects have taken to the forest that mantles the upper mountain, killing trees weakened by record heat. And in 2003, a fire burned for a month, destroying much of the town and scarring more than 87,000 acres. The next year, another fire swept over 32,000 acres.

A fluctuation? Maybe.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Former Bush Fan on Torture

Andrew Sullivan, former Bush fan and relentless persecutor of all who differed with Bush's war, has this:

We knew this already but it's always helpful to be reminded:

Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago that sleep deprivation was perhaps the worst torture inflicted on the prisoners. Interestingly, torture was also illegal in the Soviet Union, and sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures, and stress positions were merely considered coercive methods. At the end of interrogation, prisoners had to sign a statement affirming that they had not been tortured and that they had given their confessions in full awareness of their rights.

Here's an account of a Rumsfeld and Bush approved interrogation of one detained enemy combatant:

In one of the few actual logs we have of a high-level interrogation, that of Mohammed al-Qhatani (first reported in TIME), doctors were present during the long process of constant sleep deprivation over 55 days, and they induced hypothermia and the use of threatening dogs, among other techniques. According to Miles, Medics had to administer three bags of medical saline to Qhatani — while he was strapped to a chair — and aggressively treat him for hypothermia in the hospital. They then returned him to his interrogators.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Once More

A couple of posts ago, I repeated some exhanges I had with Lubos on his site. I did so because I thought he might delete them. The one he did delete surprised me though:

Lumo - I want the society not to pay attention to corrupt individuals who have financial and ideological reasons to get the conclusions they get and who are connected with spheres of the society who are demonstrably driven by other things than scientific truth.

Wow Lubos! We agree absolutely on that. The only thing we disagree about is which side they are mainly on.

At the time I was surprised at the deletion, but in retrospect, I think I understand it. Clever fellow that he is Lubos realizes how weak his ground is when he matches up those who earn their daily bread by flacking for Exxon Mobile versus people who publish papers on scientific research. He had to delete this meme before it penetrated the firewalls in his brain and let some logic in. Who knows what might happen if that occurred - maybe even his wingnut groupies might abandon him.

The funny thing is, I think that the smart part of the Motl brain will eventually rebel against some of the crack-brained crap the denialists are peddling - and that might produce a crisis.

Is Global Warming a Crisis?

James Annan weighs in:

This debate has been discussed at length on RC already, but the audio is up on the web so I had a listen to it - all 90 minutes. The only real surprise was that any scientists would try to oppose the motion - that "global warming is not a crisis" - and it's only to be expected that they would struggle. Of course it's not a "crisis", but rather a long-term problem. There is nothing special about this year, or even this decade, compared to the previous or next, other than that it happens to be the one we are currently in. In fact the entire problem centres on the fact that climate change is a long-term issue, rather than something that can come to a turning point and be resolved.

I agree. What we do now or tommorow is much less important than what we do over the next twenty or thirty years. As a planetary disease, it's more like high blood pressure than a heart attack.

Habitat destruction, on the other hand, *is* a crisis. We probably have less than ten years to prevent massive loss of species in the vanishing rain forests.

Iran's Game

It's not quite clear what game Iran is playing with the British prisoners. They may just be trying to negotiate to get back the Iranians captured in Iraq, or maybe Ahmadinejad hopes to prop up his shaky regime with this kind of stunt. On the other hand, he has handed Cheney a knife and yelled "stab me."

Perhaps he is gambling that Bush is too wounded to react. What about Britain? Can it project significant power into Iran? Probably not, without US help. There is also the fact that war with Iran would drive oil way up - maybe over $100/bbl.

I haven't seen much blogospheric reaction, but I suspect that this is an extremely dangerous moment. I can't believe that either Bush or Blair will tolerate a Carter style hostage situation, but the alternatives are pretty grim - not that discretion has ever been part of Bush's DNA.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Backup Only

Lubos has a new post up on a global warming debate, and I made a few comments. Since Lumo often deletes my comments, here they are:

Lumo - I want the society not to pay attention to corrupt individuals who have financial and ideological reasons to get the conclusions they get and who are connected with spheres of the society who are demonstrably driven by other things than scientific truth.

Wow Lubos! We agree absolutely on that. The only thing we disagree about is which side they are mainly on.
CapitalistImperialistPig Homepage 03.25.07 - 12:34 am #


Gene Day - Instabilities in any system are necessarily driven by energy gradients or energy differences. Our own severe climate instabilities such as thunderstorms and accompanying tornadoes are very clearly driven by the proximity of cold arctic air from Canada and warm air from the Gulf of Mexico.

Most midlatitude precipitation is also driven by this same instability. Is getting rid of tornadoes worth getting rid of rain and snow?
CapitalistImperialistPig Homepage 03.25.07 - 12:41 am #


Lumo - String theory can be rigorously proven to have the low-energy limit with gravity of Einstein, gauge theories, fermions, that are all you need to describe all the millions of past experiments in physics:

Don't you need a few other things that aren't yet rigorously derived from string theory - like your inflaton and other scalar fields need to acquire mass? And last I heard, nobody had yet derived the particle spectrum or interaction parameters from basic string theory, and isn't it those things(among others) that contains that info derived to various degrees of accuracy?

No Retreat, No Surrender, All Crapage

I haven't seen the movie 300, nor am I likely to, but it sounds like a triumph of wing-nut inspired bullshit. Arun has gathered a number of articles documenting some of the violence the movie does to history, logic, and common sense.

Quite naturally, it is extremely popular with the right wing stupidocracy, eager as they are to glorify any bit of racist fascism the history of which they can hope to distort.

You'd Better Watch Out!

Are you one of the 140,000 Americans who has been conscripted by the FBI to spy on your fellow citizens? Well, you couldn't tell us if you were, could you? - that's one of the thoughtful provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

We now have a pretty good idea what Bush saw when he looked into Putin's eyes and liked what he saw: a fellow fascist.

The Inspector General of the Justice Department, which apparently has so-far escaped complete corruption by Bush, Rove, and Gonzalez, recently revealed that the FBI has been flagarantly abusing its powers to issue so-called "National Security Letters" and also lying in its required reporting of same to the Congress.

Any American who cares about freedom, for themselves or their children, ought to read this Washington Post Story by a recipient of such a letter.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters...

There is more, of course.

You better watch out,
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
The KGBFBI is coming to town.
They're making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice.
The KGBFBI is coming to town.

They see you where you've been sleeping.
They know what you've been smoking.
They know if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
Oh, you better watch out!
You better not cry.
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
The KGBFBI is coming to town.
The KGBFBI is coming to town.

Not Impeachy Keen

It seems likely that the US Attorney scandal will turn up yet more justification for an impeachment of George Bush. While many would be ecstatic about such an event, the political classes aren't. Democrats don't want to fire up the passions of the remaining right wing core, and they don't want the inevitable backlash. Republican's would dearly love to be rid of Bush, but can't afford to alienate the rabid fauxs of the right.

Let's hope the country can make it through another twenty-two months. Maybe impeaching Rove and Gonzalez could serve as therapy in the meantime. Cheney wouldn't be a bad choice either.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

He's Ba-a-ack!

That most ephemeral of bloggers, WB, has been sighted again in the guise of The Statistical Mechanic.

He has an interesting post up on Wick Rotation, a subject which can't be entirely separated from the question of just what the heck imaginary numbers are anyway. Sometimes, as Joy Christian points out in the paper cited in my previous post, things that look like imaginary numbers turn out to be volume forms, or psuedo-scalars.

Bye Bye Bell?

Many of the spookiest aspects of Quantum Mechanics are related to the apparent instantaneous action at a distance effects that surround the so-called "paradox" of Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen and Bell's Theorem, which appears to show that no theory with so-called hidden variables that are both local and realistic can satisfy the quantum mechanical principles and the experiments that have confirmed them.

Joy Christian has a new paper (quant-ph/0703179) that purports to disprove Bell's theorem. Here is the abstract:

Disproof of Bell's Theorem by Clifford Algebra Valued Local Variables
Authors: Joy Christian (Perimeter and Oxford)
Comments: 4 pages, RevTeX4

It is shown that Bell's theorem fails for the Clifford algebra valued local realistic variables. This is made evident by exactly reproducing quantum mechanical expectation value for the EPR-Bohm type spin correlations observable by means of a local, deterministic, Clifford algebra valued variable, without necessitating either remote contextuality or backward causation. Since Clifford product of multivector variables is non-commutative in general, the spin correlations derived within our locally causal model violate the CHSH inequality just as strongly as their quantum mechanical counterparts.

As I understand her argument, Bell's mistake was in treating as a vector something that really should be considered a bivector - something we do all the time in classical physics, making use of the Hodge duality, but maybe not so safely in QM. Bell, who admittedly liked hidden variables, might have been interested.

I would be interested in others opinions.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Republican Horoscope for the Vernal Equinox

ARIES (Mar 21- Apr 19) You are self-confident and warlike, although you agressively sought draft deferments when you were a student. Today, enjoy the afternoon, because later on you are going to get your ass kicked.

TAURUS (Apr 20 - May 20) You are firm and implacable in the face of facts, logic, and reason. Stubborness is your best quality. You tend to draw flies. Tonight: Think about heading for Costa Rica.

GEMINI (May 21 - Jun 20) You consider yourself to be outspoken and cheerful. Others mostly consider you to be an annoying asshole. Today: start a legal defense fund. Tonight: stay drunk.

CANCER (Jun 21 - Jul 22) They said you would never amount to anything but now you are a Fox News on-air personality. Your mother was wrong to recommend a job in prostitution. Tonight: stay home and lather up - Bill O'Reilly asked for your phone number.

LEO (Jul 23 - Aug 22) You are a cheerful, outgoing risk taker. That's because you are clueless about reality. You are widely considered to be an annoying moron. Tonight, Karl Rove is coming to dinner. Try to relax and enjoy it.

VIRGO (Aug 23 - Sep 22) You are charismatic and energetic. You draw people like flies to s***. Tonight: use your powers to get other people as screwed up as you are.

LIBRA (Sep 23 - Oct 22) You are touchy and hypersensitive. You have few friends, and most of them hate you. Today: consider turning state's evidence. Tonight: Kick your dog - he's thinking about ripping your throat out while you sleep. Lock the door.

SCORPIO (Oct 23 - Nov 21) You are sensual and filled with lust. Tonight: watch out - that congressional page is wired.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov 22 - Dec 21) Once again you woke up drunk, naked, and tied up in the street, with a rubber ball in your mouth. Not sure how this will play in your Kansas Congressional District. Tonight: call Carl Rove, ask him to lean on the USA for an indictment of your opponent.

CAPRICORN (Dec 22 - Jan 19) You notice that you glow. Maybe that Ectasy really was laced with a florescent tracer. Don't let the world get your goat. Tonight: be sure to get high before your appearance before the Senate investigating committee.

AQUARIUS (Jan 20 - Feb 18) You don't have to explain your actions or motives to anybody. The President has invoked executive priviledge. Tonight: have a bonfire and shred your hard drive.

PISCES (Feb 19 - Mar 20) Your natural slipperiness and treachery have made you some new friends, but the old ones may not be pleased. Today: remember to treat yourself well, because tonight you might be sleeping with the fishes.

A Genius for Incompetence

Everyone has a purpose, they say. No doubt George Bush's is to serve as a negative example for future presidents and voters. It can't be denied that the man has a real genius for incompetence. It still astounds me though, how he managed to assemble such a truly foolish leadership in the Pentagon. Some bits extracted from Thomas E Ricks Fiasco

Doug Feith wound up overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq. Jay Garner, who as head of postwar mission in Iraq reported to him for a few months (before his replacement by the hopeless Paul Bremer) said of him:

I think he's incredibly dangerous. He's a smart guy whose electrons aren't connected, so he arc lights all the time. He can't organize anything.

Not too precise an analogy, but I get the idea - in fact I know people like that.

Feith, you may recall, was also the guy pumping out all that intelligence about Iraqi WMDs that turned out to be crap.

No Tears for Scooter

I. Lewis Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and fully deserves any sentence he get. It's true that he's a fall guy for Rove and Cheney, but their guilt doesn't make him anymore innocent.

Besides that, he was one of the chief architects and advocates of this disastrous war. Probably only Wolfowitz is more guilty. They are both major war criminals in my book.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hard Time

Isaac Chotiner of TNR looks at Mitt Romney's life roughing it as a Mormon Missionary:

I went to a different country and saw how different life could be if we didn't have the values and the kinds of opportunities that exist in America.

It is indeed tragic that so much of the world doesn't have the same freedoms and conveniences that America does. Whole continents are filled with the scourges of disease and poverty. I'm just glad that Romney got a small taste of how so much of humanity actually lives.

Anyhow, where exactly was he?

I was in France. Bordeaux, Paris, all over France. A great learning experience to live overseas.

It's good to know that he knows something about life in a third-world country.

via Brad DeLong

Movie Review: Babel

Another blankety-blank shaggy dog story. OK, this one did have a resolution of sorts, but most of the time I had the impression of fake suspense - phony plot devices thrown in to increase the suspense. Clearly the director had three scripts, not enough material in any of them for a movie, so he decided to glue them together - not very successfully.

One of the most irritating plot devices - a seeming bureaucratic snafu that kept help from reaching Cate Blanchett, unfortunately rang all to true after watching the catastrophe of New Orleans unfold, where hundreds of Americans died needlessly while George Bush sat on his hands.

Which, by the way, is ample justification for impeachment, just in case anyone is looking for an excuse.

Turbulence and Repeatability

It's well known that in fluid flow that becomes turbulent, details of the turbulent motion are quite unpredictable. Set up an experiment as identically as possible and watch the detailed motions over and over, and they will vary dramatically. Motions of individual tracers, velocities at a given point in space and time vary drastically for experiment to experiment - and moment to moment. Statistically, though, the behavior is quite consistent. Average over a large number of runs of the experiment, and the average of velocities and distribution of trajectories becomes quite consistent.

These facts underly the well-know inability of scientists to accurately predict the weather a few days from now, and their much better capability to predict the average long term weather - aka the climate.

These properties apply not only to actual physical experiments, but also to numerical experiments modelled on the physical experiments.

The story for long-term climate prediction is considerably more complicated, but this theme is an important aspect. More on the complications later.

Subverting Science: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Andrew C Revkin and Matthew L. Wald, writing in the New York Times, report:

A House committee released documents Monday that showed hundreds of instances in which a White House official who was previously an oil industry lobbyist edited government climate reports to play up uncertainty of a human role in global warming or play down evidence of such a role.

The authors note his close and continuing employment by the oil industry (before and after his government service) and that:

Mr. Cooney, who has no scientific background, said he had based his editing and recommendations on what he had seen in good faith as the “most authoritative and current views of the state of scientific knowledge.”

Fundamentally this is similar to having, say, Peter Woit, review and redact any String Theory papers he disapproved of. Except the Peter Woit has relevant scientific training and expertise. And he does not make his living off those who would profit from string theory being impeded.

Another anti-science minder also testified:

The hearing also produced the first sworn statements from George C. Deutsch III, who moved in 2005 from the Bush re-election campaign to public affairs jobs at NASA. There he warned career press officers to exert more control over James E. Hansen, the top climate expert at the space agency.

Mr. Deutsch resigned after it was revealed he had falsified his resume by claiming to have graduated from Texas A&M.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Attorney's General

Having politically appointed US Attorneys is a bad idea. An awful lot of our recent AG's have come close to running afoul of the law, and one (John Mitchell) made it to the slammer. Earlier, I linked to and quoted an Alan Dershowitz piece suggesting that the law enforcement and political aspects of the AG's office be separated. A minimal step in that direction would be to make the USA's and other prosecutorial staff career employees rather than political appointees. Besides eliminating lots of opportunities for mischief, this would obviate the need for special prosecutors, independent prosecutors and the like.

Any thoughts, readers?

Road to Serfdom

Scott Horton:

There are times in the last six years when I've felt like I was trapped in one of those science fiction movies from the fifties. A focal character has discovered a group of ruthless aliens out to destroy the world, disguised as human beings and accepted in the fold of the community. He could go denounce them in a wild-eyed way to his friends and neighbors - but who would ever believe him? I got an early, very deep look into the heart of the Bush Administration. I was shocked at what I saw and at first didn't trust my own eyes and ears. That disinclination to believe what we directly observe is almost always a mistake, sometimes a serious mistake. And yet for years it's been a steep uphill struggle to get the American public to see and understand what is in front of them, and the danger it presents to our nation and the world. The Bush team are not strange monsters from outer space; in fact they are human. All too human. Their failings are the sort that commonly mark the weak-minded man who comes to wield great power without oversight and accountability. Today Alberto Gonzales reiterates his claim that "mistakes were made" - though supposedly not by him - and George Bush stands behind his long-time personal counselor, saying that he approved the sacking of the eight US attorneys, and there was nothing the matter with that decision. These excuses are flatly dishonest, and the suggestion that their actions were consistent with established practice of other governments is pernicious.

What is at stake here? The issue is enormous. It is whether the criminal justice system will be turned into a partisan political tool. Bush's Administration is already widely called a "hackocracy" because of his tendency to fill slots with unqualified and incompetent partisan hacks. But the crisis at DOJ goes far beyond that. Even civil service positions - which have been protected from this sort of partisan corruption since the Hatch Act of 1939 - are being politicized. The Boston Globe, for instance, has closely documented the process of weeding out qualified career attorneys from the Civil Rights Division at DOJ and their replacement with political retainers - and the same process has continued throughout the Department. But at the heart of the DOJ scandal lies political intrusion into the exercise of prosecutorial discretion - one of the areas which a democratic society most needs to shield from partisan intrusion...

He opens his essay with a long quote from George Orwell:

"[T]he avoidance of reality is much the same everywhere, and has much the same consequences. The Russian people were taught for years that they were better off than everybody else, and propaganda posters showed Russian families sitting down to abundant meal while the proletariat of other countries starved in the gutter. Meanwhile the workers in the western countries were so much better off than those of the U.S.S.R. that non-contact between Soviet citizens and outsiders had to be a guiding principle of policy. Then, as a result of the war, millions of ordinary Russians penetrated far into Europe, and when they return home the original avoidance of reality will inevitably be paid for in frictions of various kinds. The Germans and the Japanese lost the war quite largely because their rulers were unable to see facts which were plain to any dispassionate eye.

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one's opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong. But even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get rid of one's subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one's thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic. In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one's weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean word where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one's political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality."

- George Orwell, "In Front of Your Nose," The Tribune, Mar. 22, 1946.

That idea helps explain the endless excuses, rationalizations, and evasions offered by hard core Republicans.

I still think that Bill Kristol is a space alien, though.

Via Brad DeLong

(emphasis mine)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Selling Out (From Comments)

Arun, in a comment to the article below, links to this story about e-spapience, a company with a business plan reportedly based on buying reporters, scholars and others to spread misinformation on behalf of its clients. The companies principles reputedly include top people at the University of Chicago Law School and MIT's Dean of the Sloan School of Management. Reporters have reputedly been bought at the NYT and the Wall Street Journal.

If true, what is the appropriate discipline for a dean, professor, or reporter who sells his opinions to the highest bidder? I think career termination ought to be strongly considered.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Impervious to Evidence

I've started reading Thomas E. Ricks Fiasco, and it's an infuriating experience - the content, not the book. It's torture for me to be reminded of how we wound up here. Ricks starts with the immediate aftermath of Bush I's Iraq War, often considered something of a masterpiece, only with those unfortunate blunders at the end. I prefer to go back slightly more, to remind myself that Iraq I was bookended by the blunders of Bush I.

Others have detailed how Bush I, probably motivated by the desire to keep oil prices high, not only encouraged Saddam in his threats against Kuwait but all but invited him to grab a piece of it. Saddam, though, slow learner that he was, went and grabbed the whole thing, probably with the idea of trading some of it back. Panicky George I went to Margaret Thatcher to have a good cry about it, who told him to buck up, be a man, and that it would even help his popularity, as her war had helped hers. He rallied, built his coalition, and they kicked the rascals out.

This takes us to where Ricks begins, with three key blunders at the end of first Iraq war. Much of the core of Saddam's power was the Republican Guard, they had the best troops, the best discipline, and the best equipment. More importantly, they were Sunni, and very loyal to Saddam. Most of them were permitted to escape. Second, Bush's people were convinced that Saddam was so weakened by the war that his regime was likely fall of its own accord. Bush issued a call for the Shia and Kurds to rebel, and they did. Finally, and most treacherously, when the still powerful Republican Guard crushed then, Bush refused them even minimal help. General Norman Dumbkopf, the hero of the war, even approved an exception to the no-fly rule which allowed Iraqi helicopters to bomb and shoot up the rebels.

It was a treachery that reeked of Stalin's infamous call on Warsaw to rebel against the German occupiers, after which he halted his divisions' advance to allow the Germans ample time to exterminate the best and bravest of Poland. It's only a guess, but I suspect the Poles didn't exactly welcome Stalin as a liberator, either. In Bush's case, the disgusting act seems have been propelled more by inattention, dithering about the results of Shia power, and the native Bush stupidity rather than by Machiavellians geopolitical calculation.

This betrayal, and the resulting re-consolidation of Saddam's power rankled some American official intellectuals, most notably Paul Wolfowitz, and he became the chief agitator for removing Saddam. His motive appears to have been a sincere interest in overthrowing tyranny and establishing democracy. Another example of the alleged pavement of the road to Hell.

Ricks has a lot of trenchant quotes from all sides of the internal debates. One that sums Wolfowitz is:

There are two types of villains in Washington, hacks and fools. He [Wolfowitz] isn't a hack. He's deeply misguided, he's impervious to evidence, and he's a serious, thoughtful guy.

Which leads me to wonder what the hell somebody impervious to evidence *is* thinking about. That ideology, and that imperviousness to evidence, is the hallmark of the Bush II presidency. Wolfowitz was one of the most influential of the fools that got us into Iraq, but he wasn't lonely in that regard. It's hard to imagine how the worlds most powerful military could have so many fools at the top of the payroll, but all the top ones were appointed by Bush, so maybe there is no mystery.

It's been an expensive experiment in folly, and it's not over yet. The only encoraging sign is that the American people seem to have awakened from their long stupor.

Red Letter Day

Everything ought to be green on St Patricks day, but it's always a red letter day when Alan Dershowitz says something intelligent - I'm not sure he's even Irish anyway.

The headlines about the Bush administration's decision to fire several United States attorneys, for partisan political reasons, misses the big picture. The politicization of justice is inherent in the structure of the Justice department. In most other democratic and western countries the job performed by our Attorney General--who is the head of the Justice Department--is broken up into two separate and distinctly different jobs.

First there is the Minister of Justice who is a cabinet level politician with no law enforcement powers or responsibilities. His job is to advise the chief executive about policy, politics and partisanship. It is also to keep his boss in office, get him reelected and hurt his political opponents. There is no pretense of non-partisan objectivity in this highly politicized cabinet position.

Second there is the Attorney General, sometimes called the Director of Public Prosecutions whose role is to enforce the law by investigating, charging and prosecuting defendants. That position is an apolitical one, usually held by a professional prosecutor with extensive law enforcement experience and with no accountability to the president or prime minister. In countries with this division of power, there is no need for "Independent Counsel," "special prosecutors" or the like, since the permanent prosecutor is independent.

There are a number of other departments where replacing political hacks with professionals could be useful too.

Four on the Floor

Brad DeLong calls Mickey Kaus: of the Four Horsemen of the Stupidoclypse unleashed upon the world by Marty Peretz and Michael Kinsley in that dreadful laboratory "accident."

Damn that's good! Why can't I write stuff like that? Especially about Mickey Kaus.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Gavin Schmidt and some other climate scientists debated some Denialists (Lindzen, Chrichton,...) the other day and apparently got their asses kicked. This is not a surprising result to anyone who has ever observed a scientist debate a creationist. Most scientists are lousy debaters, because they think it's all about the evidence, and want to be careful to frame their arguments clearly and precisely. Lawyers, politicians, and preachers realize that public debate is about rhetorical skill, demonstrating weakness in the enemy, and sowing confusion. For people like that, debating a scientist is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.

Complex issues, like evolution or climate change are perfect for the merchant of doubt. An analogous situation is often seen when somebody confronts a TV pundit in debate. The victim shows up with an argument they want to talk about, but the host has an agenda. Moreover, he has a domineering personality, the crew, plenty of primetime experience, and three makeup girls.

The erstwhile debater's position isn't helped by people going around predicting that anthropogenic climate change will make world war "look like a picnic." That kind of scare mongering just discredits more thoughtful analyses.

My guess is that the doubters will manage to obstruct meaningful action until the evidence becomes obvious - until the effects start hurting people directly. That is already occurring for a small number of people, but many more will need to affected first.

Thus, it might not be too soon to start building your virtual ark. Find someplace predicted to remain habitable and stock up on gold and ammunition.

If you really do want to have a debate, pick a spokesperson (probably got to be a spokesman) who is pretty, well-groomed, and rhetorically skilled. And have him practice for weeks against some skilled litigators. Or just let the litigators do the talking.

Well, I Thought it Was Pretty Funny

Chris Kelley on The Huffington Post:

Actually, the full title of the DeLay book - which came out Wednesday -- is No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight. Yes, it's a story so bellicose, even the subtitle is scrappy.

And he's earned the right to talk tough, too. Not just because of his own student deferments, but also by the student deferments of Rush Limbaugh (who wrote the forward) and the "other priorities" of Sean Hannity (who wrote the preface) and the book's co-author, Stephen Mansfield.

Four fightin' Americans. Zero seconds in uniform. $25.95 at bookstores everywhere.

No retreat. No surrender. No shame.

Of course I really hate these draft dodging Republican SOBs.

War by Other Means

Lance Armstrong was on The Colbert Report a while ago. I remember the impression of barely suppressed ferocity I thought I saw in his eyes. As he underwent the ritual humiliation of a Colbert interview, it occurred to me that he might at any time leap out of his chair and rip Stephen's head off with a flick of his lion paw. Instead he submitted more or less gamely to the ritual, even getting into the spirit for a momemt when Colbert unfavorably contrasted his belly with some movie star pal's at the NYC marathon - "I think he's doped," said Lance.

He put up with all this because he was there to make a pitch for better quality care for cancer victims. His point was, and is, that for a few, very good care indeed is available, care that could be made available to all, if the country committed to it.

My impression of Armstrong that night was no doubt shaped at least partly by the fact that I was reading Daniel Coyle's Lance Armstrong's War. It's mostly about the 2004 Tour de France which culminated in Lance Armstrongs record breaking sixth victory. I am not a reader of sports books, but I had read and liked a previous Lance Armstrong book, the autobiographical It's Not About the Bike, so I got this one as a present.

Casual observers probably have very little idea of the ferocity of professional road bike racing, but it's hard to think of any sport that so tests its competitors physically, mentally, and morally. The supreme test is the Tour de France - three weeks of racing through some of the nastier terrain in France and neighboring countries.

It's a dangerous sport. Serious injuries are common and fatalities are not rare. At full strength, the TDF peleton (that mass of bikers crowded together) has 171 riders jammed onto often narrow roads, pushing and jostling for position at high speeds. The laws of fluid dynamics encourage bike tires to be only inches apart, but touching is usually catastrophic. A fraction of a second's inattention, or a mistake by someone ahead of you can doom your race. Many of the million or so screaming spectators try to get involved by throwing or spitting water or beer at the riders or by even more violent acts.

Mostly though, the race is a matter of watts per kilogram of body weight, that is, the specific power output at lactate threshold - the amount of power/weight that the body can sustainably generate. It turns out that 6.7 is more or less a magic number - the power/weight ratio required to win the TDF. Chances are that you, reader, are at some small fraction of that, but if you should just happen to be at 6.8, racing glory awaits you.

There is much, much more, of course. Since the average Tour competitor is burning 8000 kcal/day or so, he has to replace that amount or lose weight - and every tour competitor does lose weight, but since they are mostly muscle and bone to start with, losing much weight (muscle) decreases your power to weight ratio. Thus, the ability to digest a huge amount of food is also crucial. Similarly, all the other repair systems of the body need to function at a prodigious rate for those three weeks of torture.

It is torture, of course. A racer will usually be in some degree of pain for much of the Tour and almost all of the time on the bike. The race goes on in rain, sleet, hail, lightning and fierce wind. Heat can be even worse. Motivation in the face of that pain can be decisive - but first all those other factors must line up.

TDF racing is a team sport, but one less like soccer and more like sled dog racing, with the domestiques, or support riders, playing the role of the dogs, while the leader plays the driver. Thus, the leader must not only motivate himself, but also those whose only glory is likely to be the reflection of his. He must use them strategically, letting them do the hard work of leading into the wind up the hard mountains, casting them aside one by one as they are exhausted, saving his strength for the final push.

By the 2004 Tour, Lance had long mastered all these techniques and more. Formidable talent plus ferocious attention to detail plus a monomanical intensity that bent the World to his view had made him Champion five times before, and would twice more.

Of course, if that was all that was in Coyle's book, it would be both short and dull. He takes a long look at Lance, but Lance's personality is pretty impenetrable, apparently even to insiders. His life is a fascinating tale - a difficult kid, heroically raised by an adoring, fiercely protective, and often single mother.

This story has been told before, notably by Armstrong in It's Not About the Bike, but Coyle uses it as an entry to the bike culture. Pro-bikers, it seems, were often shortchanged in their fathers. A gritty childhood seems all but required to forge the "hard boys" of the professional racing circuit.

A constant theme throughout the book is the charge of doping, never substantiated in Armstrong's case, but ever present in Europe's swirling hostility to Armstrong. Coyle makes no attempt to judge that case, but he does report a lot of the accusations.

Armstrong has often and fervently made the case that he is not a doper, but it's hard for even a fan like myself to be completely without doubt. For one thing, Armstrong has often been the guy who seems to believe that rules were made for the other people. For another, there is the evidence that has accumulated against other unlikely cheaters like Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis (who, like Jan Ullrich and Iban Mayo, also get a lot of ink in Coyle's book.) Finally, there is his long association with convicted cheat Doctor Michele Ferrari.

In any case, the jury finds him not guilty. In the larger world, I suspect that the war against doping is essentially lost. Ever more sophisticated methods of detection will lose to yet more sophisticated cheats. The better the human body is understood, the more subtly, and apparently naturally, it can be manipulated.

The portrait of Armstrong in this book is flatter, more intense, and less nuanced than that of Armstrong's own book, but recognizably the same man. The Armstrong Coyle saw was more guarded, less vulnerable, and ultimately less human than the man in the Autobiography. I recomend both books for anyone with an interest in this remarkable man and his remarkable sport.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More Dumb Denialism

Most climate denialists can be counted on to say mind numbingly dumb things in their cause, and University of Copenhagen Prof Bjarne Andresen doesn't disappoint.

University of Copenhagen Professor Bjarne Andresen has analyzed the topic in collaboration with Canadian Professors Christopher Essex from the University of Western Ontario and Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph.

It is generally assumed the Earth's atmosphere and oceans have grown warmer during the recent 50 years because of an upward trend in the so-called global temperature, which is the result of complex calculations and averaging of air temperature measurements taken around the world.

"It is impossible to talk about a single temperature for something as complicated as the climate of Earth," said Andresen, an expert on thermodynamics. "A temperature can be defined only for a homogeneous system. Furthermore, the climate is not governed by a single temperature. Rather, differences of temperatures drive the processes and create the storms, sea currents, thunder, etc. which make up the climate".

The oddity is that this supposed expert on thermodynamics can't even get the thermodynamics right - most of the systems whose temperatures are routinely taken - my ear, for example, or the reactanct temperatures in a refinery - are hardly homogeneous - but the stuff about climate not being governed by a single temperature is to take the crushingly obvious and elevate it to a profundity - one with absolutely no relevance to the climate debate, of course.

High Crimes

The email trail and much else suggests that Harriet Miers, Karl Rove, Attorney General Gonzalez and his principal deputies engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct justice. That charge may be hard to prove, but there is also plenty of evidence that Gonzalez and McNulty lied to Congress.

The real question now is whether throwing a couple of more perps overboard can keep this leaky ship afloat.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

We Are With Stupid

Rolling Stone held a roundtable discussion of experts on our prospects in Iraq. They aren't good, no matter what, but everybody seems to agree that the money quote is from former Air Force Chief of Staff Tony McPeak:

This is a dark chapter in our history. Whatever else happens, our country's international standing has been frittered away by people who don't have the foggiest understanding of how the hell the world works. America has been conducting an experiment for the past six years, trying to validate the proposition that it really doesn't make any difference who you elect president. Now we know the result of that experiment [laughs]. If a guy is stupid, it makes a big difference.

(via Kevin Drum}


Josh Marshall and McClatchey cut to the chase on the case of the fired prosecutors. The most politically sensitive case is that of Carol Lam, the San Diego prosecutor who put Duke Cunning ham in jail and is pursueing an investigation which involves more congressional corruption and the big contract the CIA gave a limousine company that supplied hookers.

Getting down to the real nub of the story. Here's a clip from McClatchy's overnight piece ...

In an e-mail dated May 11, 2006, Sampson urged the White House counsel's office to call him regarding "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam," who then the U.S. attorney for southern California. Earlier that morning, the Los Angeles Times reported that Lam's corruption investigation of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., had expanded to include another California Republican, Rep Jerry Lewis.
Cunningham is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Arizona. Lewis has not been charged with any crime. Lam was forced to resign.

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he wants to know whether Lam was fired for the Cunningham case or because "she was about to investigate other people who were politically powerful." Lam declined to talk publicly about her dismissal.

Others in the cross hairs include for CIA #3 "Dusty" Foggo, since fired CIA chief Porter Goss, and perhaps more.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Heretical Views

Brad DeLong reposts an oldie of his alledging that the movie of Lord of the Rings was in some respects superior to the book. Let me be as a hammer to this heretic.

January 02, 2002
Places Where the Lord of the Rings Movie Is Superior to the Book
I'm sick and tired of reading about how the Lord of the Rings movie is different from the book and hence inferior, so I thought I would start keeping a list of elements in Peter Jackson's movie that I think (and that others think) are clearly superior to their counterparts in Tolkien's book:

Improvement in the Logic of the Plot: Galadriel's opening, explaining just how it happens to be that the ring is still around--just why Isildur did not wish to/could not destroy it: "But the hearts of men are easily corrupted. And the ring has a will of its own."

No way. In the book this idea is developed gradually and subtly. Nor is the corrupting effect of the ring confined to men - as Galadrial is forced to concede - man, elf, and maia are all vulnerable. Gandalf feared to take the ring. Galadrial's statement rather clumsily fills a gap created by the movies compressed narrative.

Improvement in Characterization: Gandalf's panic when he discovers that it is indeed the One Ring that Frodo possesses, and Gandalf's desperate desire to seek help, especially the help of his friend, mentor, and leader Saruman, for "he is both wise and powerful. He will know what to do."

For very good reasons, he does not get hysterical and start blabbing the news all around. He doesn't go to Saruman until he is urgently summoned there.

Major Plot Hole Closed: Recall what happens in the book when Gandalf discovers that Frodo has the One Ring. Gandalf keeps the news a secret, and tells Frodo, "Hang out in the Shire for six months or so, and then we will all mosey on off toward Rivendell." This makes no sense. Gandalf's first reaction to learning the identity of the ring should be to get it to a safe location. His second reaction should be to seek help. As long as Gandalf is ignorant of the Treason of Isengard, he should immediately inform the other Maia- and near-Maia-class good guys in Middle Earth--Saruman, Rhadagast, the Blue Wizards, Cirdan, Elrond, Glorfindel, and Galadriel--of what is going on. Instead, in the book he tells nothing to anyone save Aragorn. The only reason that Elrond has scouts out is that Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod sends back a message that Frodo is bearing a "great burden without guidance"--but I do not believe that Gildor knows what the burden is. By contrast, in the movie Gandalf's reaction to discovering the identity of the Ring is to immediately try to mobilize the White Council, and get the Wise thinking about what needs to be done. He rides to Isengard to tell Saruman what he has learned and get help. In the book, it genuinely does seem as if, as Saruman tells Gandalf, "your love of the halfling's leaf has clouded your mind."

Actually, there is a bit of a puzzle here in the story. As a wearer of one of the rings, Galadrial can see the thought of Sauron. Why can't she, Gandalf, and Elrond communicate in thought with each other? The movie, of course, does nothing to repair this.

(Adrian Hon) Improvement in Characterization: The excission of Tom Bombadil.

Burn Heretic! Burn!

Improvement in Characterization: Elrond's view of human "weakness" as revealed by his comments about men and his detailed memories of Isildur's unwillingness to/inability to destroy the ring.

Pulleeeze! Elrond, descended from Man, Elf, and Maia, is quite aware of the weakness of all.

Improvement in Characterization: Aragorn's fear in Rivendell that he will prove too weak, just as his ancestor Isildur proved too weak when the test came.

(Dian Tarb) Improvement in Characterization: Aragorn's visible reluctance to be king and uncertainty about whether he was worthy to be king added depth to the character.

Tastes vary. Too bad yours is lousy.

(Adrian Hon) Improvement in Characterization: The transformation of Isengard into a war city is extremely well done.

Peter Jacksons video game special effects were one of the most annoying things about his LOTR. Ditto King Kong.

Improvement in Plot: Saruman casting his spells from the tower of Orthanc to affect the weather on Caradhras.


(Adrian Hon) Improvement in Plot: The Moria scenes.

Major Plot Hole Closed: In the book Gandalf does not know what it is he faces in Moria until the Bridge of Khazad-Dum itself. He says things like "its power was terrible." But it doesn't seem to occur to him that it is the--well-known to both Gimli and Legolas as Durin's Bane--balrog. Are we really expected to believe that Olorin the Maia does not recognize the feel of the power of another Maia? In the movie, it is pretty clear that both Saruman and Gandalf know well what lurks at the bottom of Moria--and thus why Gandalf is so reluctant to take the Moria road. The plot hangs together better if Gandalf knows that inside the Mines of Moria is one of the other Maia-class beings in Middle-Earth, knows that it is one of the very few things in Middle-Earth that might well be able to kill him, and thus knows what he is getting into when he enters the Black Pit.

Gandalf may have suspected that Durin's Bane was something like a Balrog, but he didn't know till he faced it. Jackson's Moria reeks of that video gameish scenery I despise.

Improvement in Plot: Galadriel's warning that the ring is beginning to work its corrupting effect on all the big people in the fellowship--that the whole thing (not just Boromir) is beginning to break. The result is a much clearer motivation of Frodo's decision to strike off for Mordor on his own.

I'm not sure why you dolts are so enthralled with the "Aragorn as wimpy, self-doubting unhero. I found it disgusting.

Improvement in Plot: Galadriel's message to Samwise: that there is still hope as long as he, Samwise, remains true to Frodo.

The sort of corn-ball new-agey phoney psycho-spiritual babble that I'm confidant Tolkien would have disdained as much as I do.

Major Plot Hole Closed: In the book, why doesn't Aragorn follow Frodo and Sam when they strike out for Mordor? Destroying the ring is job 1. Thus helping the ringbearer is job 1.1. Aragorn's sword might well make the difference, so he should be following them as they strike out from Anduin for Mordor (if only to protect them from Gollum). In the movie, however, Frodo explicitly tells Aragorn that he can be of no further help: men are weak, and the one thing Aragorn cannot protect Frodo against is a ring-maddened Aragorn. Thus the best thing that Aragorn can do is get out of the zone of influence of the ring so it cannot corrupt him. In addition, in the movie Aragorn swears to Boromir as Boromir dies that Aragorn will not let the White City (of Minas Tirith) fall. Thus there are two powerful and explicit reasons for Aragorn to let Frodo go. By contrast, in the book this decision is not well motivated at all: I remember that when I first read the Two Towers, my reaction to learning at its beginning that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli were heading *away* from the ring at full speed was "huh?"

Retch and double retch! Aragorn as wimp again raising its ugly head.

I might as well mention a few more of my pet peeves about the movie: The stupid special effects associated with putting on the ring, the lousy realization of the balrog. But I should go out and rent it. It's been a while.

NYT's Gore Bashing

Drudge was trumpeting a William J. Broad New York Times story he called "a hit on Gore." More like a cotton ball fight, I think. The usual suspects were trotted out: Pielke, Spencer, and Lindzen, plus an array of geologists, entomologists and others unlikely to know much about the subject. Jim Hansen allowed as how Gore sometimes highlighted the more serious of equally likely scenarios.

Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.

Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for “getting the message out,” Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were “overselling our certainty about knowing the future.”

This kind of mild criticism, mainly from people with limited relevant expertise, is pretty much the tale. This is about a close to a non-story as you can get.

Nothing in the reporter's story suggests that he has any command of the facts or any way to make a case. He, I guess, started with a point of view and went looking for people who would support it. He didn't find much, and what he did find isn't very interesting, much less persuasive.

Maybe Eli or somebody will fill in more details.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Trouble With the French

said political economist George Bush:

is that they don't have any word for entrepreneur.

That was an oldie but a goody from Brad DeLong.

The trouble with Bush is that no matter how dumb we make him in our caricatures, we can never quite match the reality.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Friends of Denial

Always eager to help like-minded people get together, I thought I might point our Eli's post on the AIDS/HIV denialists. Oddly enough, their arguments are more or less isomorphic to those of the climate denialists that are, the tobacco causes cancer denialists that were, and the evolution denialists that always will be.

[Peter] Duesberg, if you will, is the Richard Lindzen of AIDS denialism. A member of the US National Academy of Science he did important early work on retroviruses. According to Duesberg

HIV is harmless, a mere "passenger" virus ..."To pretend to think that HIV causes AIDS is politically correct, socially attractive and very,very fundable"... even in "the freest of all countries, as George Bush calls the US, nonconformists are excommunicated at all social and scientific levels"

These guys could trade lines

Duesberg argues that recreational drugs are what destroy the immune system, not a retrovirus.

Baruk Khazad!

The DC knives are being sharpened for Alberto Gonzales's political scalp. Josh Marshall:

With the rapid pace of events, I suspect it's only a matter of time before the pressure starts to build for Alberto Gonzales's resignation. But this isn't about Alberto Gonzales. This isn't a guy with his own political strategy, his own list of political chits to arrange or grand strategies to advance. He's George W. Bush's consigliere. He gets done what the president wants done...

Consigliere? I don't think so. Capo maybe, button man more likely. But he is Bush's man, in a way Rumsfeld never was (he was Cheney's guy), and Bush won't give up on him easily. If he goes down, it will be because it was necessary to save Rove, or Bush himself.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

NYT Comic Moment

The NYT has an editorial calling for Bush to can Alberto Gonzales. Their logic can hardly be faulted: he has failed to carry out his duties to enforce the Nation's laws. The comedy is in thinking that Bush would fire him for that - that is exactly what he appointed him for.

During the hearing on his nomination as attorney general, Alberto Gonzales said he understood the difference between the job he held — President Bush’s in-house lawyer — and the job he wanted, which was to represent all Americans as their chief law enforcement officer and a key defender of the Constitution. Two years later, it is obvious Mr. Gonzales does not have a clue about the difference.

He has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush’s imperial presidency. If anyone, outside Mr. Bush’s rapidly shrinking circle of enablers, still had doubts about that, the events of last week should have erased them...

The F.B.I. has been using powers it obtained under the Patriot Act to get financial, business and telephone records of Americans by issuing tens of thousands of “national security letters,” a euphemism for warrants that are issued without any judicial review or avenue of appeal. The administration said that, as with many powers it has arrogated since the 9/11 attacks, this radical change was essential to fast and nimble antiterrorism efforts, and it promised to police the use of the letters carefully.

But like so many of the administration’s promises, this one evaporated before the ink on those letters could dry. The F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, admitted Friday that his agency had used the new powers improperly...

We opposed Mr. Gonzales’s nomination as attorney general. His résumé was weak, centered around producing legal briefs for Mr. Bush that assured him that the law said what he wanted it to say. More than anyone in the administration, except perhaps Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gonzales symbolizes Mr. Bush’s disdain for the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law.

On Thursday, Senator Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, hinted very obliquely that perhaps Mr. Gonzales’s time was up. We’re not going to be oblique. Mr. Bush should dismiss Mr. Gonzales and finally appoint an attorney general who will use the job to enforce the law and defend the Constitution.

That's not going to happen - at least not for that reason. Bush might fire him if he becomes to big a political liability - like he fired Rumsfeld - but I suspect Gonzales knows where too many of the bodies are buried.

Congress can impeach him, though.

Dell's Moronic Site

This is ridiculous. After twenty-five minutes on Dell's stupid site, I could not figure out how to specify and order one of their blankety-blank computers. I've never had this problem before.

Maybe it's time to buy a Mac.

Republi-Porn Hypocrisy

The CPAC a week or so ago was a get together of the frothing-at-the-mouth right set. This year's recipient of their Jean Kirkpatric Academic Freedom award was an ex-Corporal Sanchez, an ex-Marine who alledged that he was persecuted by liberals at Columbia. Besides the award, he got appearances on Hannity and Colmes and O'Reilly, a picture with Michelle Malkin, and some quality time and picture with Ann Coulter, when she wasn't being hugged by Mitch Romney or calling John Edwards a faggot.

The punchline, though, is it turns out that ex-Corporal Sanchez has another identity as gay porn star Rod Majors.

Max Blumenthal has the story here.

He also has a few ruminations on the gap between behavior and rhetoric among those who practice what he calls "the politics of resentment."

Coulter's now-famous "faggot" remark was not an aberration, but rather a symbol of the politics of resentment that propels the conservative movement and its elected Republican surrogates; a reflection of the bigotry conservatives have sought to write into the Constitution through the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment. The ascendant "family values" wing of the right is also responsible for sabotaging legislation allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces, a maneuver that may now spell the end of Sanchez's career.

As Sanchez marched down the road from the gay sex industry to the conservative movement, he followed in the footsteps of Jeff Gannon, Ted Haggard and many others. Whether Sanchez knew the right was filled with people just like him, something about it must have appealed to him.

Wretched Excess?

Actually my title is my attempt to answer Wolfgang's question about stretch limousines here.

So why are there so many of them on this island?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Choosing Pizza Delivery as a Career

Harvard Physics Professor Melissa Franklin won an award recently, so Lumo cleverly used the occasion to put up one of his women are stupid posts. Naturally, he cited as evidence a Scientific American article which said no such thing: differences in performance on standardized tests of general intelligence are negligible, with insignificant differences sometimes favoring women, sometimes favoring men

Equally naturally, a bunch of his acolytes eagerly endorsed and exemplified his thesis - though of course they weren't all women - I don't think.



What hasn’t changed is the fact that many men think that women aren’t the smartest,” Franklin said...


Well, another thing that hasn't changed is that statistically, they are right...

Shaggy Dog Story

What a frigging swindle! 776 impenetrable pages and it's a blankety-blank shaggy dog story! One long and ultimately inane shaggy dog story. OK, so I can concede the guy has some talent, not to mention improbable erudition on a number of unlikely subjects. There were many points in this book where I could see that the author knew how to tell a story, and had a deft touch with odd imagery. Telling a story wasn't on his program though - his goal was to suck the reader in just enough to fall for his little prank.

I can see why Mr. Pynchon scrupulously avoids any kind of publicity or exposure to readers. I would certainly be tempted to pick a fight with him if I met him on the street. Just for wasting weeks of my time.

I had started a more detailed review, about 500 pages in. At that point I rather liked the book, despite the drug addled meandering of the text. For the last hundred pages or so, though, I began to suspect that none of the plot lines of the story would ever be resolved, but kept on, wading through his endless dreck in the increasingly hopeless hope that there would be some consumation to the story.

I'm talking about Gravity's Rainbow, by the way. The back cover blurb from The New Republic (which I guess must have sucked even back then), called it: "The most profound and accomplished American novel since the end of World War II." I can't agree. There is a lot in this book, history, rocketry, the German genocidal destruction of the Herero in Africa, a couple of equations, a not especially appropos citing of Goedel's theorem, and much, much more.

There is also endless and excruciatingly boring descriptions of abuse of drugs real and imaginary, some organic chemistry, plenty of perverted sex, and a paranoid vision of the world.

If there is one word to describe this book, it is "discursive." "Many words and few to the point" as GG once said. This is an author likely to digress in the middle of a page, paragraph, or sentence. An otherwise unconnected tale of a military haircut somehow turns into an eight page riff on an immortal light bulb, and its adventures scatological, sexual, and other while pursued by the world's electric light bulb cartel - this one was actually somewhat amusing, which can't be said of many of Pynchon's digressions.

There are several hundred characters in the book, all connected by about one degree of separation. Four of them are drawn in enough detail to be actually interesting - so naturally we find out next to nothing about them.

I looked over some of the reviews on Amazon. As usual, most either loved the book or hated it, but none of the haters seem to have gotten past the first hundred pages or so. Consequently, it was an unpleasant surprise to find out that I didn't really hate it until the final page.

Still, there was much to be amused by, especially for the geek. Here is a sentence fragment: "...a quaint brownwood-paneled, Victorian kind of Brain War, as between quaternions and vector analysis in the 1880s..." That debate, mainly between Hamilton and Tait (for quaternions) and Gibbs and Helmholtz (vectors) was actually conducted with remarkable sarcasm and vituperation.


Legion of Decency: Morally objectionable for all.

Movie: NC-47 for language, sexual perversion, and drug use.

Style: what a waste of a big talent.

Reader satisfaction: Screw you Pynchon.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Supporting Our Soldiers

Supporting our troops has been a Republican mantra, and a lie, from the start. CQ has an article detailing senior Republicans' knowledge of the problems at Walter Reed long before the current dustup:

Senior Republicans who knew about problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center while their party controlled Congress insist they did all they could to prod the Pentagon to fix them.

But C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., former chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he stopped short of going public with the hospital’s problems to avoid embarrassing the Army while it was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Young and Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., the former chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, both acknowledged in interviews that they were aware of patient care problems at Walter Reed long before The Washington Post exposed them two weeks ago.

These losers avoided doing their duty to avoid embarassing whom? The Army? Or George Bush? I hope their constituents pick somebody a bit more conscientious in the future.

Young said his wife, Beverly, found one Walter Reed patient lying in his hospital bed without sheets or blankets, having soiled himself. Another, who suffered from a battlefield brain injury, had fallen out of his bed three times, even after Young had told Kiley about the problem, the lawmaker said. And he said a third patient, who had an aneurysm, died after a respiratory therapist ignored family warnings about the patient’s fragile condition and treated him anyway.

“We got in Gen. Kiley’s face on a regular basis,” Young said, adding that he even contacted the commander of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda in the hopes of getting better care there for the patient with the aneurysm, though doctors at Walter Reed declined to transfer him.

“What else do you want me to do? I am not going to go into a hospital and push my way into a medical situation,” Young said after the hearing.

Young said he “separates my life as a member of Congress and the work I do on a volunteer basis,” visiting military hospitals with his wife almost every week.

His personal life might be laudable, but his duties under the Constitution are more far reaching. Unfortunately he forgot that he had some such duties beyond serving as a loyal party flack.

General Kiley certainly deserves to be fired for this and prosecuted for lying to Congress in his previous testimony, but I doubt that he was just lazy and corrupt. He was almost certainly being pushed not to be a squeaky wheel by those at Rumsfeld's level and above.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Career Advice

Every year somebody gets the job of trying to scare the new postdocs straight. I've been working on my lecture, just in case:

OK, so now you've got your PhD. Now you think that the rest should be gravy. Well I've got some news for you, boys and girls: the hard part just started. Two years from now, three of you will have dropped out and five more will have washed out, forced into a humiliating and degrading career at Burger King or Goldman Sachs. Two more will have been killed or crippled by falling met towers or errant anemometers, or, like some of your unlucky predecessors, fried by the weather radar. At least one more will be caught having an affair with the Division secretary, and shot or worse by your outraged spouse.

Some few among you may be found to have the right stuff to stick it out despite miserable and brutal working conditions; inadequate, dangerous and unavailable computers and experimental equipment: obnoxious, incompetent and senile colleagues; and the certainty that your work here will never be of interest to anyone.

A tithe of these may find actual jobs, working in their field.

The rest will be forced to stay on as permanent staff.

Evil Nature

Why are so many conservatives evil? I guess it's obvious in some cases: Cheney, Coulter, Limbaugh, Perle and others have sold their souls to the Devil, and he is a tough bill collector. So what about New Mexico's senior senator Pete Domenici. He should be looking forward to a distinguished retirement, but instead gets caught lying to cover up Bush administration criminality? And how abow about all those ordinary seeming citizens who vote for the crooks, racists and their enablers?

There might be a mix of explanations. Some are just nuts. Others were brainwashed at some point in their lives, or maybe just blew their brains out with drugs. My guess, though, is that the leading cause of conservatism is chip on the shoulder syndrome. A lot of people feel that life gave them a bad deal, and are filled with envy and hatred of those they consider more fortunate. Still others know they got a better deal than they deserved, and feel obliged to disdain and hate those less lucky.

Funny that liberals don't seem to suffer any of these problems.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Geometry and the Heathens

First Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong and now Lubos Motl have noted a recent exchange between Steven Weinberg and Friedrich Hehl in Physics Today. Weinberg had said, what's the big deal about torsion - it's just another tensor. Hehl disagreed. And Weinberg added: I still don't get it.

With his talent for seeing every fragment of reality as part of the the titanic struggle between good and evil, Lubos casts himself as the heroic defender of Weinberg - like Weinberg needed some defense, as almost everyone would call him as one of the half-dozen or fewer greatest living physicists. He then launches one of his patented invective streams against Hehl.

The thing is, Hehl has a point, and Weinberg chooses willfully to ignore it. The point is that all tensors are not equal, or at any rate, if they are, some tensors are more equal than others. To make an analogy with a different domain of physics, there are many vectors in fluid dynamics, but the fluid velocity has a priviledged and special role. Torsion is a candidate to be special in relativity because it has a geometric significance - of course that doesn't mean physics necessarily cares about that geometric significance.

As Lubos points out, Weinberg made a special isssue of taking an anti-geometric approach to General Relativity in his important textbook. In this regard he is very much an outlier in the history of physics. Descartes, Newton, Faraday, Hamilton, Einstein, and many others were famously geometric in their thinking. Peter Woit also adds this quote from Paul Ginsparg about Weinberg and geometry:

back to big steve w., when he wrote the gravitation book he was presumably just trying to get his own personal handle on it all by replacing any geometrical intuition with mechanial manipulation of tensor indices. but by the early 80’s he had effectively renounced this viewpoint in his work on kaluza-klein theories (i was there, and discussed all the harmonic analysis with him, so this isn’t conjecture…), one can look up his research papers from that period to see the change in viewpoint.

The comments to Peter's blog contain a number of important points, notably a typically lucid explanation by Sean Carroll of what he believes Weinberg's point was, and his comment to the effect that geometry is all very well, but physics "plays by its own rules." I don't know if Sean is right about what Weinberg was thinking, but even if not, Sean's point is still a good one.

There is a ironic twist in that in the comments to Lubos's article Bee take a whack at torsion and Lubos sets her straight by pointing out how torsion can or could be important.

The Late, Great, Bell Labs

Arun has a post lamenting the decline and fall of one of the great technological treasures of the twentieth century, Bell Labs. The focus of the post is a song celebrating the greatness of Bell Labs - ironically, it was already a posthumous celebration, commissioned by the parasitic growth that ultimately consumed and destroyed Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies (now part of Alcatel, I think).

Bell Labs research was funded by the profits of the AT&T telephone monopoly, and when that monopoly was dismembered, Bell Labs was spun off as Lucent. Fundamental research is a hothouse plant though, and life in the new world where every component was expected be a profit center was not congenial to it.

Telephone calls are cheaper now, of course, but the loss was great, and it is hard to see such an institution existing again in the modern world. In principle, government labs could carry out a mission like this, but in practice they are usually too subject to the whims of political intrigue. CERN perhaps still embodies some of these virtues.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Walter Reed Affair

A colleague pointed out this quote from Dances with the Blue-Faced Picts, er, Braveheart:

Longshanks: Not the archers. My scouts tell me their archers are miles away and no threat to us. Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. Their dead cost nothing.

Longshanks, of course, was reincarnated as Donald Rumsfeld. Or maybe Dick Cheney. Or Bush. Or all three.

So it was no great surprise to learn of the scandalous conditions our wounded soldiers suffered in Walter Reed Hospital. Dana Priest and Anne Hull dug up the story for the Washington Post - Dana Priest in particular is a shining light for the often crappy WP. When the Republicans still ruled Congress they might have been able to hush this up, but that's tougher now.

A general and the Secretary of the Army have already been canned. I would say that at least one more general looks severely endangered, but of course the blame doesn't stop there.

YESTERDAY THE Post reported that Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley heard years ago from a veterans advocate and even a member of Congress that outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was distressingly squalid and disorganized. That commander proceeded to do little, even though he lives across the street from the outpatient facilities in a spacious Georgian house. Also yesterday, the Army announced that Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the head of Walter Reed since August, had been relieved of his command. His temporary replacement? None other than Gen. Kiley.

Here's where the story stops making sense. Much of The Post's article detailed the abuse by omission that Gen. Kiley, not Gen. Weightman, committed, first as head of Walter Reed, then in his current post as Army surgeon general. Gen. Weightman, who very well might deserve his disgrace, has commanded Walter Reed for only half a year, while Gen. Kiley, now back in charge of Walter Reed, headed the hospital and its outpatient facilities for two years and has led the Army's medical command since. Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and his wife say they repeatedly told Gen. Kiley about unhealthful conditions in outpatient facilities.

While Gen. Kiley was ignoring Walter Reed's outpatients, he was assuring Congress that he was doing just the opposite...

The blame doesn't stop with Kiley, either. Bush and Rumsfeld, in particular, were always cavalier about the soldiers. Providing the soldiers with adequate body armor, or vehicles suited to the Iraq war, were never priorities for them. Evidently, caring for the wounded wasn't either.