Oh Say Can you c?

The Standard Model comes under question

October 22nd 2011

The Standard Model has been a mainstay of physics for over one hundred years. A lot of it has been empirically demonstrated through a variety of experiments, and never shown to be false. For ANY theory to last that long without serious challenge is amazing, especially given how much our knowledge of the universe has expanded in just the past twenty years.
As a result, the Standard Model has gotten a little frayed around the edges. In fact, recent events pose the possibility that after all this time, physicists may have to discard Einstein and start from scratch, a truly shocking possibility.
A little over ten years ago, I discussed some of the problems I was having in coming to grips with modern physics in an essay entitled “…Well, if you say so” I acknowledged then, as now, that I do not possess the math skills needed to really understand the equations that underlie the Standard Model, although I’m in better shape then most people in that I know the three laws of Kepler and Newton, can work out the Lorentz Contractions, and possess a basic working understanding of Special Relativity.
In short, I have just enough knowledge to be a danger to myself.
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Crash 2012

Fighting the coming Great Depression

October 8th 2011

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has spent the past year assuring people that the Euro would not collapse, and then that it could not collapse, and then that it must not collapse, is now reduced to hoping “the Americans won’t let it collapse.” To that end, he put in a lot of phone time with Barack Obama over this Columbus Day weekend.

That he is doing so tells us several things. The Euro is in immediate trouble. Merckel’s effort to contain a revolt among the right wing members of her parliament is unraveling. And the recent downgrades to Spain and Greece are sending shockwaves through the markets, even as they defy economic gravity.

Obama’s response, if any, will tell us what the investment sector in the US wants to see happen. Normally it would be politically impossible for Obama to get a bailout package for Europe through Congress. With the American economy on the ropes, he would have a revolt on his hands.

And nobody except the fundamentalist morons of the Church of Saint Rand think that the financial sector is capable of following its own best interests. The meltdown three years ago pretty much assured all and one that they couldn’t and wouldn’t. Even their top acolyte, Greenspan the Rationally Inexuberant essentially admitted that the markets couldn’t tie their own shoelaces.

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Water Wars

Alabama has a new crop of blind boys

October 8th 2011

 The California economy is still in the crapper, thanks partly to the ongoing world crisis in capitalism and thanks partly to thirty years of Republican insistence that taxpayers not be forced to pay for the items they wanted. As a result, California put a lot of needed growth items on credit in the form of state bonds, and because a lot of them were via the state initiative process – best described as brain surgery with a sledge hammer – it took an already bad economic situation and made it far worse.

Why Jerry Brown would even want to be governor again at a time like this is something of a mystery. As his predecessors discovered, governors don’t have much power to fix things, but they will get blamed for them in any event. Arnie could have been working on “Terminator 10” right now and getting compared to William Shatner. But no, he had to be a governor, and his reputation suffered as a result.

Brown is just as captured in that as Arnie was, but Brown at least brings a measure of idealism and humanity to the job that Arnie could do only sporadically. It was largely due to his pressure that he was able to shepherd California’s version of the “Dream Act” through the State Lege, and sign it today.

As the name suggests, it’s similar to the Dream Act George W. Bush proposed that would allow undocumented aliens residing in the region to be eligible for funding for college. One of the few good things Bush ever proposed, it tacitly recognized that America owed something to the people who come here and do the jobs most Americans won’t do, and that it was flat-out wrong to punish the children of these people by refusing them educational aid.

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Occupy Wall Street

Occupy America

October 6th 2011

 I’ve just come back from reading the responses of a group of right wingers who were discoursing – if that’s the word for it – on the #OccupyWallStreet movement. These same people, who loudly cheered the demonstrations by the so-called Tea Party in 2009, are now utterly furious that this motley collection of “grubby, out-of-work hippies” are doing much the same thing. One even compared the moral worth of the two groups by noting that a lot less Teabaggers got arrested, compared to the Occupiers. That sort of led to a discussion on what sorts of behavior warrant arrest, and if Teabaggers, with their guns and placards comparing Obama to Hitler or the Joker, were really much better a group of protesters than the Occupiers, who usually showed a higher ability to spell their messages correctly, if nothing else.

Of course, it overlooks the basic fact that whereas the Tea Party never was anything more than a phony grass roots ad campaign cooked up by the Koch Brothers and Faux News, the Occupiers, with their slogan “We are the 99%”, actually do represent a groundswell of sentiment in America.

And that has the Teabaggers, dupes of the wealthy elite the Occupiers oppose, very nervous and upset. How dare this rabble publicly disrespect the Masters?

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The Death Penalty

Killing time

September 25th 2011

 The main problem with the Troy Davis execution wasn’t that the man was almost certainly innocent of the crime he was being killed for; the problem was that no civilized nation should have the death penalty in the first place.

I’m not going to discuss the particulars of the Davis case. If you somehow haven’t heard about it, there’s a million places on the web to find thousands of different opinions, pro and con.

Instead, I’m going to discuss the guilt or innocence of the people who murdered him. That would be you and me, since it was done in our names.

Troy Davis is far from unique. There are 140 men walking free today who had been on death row, found guilty of a capital crime by twelve peers on a jury and sentenced by a judge. Through the work, not of the justice system, but legal volunteers, mostly in the Innocence Project, all 140 men were saved from execution by proof that they did not commit the crime. Witnesses lied. Cops fabricated evidence. In some cases, everyone was simply mistaken. Cops, anxious to close a case that was stirring public passion, arrested someone who might plausibly by the suspect, and witnesses, anxious not to have to spend months on the case, testified with far more certainty than they felt.

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No longer just under the eyes

September 19th 2011

 It was a sign of the times. Even as they ignored demonstrations in the Wall Street area of Manhattan, CNN breathlessly reported that in a totally meaningless straw poll in California, Ron Paul was the winner! Nearly 834 votes were cast (833, actually), and Paul got 44.9% of them, or 374 votes. Rick Perry was second with 29.3%, or 245 votes. Mittens was a distant third with 8.8%, or 73 votes. The poll didn’t break down the rest of the votes (141) but I would be very surprised if Jon Huntsman, the only other GOP candidate who isn’t a whirling loon, got ten votes. So, assuming that Mittens and Huntsman can qualify as sane, that means that out of 833 GOP delegates, 10% at most voted for candidates who are possibly sane.

Slow news day. No mechanical-orchestra type ‘debates’ from the GOP in flag-bedraped caverns that Jon Stewart memorably described as “looking like Betsy Ross’ vagina”. No Democratic politicians caught in minor sex scandals. And they didn’t care to discuss actual news stories, like the unfolding Greek debt crisis, or the UN vote on Palestine, or that Obama wants to tax capital gains like regular income.

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9/11 Times Ten

Al Qaida lost. But so did America

September 11th 2011

A lot of people are observing the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Most simply want to remember the people who died that awful day, and to resolve to make such events a remote part of human history. Some want to use it to spread hate, usually against Moslems, sometimes against Jews. (That crackpot theory about how all Jews were told not to report to work at the Twin Towers on 9/11 is still making the rounds, and a lot of people still believe the Iraqis had something to do with it.)

Others simply want to keep Americans scared and docile.

It’s right and proper that we mourn the innocent dead, and condemn the sort of sick thinking that leads to such attacks. We’ll celebrate the heroism of the first responders, and those on Flight 93.

Many will question exactly what did happen that day, since much remains unresolved and unknown. The Truthers will clamor for attention even as their numbers slowly ebb.

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Girl Geniuses

Mixing the sublime and the outlandish

September 8th 2011

Time to take a break from Politics. Ron Paul is the leading GOP candidate this week, Obama is giving a speech on labor that has unions ready to bolt the Democratic Party, it doesn’t get much crazier than that, so let’s take a break.

Have you ever had a situation where you encounter two new things in your life that both strike your fancy, and even though they have little or nothing to do with one another, they become inescapably wedded in your mind, so that you can’t enjoy one without thinking of the other?

In my instance, the two items are a folk album by a Danish artist virtually unknown in the United States, and a comic book. About the only thing they have in common is that the central person involved in each is female.

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Labor Day 2011

America isn’t working

September 3rd 2011

The labor situation in America this Labor Day weekend? Rotten. Dire. Devastating. Grim. Or, in economic terms, “less than optimal.”

The top problem, of course, is unemployment. The U3, the standard measure the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to measure unemployment, stands at 9.1%. However, the twelve million people in that bleak number are only part of the tale. The U6, which includes “discouraged workers” and people who got moved from full-time jobs to positions paying less than 33 hours a week, stands at 18.9%.

There are two million or so for whom the 99 week extension on Unemployment Benefits have run out, and so are no longer even considered part of the labor force. Then there are the twelve million unemployables who aren’t disabled but are unable to get work because of criminal records, disfigurements or lack of education. And of course, the three million or so who are in the American gulags at any given time.

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Goodnight, Irene

Strong winds and flooding came, not from the storm, but the media

August 27th 2011

Hurricanes can be a real problem. Insular Americans will immediately think of Katrina, and some will even believe that was the worst storm damage in recent memory. Folks in Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba will all beg to differ, having recently taken damage from storms that dwarfed Katrina. And then there is China and Japan, who have their share of war stories.

It’s only a matter of time before a major hurricane hits a major American city squarely, as Katrina did New Orleans, and does at least as much, if not more damage. Not only is this statistically inevitable, but the odds of it happening in any given year increase as global warming makes the likelihood of really big storms greater.

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