Getting around to the due dilligence

Three physicists have reexamined the math surrounding the creation of microscopic black holes in the Switzerland-based LHC, the world's largest particle collider, and determined that they won't simply evaporate in a millisecond as had previously been predicted.

Rather, Roberto Casadio of the University of Bologna in Italy and Sergio Fabi and Benjamin Harms of the University of Alabama say mini black holes could exist for much longer — perhaps even more than a second, a relative eternity in particle colliders, where most objects decay much faster.

Under such long-lived conditions, it becomes a race between how fast a black hole can decay — and how fast it can gobble up matter to grow bigger and prevent itself from decaying. |FOXNews|



Unlike most, I don't think Obama's failed attempt to find House GOP votes for the stimulus package was evidence of political naivete. It was theater. Obama, by going the extra mile in an attempt to forge bipartisan consensus, came off as reasonable, professional, and focused on moving the country forward. The Republicans, on the other hand, showed themselves to be utterly uninterested in cooperation on any terms whatsoever, even when the good of the country is at stake. Seems like a win for Obama to me.

It's cheap to just post a link to the Onion

... but this 'graph in particular made me fall over laughing:
A holdover from the Bush administration, Gates told reporters he may have gotten off on the wrong foot with the new president, citing an occasion when Obama asked him what he knew about 1984's Secret Wars, a 12-issue limited Marvel release. Gates then handed a visibly confused Obama 1,400 classified pages on covert CIA operations in El Salvador.

Obama Disappointed Cabinet Failed To Understand His Reference To 'Savage Sword Of Conan' #24

thanks to Maray for the link.


And it smells like death


Not since Apollonius of Rhodes have we borne witness to so stirring an epic. We see the kinship of Iron Age sailors and a sailor of the airless, starry void. We see humanity struggle with their shared burden against insurmountable odds, a struggle against the closing darkness. We see the blossoming of impossible love.

Spaceships, Vikings, Dragons, Fair Maidens, Ron Perlman. Yes, all of that, to be sure. All of the archetypes are here. Every story is told through this story. Here is the Odyssey. Here is Beowulf.


Here is King Lear. Here is The Godfather. Here is Predator (the first one).


All of life is here. And all that makes life worth living. And as we learn about CGI carnage, we learn about ourselves.

Here is Outlander. It is not to be missed.


Item: I didn't fully realize this existed until right now, so I'm a-posting it.

Item: Here's how you fucking do the song.

Item: Full disclosure. I own and have listened to the Green Day album from which their cover of My Generation is taken.

Item: These kids today, I tell you what.
For my part, I first heard the song in the form of a Green Day cover on their seminal album Kerplunk. It struck me, in eighth grade, as an incredibly awesome anthem of generational angst and change. It was only later that I learned the irony—it was appropriated from an earlier generation. |Yglesias|

Item: Gotta add the real PRT.


Monday funnies

Today is Wondermark #483; In which it's time to move on. Topical! Don't forget the mouseover punchline.


Change I can believe in

For a few months after I moved to Illinois I was able to buy Shiner Bock, but then there came the recount and the next thing you know the distribution deal that pumped Shiner into the upper midwest went south. Now here we are, mere days into the Obama Administration, and there is Shiner in my fridge in Ann Arbor. This has never happened before. Relatedly, the global gag rule has been rescinded.

EFCA matters

Item: I've been seeing a lot of pro-EFCA advertisements on the tee vee lately, and they seem, to my jaundiced eye, to be pretty good.

Item: And just to prove that me and the labor movement aren't the only folks who think putting workers out front is a good idea, here's a little something from the Union Facts bozos:

Item: Last but not least, Labornerd is set to launch February 9 and is looking for contributors, occasional and otherwise. Unlike our own humble blog of record, Labornerd has a mission statement:
The project of this blog is to bring together the labor movement, new media, the arts and (free) culture. The project of this blog is to facilitate activism, to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed by June 23, 2009 (the 62nd anniversary of the passage of Taft-Hartley), and to report on the re-merger of AFL-CIO and CtW (as well as other developments in labor). The project of this blog is to tell workers' stories, to re-envision unions for the 21st Century, and to help shape President Obama's New New Deal. The project of this blog is what you want it to be, since it will be shaped by your participation.


To split or not to split, faithfully

Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers.

Among these fetishes is the prohibition against “split verbs,” in which an adverb comes between an infinitive marker like “to,” or an auxiliary like “will,” and the main verb of the sentence. According to this superstition, Captain Kirk made a grammatical error when he declared that the five-year mission of the starship Enterprise was “to boldly go where no man has gone before”; it should have been “to go boldly.” Likewise, Dolly Parton should not have declared that “I will always love you” but “I always will love you” or “I will love you always.”

Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that these corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing. The myth originated centuries ago in a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive because it consists of a single word, like dicere, “to say.” But in English, infinitives like “to go” and future-tense forms like “will go” are two words, not one, and there is not the slightest reason to interdict adverbs from the position between them.

Oaf of Office

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a bad movie

There, I said it. 

UPDATE: Slumdog Millionaire is alright, I guess, but it's no great shakes. 



Morgellons truth not yet revealed!

I received the following Morgellons news alert:

But when I followed the link...



At a NASA news conference this afternoon, a team of scientists led by Michael Mumma of the Goddard Space Flight Center announced the discovery of plumes of methane emanating from the surface of Mars during the planet’s late spring and early summer…

The only way to learn more about these plumes may be to go and physically investigate them, she said. Observing them from Earth—or even from Mars orbit—probably won’t reveal whether there are microbes beneath the surface. “We’re going to have to get down where they live,” she said. The Mars Science Laboratory, a new rover set to launch in 2011, carries instruments that could investigate below the planet’s surface—but most likely not deep enough. If microbes do exist on Mars, Mumma said, they could be buried more than a kilometer down. That would require a whole new plan, including technology that doesn’t yet exist.

You can only learn so much by observation and remote drones.

We need to get there A.S.A.P and have our minds blown and axioms shattered.

I’ll never shut up about this. | grinding |




Apologies to everyone, but after reading DR's post, I just had to:

Caption 'em if you got 'em.


Image from here, with every possible right reserved
|CNN| -- Andrew Wyeth, the well-known American painter famed for his painting of a young girl in a field called "Christina's World," has died, according to a Brandywine River Museum official.

Wyeth, 91, died in his sleep Thursday night, according to Lora Englehart, public relations coordinator for the Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania.

The argument leaves a lot to be desired

Fish, as we know from their name, are slimy, cold, and suspicious. This, and most emphatically not deliciousness, explains our willingness to eat them. Thus, it is imperative that fish be renamed 'sea-kittens.' Or so reasons PETA. If you agree, you can sign the petition here.

Let's see how well it works:
Many people have never stopped to think about it, but sea kittens are smart, interesting animals with their own unique personalities—just like the dogs and cats that we share our homes with. Did you know that sea kittens can learn to avoid nets by watching other sea kittens in their group and that they can recognize individual "shoal mates"? Some sea kittens gather information by eavesdropping on others, and some—such as a type of South African sea kittens that lays eggs on leaves so that they can be carried to a safe place—even use tools. |PETA: Fishing Hurts|

Speaking only for myself, I didn't find that the change of name helped. But then, I don't much like kittens. Or it could be that in this paragraph anthropomorphic equivocations do all of the work.

Just to take one example, "Some sea kittens gather information by eavesdropping on others." Sea kittens eavesdrop? How quirky they must be! Of course, they don't really eavesdrop, not as we understand the term. To eavesdrop implies, for us, a cultural conception of privacy, a capacity for sneakiness, a language, and so on. Sea Kitten eavesdropping, in contrast, implies none of this. It just requires something that looks, from the outside, a little bit similar. Something like a sea kitten responding to a signal even though that signal was not directed at it. That kind of behavior is remarkable, but it isn't eavesdropping and it doesn't provide any evidence that a species (species!) of sea kitten that does it has a 'unique personality.'


In short

1. We act.
2. To act is to have reasons.
3. To have reasons is to be committed to concepts with moral content.

Adding: I really didn't mean this post as some kind of dig at Neal. On the contrary, the moral skepticism discussion in the Gaza thread below got me thinking about some of the meta-ethical problems that I work on, and those three statements occurred to me. Together, they seemed to me to be a succinct elaboration of a view that I've pretty consistently espoused for awhile now, and which I think is general enough to garner wide agreement. I thought that was neat, and worth writing down.

But just as Neal reacted more harshly that was warranted, so should I have toned down my response. Believe it or not, hours before Neal's broadside I abandoned a long comment about Mackie and error theory because diving into the literature seemed pedantic. Suffice it to say that I recognize that the three statements above don't constitute a proof for the existence of moral concepts. One could say, in something like the way Mackie does, that our commitments are in error. The weird thing about this line of thinking is that it assumes that the existence of moral concepts requires that they meet some standard beyond what is necessary for the truth of claims like 1, 2, and 3. Why do they need to meet such a standard? To me it seems more plausible to suppose that the standards for what a reason is, and what counts as a reason, are internal to the project of moral reasoning.

Which brings me to sociobiology. Again, "stupid" is too harsh. Let me first be clear what I'm not denying. Facts about human nature and biology certainly can inform our moral decisions. So, for example, we now know that lead poisoning is correlated with loss of impulse control and, subsequently, criminality. We also know that a leading cause of lead poisoning in the United States had historically been the ingestion of chips of lead-based paint by young children. These facts have some clear moral implications, and those implications have led to a variety of policies designed to reduce the incidence of lead poisoning.

Sociobiology is different. Supposing that a successful sociobiology were possible, what it would give us is an explanation of moral concepts which justifies them through a reduction to adaptive fitness. In reducing-complex-realities-to-syllogisms words, a successful sociobiology might give you statements like the following:

S1: People will act altruistically in situation S because doing so expresses a trait which has proven to be adaptive.

At most S1 will tell you whether people will act altruistically in S. But the moral question is, how ought people to act in S. The answer to the moral question, in turn, has to do with what reasons people in S have. But sociobiology doesn't address its explanations to those whose actions it describes -- the only reason it could give is, 'have reasons to act altruistically because having such reasons encourages the expression of genetic endowments quite similar to your own.' That wouldn't motivate most people. Which is to say that even if sociobiology is maximally successful in explaining altruism on its own terms, people in S would find themselves in search of reasons to act altruistically and sociobiology would offer no guidance. In other words, sociobiology neither answers moral questions nor removes the need to answer them.

Privacy in a world bereft of privacy, part 4: It's happening faster than you think

Dreher, Sullivan, and Drum:
Here is a Google map that allows you to find your way to the homes of people who donated money to Prop 8 in California. It's damn creepy, is what it is. What could possibly be the use of this kind of information, presented in this way? It's intended to intimidate people into not participating in politics by donating money. Do that, and you'll end up on some activist group's map, with hotheads being able to find your street address on their iPhones.

....You might be thinking: those haters deserve to be outed. But think about how this same technology can be used against gay folks and gay-marriage supporters in parts of the country that aren't inclined to support gay rights. Would you want some gay-bashing group to post to the Internet a map to the homes of contributors to a pro-gay marriage initiative?....What happens if there's another Islamic terrorist attack, and some vigilante group posts a Google map to the homes of donors to CAIR, or other Muslim causes?

Andrew Sullivan isn't impressed: "The second anyone does anything inappropriate with this information Dreher has a right to complain. Until then, it's public information."

I'm....not so sure about that. It's not as if I have an answer to this problem — like Dreher, I accept that political donations need to be public — but I have to say that I find it kind of creepy too. This sort of thing has been possible for quite a long time, of course, but it was inherently limited in scope because of the time and money it took. Technology has changed that: it probably required little more than a few hours of coding to create a map that identified every Prop 8 donor in the state. And that map isn't only in the hands of the folks who created it. It's out on the internet where it's practically begging to be abused by some nutball.

I dunno. I'm probably overreacting. And it is public information. But I remain a bit of a privacy crank who hasn't yet been reconciled to the inevitability of David Brin's "Transparent Society." I can at least see Dreher's point.

Once the "second anyone does anything inappropriate" comes and goes, which can't be far off, the natural reaction for most people--because most of y'all are privacy cranks-- will be to try to make it more difficult to obtain and present this information.

But that reaction is bad for democracy. And, anyway, the attempts are doomed to fail. In the words of our own Monkey, "You can't stop the internet, bitches."


This guy plays for no cover two nights a week here in town. Of the styles he plays, his blues playing is probably my least favorite -- the genre of electric blues encourages too much pointless noodling -- but even so the virtuosity on display in this clip astounding.

O M F Gaza

This afternoon, NPR's All Things Considered considered the following things:

* Egypt is working with Israel to keep Gaza's borders tightly shut.

* If a Gaza resident's neighborhood has been destroyed or is currently targeted, that person has no where to go. They won't go to UN shelters because they feel that these are likely to be targeted.

* The war is broadly popular within Israel.

* The war is likely to be brought to a close before January 20th so that Israel doesn't start out on the wrong foot with the new U.S. administration. And that's nice, I guess, but it doesn't sound like the resolution of the conflict will be any kind of resolution.

And I wonder how many 10 year old Palestenians are being turned into lifetime Hamas members by this series of events?

Image from Amir Farshad Ebrahimi's photostream.

Promoted -- ed.


...Rick rolling now square.


To serve Rick Warren...

...a definition is needed for the term "saddlebacking." My vote:
5) "Saddlebacking" should be the term for the phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities. "After attending the Purity Ball, Heather and Bill saddlebacked all night because she's saving herself for marriage." |Dan Savage|




This is a little late, but I have three predictions for the new year.

1) Too unpopular and inarticulate to make it on the public speaking scene, George W. Bush finds himself relegated to the Reno / Atlantic City / Dubai appearance circuit. The money is good, but so are the parties. Bush quickly and publicly hits bottom.

2) Bill Clinton announces his retirement from public life and returns to Harlem to write his memoir. He makes very little news for some time, but in July the New York Times reports on page one that Clinton has been conducting an affair with an intern from the National Enquirer.

3) "The Ex-Presidents", a mid-season replacement reality show following Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as they undergo treatment for, respectively, sex addiction and alcoholism, provides America with a much needed distraction. A movement is quickly begun to repeal the 22nd Amendment. As the measure is broadly popular, its failure to pass by December 2009 leads some to suggest that the Constitution ought to be further modified to allow for the ratification of amendments through the mechanism of cell phone text message voting.


Red Earth, Green Earth, Blue Earth

You know what might forestall climate change? We could add iron to the ocean, spurring massive phytoplankton blooms that would sequester CO2 to the icy depths. Or might not. An Indo-German led team has set out to spread 20 tons of iron sulphate across a 115 square mile area of the Scotia Sea near Antarctica to test this idea.

As a bonus, it may promote more zooplankton, which would help the Antarctic ecosystem, particularly penguins, seals, and whales.

Of course, it is experimental. The image above is from ETC Group, who are not down with it.

Track the ship's progress here or here.


I think we should give him a few days of actually being President before we start freaking out

Step 1: Obama wins the presidency by promising to end partisan bickering and unite the country to resolve the various crises we now face.

Step 2: In his first challenge, Obama floats a proposal designed to be an acceptable compromise between those on the right and those on the left.

Step 3: Everybody freaks out.

Step 4: ???

Step 5: Crisis resolved!

Posting will resume in earnest shortly


Talking about EFCA

Just saw Chris Wallace and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Fox News Sunday arguing about whether it's okay to call the EFCA process card check. It was surreal. I call it card check. Everybody I know in the labor movement calls it card check. It turns out, however, that 'card check' is now a right wing frame. Update your speech accordingly, I guess.

Or don't.

In EFCA news, Hoyer expressed support for the bill, said he expected it to pass the Senate in more or less the form that it had passed the House, but didn't say it would be an immediate priority and hinted that passage might not come during the first 100 days.

Another interesting thing about the segment was that Chris Wallace delivered the secret ballot spin in a way I hadn't seen before, asking whether there was room for a compromise that would preserve the secret ballot, possibly by modifying the NLRB process so that elections would be guaranteed to occur sooner. Hoyer pointed out that nothing in EFCA precludes the holding of an election, and that's pretty much where they left it. It occurs to me, though, that calling it 'free choice' rather than 'card check' leaves room for an EFCA that doesn't establish card check recognition.


Israel went and did it.

Yglesias has me pretty thoroughly convinced that the political rationale for the invasion is to bolster the electoral prospects of the Labor / Kadima coalition. On those grounds the invasion has to be counted a success, I guess.

The nominal justification is that it became necessary because of the those rocket attacks. Could be, but what Israel really seems interested in doing is degrading Hamas' capabilities across the board. In other words, they seem to have launched a preventative war -- which is to say, a Bush Doctrine war -- while claiming that it is a straightforward defensive war.

But even so much as acknowledging Israel's nominal justifications seems to me to risk misunderstanding the situation. Israel has found an accommodation it can live with, and that accommodation is the status quo. To pay attention to the justification for this or that incursion is to treat the incursion as if it were a departure from the normal way of things. It isn't. Keeping the Palestenians down means knocking them down from time to time.


A Canadian told me a few weeks ago that I have boring taste in hockey players, but how can you not love this?


Lazy Saturday?

You could be watching them count absentee ballots in the Minnesota Senate race.

...or, I guess I could embed it:


In other news

The dispute occurred about 1 p.m. Thursday as AirTran flight 175 was preparing for takeoff from Reagan National Airport outside of Washington, D.C., on a flight destined for Orlando, Florida.

Atif Irfan, his brother, their wives, a sister and three children were headed to Orlando to meet with family and attend a religious conference.

"The conversation, as we were walking through the plane trying to find our seats, was just about where the safest place in an airplane is," Sahin said. "We were (discussing whether it was safest to sit near) the wing, or the engine or the back or the front, but that's it. We didn't say anything else that would raise any suspicion." Video Watch Muslims recount how they were kicked off plane »

The conversation did not contain the words "bomb," "explosion," "terror" or other words that might have aroused suspicion, Irfan said.

"When we were talking, when we turned around, I noticed a couple of girls kind of snapped their heads," said Sobia Ijaz, Irfan's wife. "I kind of thought to myself, 'Oh, you know, maybe they're going to say something.' It didn't occur to me that they were going to make it such a big issue."

Some time later, while the plane was still at the gate, an FBI agent boarded the plane and asked Irfan and his wife to leave the plane. The rest of the family was removed 15 or 20 minutes later, along with a family friend, Abdul Aziz, a Library of Congress attorney and family friend who was coincidentally taking the same flight and had been seen talking to the family. |CNN|


The emerging consensus over at Donkeylicious seems to be that the pull of metaphorical usages like 'Rump Parliament' or 'Republican rump' stems from the fact that the rump is the least desirable meat of an animal.

Probably so. Which means that yet another fact learned from Heinlein has turned out not to be true.
I got up. Rufo was dressed in our Merry Men clothes and wearing sword, so I dressed the same way and buckled on mine. My valettes were not in sight, nor my borrowed finery. I stumbled after Rufo into the great dining hall. There was Star, dressed to travel, and looking grim. The fancy furnishings of the night before were gone; it was as bleak as an abandoned barn. A bare table was all, an on it a joint of meat, cold in congealed grease and a knife beside it.

I looked at it without relish. "What's that?"

"Your breakfast, if you want it. But I shall not stay under this roof and eat cold shoulder." It was a tone, a manner, I had never heard from her.

Rufo touched my sleeve. "Boss. Let's get out of here. Now."

Source: Glory Road, Robert A. Heinlein, p. 111
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