Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 26th, 2007

A terrible stain on the US

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Did you watch it?

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 8:07 pm

Fortunately, I bought 8 lbs of popcorn at Costco

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8 lbs of Orville Redenbacher popcorn—that should see me through:

White House anxiety is mounting over the prospect that top officials—including deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and counselor Dan Bartlett-may be forced to provide potentially awkward testimony in the perjury and obstruction trial of Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

Both Rove and Bartlett have already received trial subpoenas from Libby’s defense lawyers, according to lawyers close to the case who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. While that is no guarantee they will be called, the odds increased this week after Libby’s lawyer, Ted Wells, laid out a defense resting on the idea that his client, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, had been made a “scapegoat” to protect Rove. Cheney is expected to provide the most crucial testimony to back up Wells’s assertion, one of the lawyers close to the case said. The vice president personally penned an October 2003 note in which he wrote, “Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the other.” The note, read aloud in court by Wells, implied that Libby was the one being sacrificed in an effort to clear Rove of any role in leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq war critic Joe Wilson. “Wow, for all the talk about this being a White House that prides itself on loyalty and discipline, you’re not seeing much of it,” the lawyer said. …

The possibility that Rove could be called to testify would bring his own role into sharper focus—and could prove important to Libby’s lawyers for several reasons. Rove has said in secret testimony that, during a chat on July 11, 2003, Libby told him he learned about Plame’s employment at the CIA from NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, a legal source who asked not to be identified talking about grand jury matters told NEWSWEEK. If Rove repeats that story on the witness stand, it could back up Libby’s core assertion that he honestly, if mistakenly, thought he had heard about Wilson’s wife from the “Meet the Press” host—even though Russert denies he knew anything about Plame, and more than a half-dozen officials (including Cheney) have said they passed along the same information to Libby earlier than that.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 8:04 pm

More on the purge of Federal Prosecutors

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From McClatchy Washington Bureau. :sigh: Bush… the Surge and the Purge.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is transforming the ranks of the nation’s top federal prosecutors by firing some and appointing conservative loyalists from the Bush administration’s inner circle who critics say are unlikely to buck Washington.

The newly appointed U.S. attorneys all have impressive legal credentials, but most of them have few, if any, ties to the communities they’ve been appointed to serve, and some have had little experience as prosecutors.

The nine recent appointees identified by McClatchy Newspapers held high-level White House or Justice Department jobs, and most of them were handpicked by Gonzales under a little-noticed provision of the Patriot Act that became law in March.

With Congress now controlled by the Democrats, critics fear that in some cases Gonzales is trying to skirt the need for Senate confirmation by giving new U.S. attorneys interim appointments for indefinite terms. Some legal scholars contend that the administration pushed for the change in the Patriot Act as part of its ongoing attempt to expand the power of the executive branch, a charge that administration officials deny.

Being named a U.S. attorney “has become a prize for doing the bidding of the White House or administration,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “In the past, there had been a great deal of delegation to the local offices. Now, you have a consolidation of power in Washington.”

A Justice Department spokesman said it was “reckless” to suggest that politics had influenced the appointment process.

The appointments have troubled some current and former prosecutors, who worry that the Justice Department is tightening its control over local U.S. attorneys’ offices in order to curb the prosecutors’ independence.

If they’re too close to the administration, these lawyers said, federal prosecutors might not be willing to pursue important but controversial cases that don’t fit into the administration’s agenda. Similarly, they said, U.S. attorneys could be forced to pursue only Washington’s priorities rather than their own.

The selection of U.S. attorneys has always been a political process.

Traditionally, the top assistant U.S. attorney in each local office temporarily fills any vacancy while home-state senators search for preferred candidates to present to the White House for consideration. If it takes more than four months to find a permanent successor, a judge can extend the temporary appointment or name another acting U.S. attorney. Ultimately, the candidates must be confirmed by the Senate.

Gonzales gained the ability to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for indefinite terms as a result of a change to the Patriot Act [thanks to Arlen Specter, who refuses to explain why he slipped in that provision – LG] that stripped federal judges of their appointment power.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 8:00 pm

Oh, dear. I knew they were watching me

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Just now read this:

Exercise is among the best things people with diabetes can do to manage their disease, but most either are not getting the message or are ignoring it, a new report confirms.

Only 39% of surveyed adults with diabetes engaged in regular physical activity, compared with 58% of adults who did not have the disease, according to a report in the February issue of Diabetes Care. And activity levels declined as risk factors for type 2 diabetes increased.

The national survey of more than 23,000 adults with diabetes, those at high risk for the disease, and people without diabetes was conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

Lead researcher Elaine Morrato, MPH, DRPH, tells WebMD she was not surprised to find that those with diabetes were more sedentary than the general public. But she was surprised so few at-risk people were physically active.

“Exercise has been shown to be instrumental in preventing diabetes among people at high risk and in helping to manage symptoms in people with the disease,” she says.

Study after study has confirmed that regular exercise, combined with modest weight loss and a healthy diet, can lower type 2 diabetes risk and improve outcomes once people have the disease.

In one of the most persuasive, researchers from the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group concluded that diet and regular exercise were more effective than one of the most widely prescribed drug treatments for preventing type 2 diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise, at least five times a week. Prevention guidelines released by the ADA last August recommend 2.5 hours of regular physical activity a week.

People at high risk for developing diabetes should be even more physically active, depending on their ability to exercise.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 7:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

Some martial-arts movies

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Martial arts movies are often more interesting for the martial arts part than, say, plot and characterization. The movie I just saw, The Protector, starring the amazing Tony Jaa, is like that in spades: weird plot movement, no characterization, but amazing demonstrations of Muay Thai, a particularly fascinating (and brutal) martial art that uses strikes from hands, feet, shins, knees, and elbows. In addition, it uses interesting grips based on, for example, of one fighter intertwining his arms with his opponent. So the movie’s worth seeing for that—and the almost cartoon-like plot is sort of fascinating in itself.

Tony Jaa’s earlier movie, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, is a better movie with a better plot, and it also showcases Muay Thai. Well worth renting.

Kill Zone stars the redoubtable Donnie Yen and has some amazing fight sequences. In particular, the Special Features includes the choreographing and filming of one fight sequence in an alley (called “The Alleycats”), in which Donnie Yen explains how he films the scene and his thoughts on what makes a good sequence. That is particularly worth watching. The sequence was shot in an alley to cut costs, and it took 5 days to film.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Epicycles upon epicycles

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This is a cute little toy that The Elder Grandson might like. Click on the ? to get the instructions.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Discovery: the sacred cave of Rome’s founders

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Discovered at last:

Archaeologists say they have unearthed Lupercale—the sacred cave where, according to legend, a she-wolf nursed the twin founders of Rome and where the city itself was born.

The long-lost underground chamber was found beneath the remains of Emperor Augustus’ palace on the Palatine, a 230-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) hill in the center of the city.

Palatine Hill

Archaeologists from the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Rome Municipality came across the 50-foot-deep (15-meter-deep) cavity while working to restore the decaying palace.

“We were drilling the ground near Augustus’ residence to survey the foundations of the building when we discovered the cave,” said Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the area.

“We knew from ancient reports that the Lupercale shouldn’t be far from the Emperor’s palace, but we didn’t expect to find it. It was a lucky surprise.

“We didn’t enter the cave but took some photos with a probe,” Iacopi added.

“They show a richly decorated vault encrusted with mosaics and seashells, too rich to be part of a home. That’s why we think it could be the ancient sanctuary, but we can’t be sure until we find the entrance to the chamber.”

Ancient Legend

According to myth, Lupercale is where a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the war god Mars and mortal priestess Rhea Silvia, who had been abandoned in a cradle on the bank of the Tiber River.

The cave’s name, in fact, comes from the Latin word for wolf, lupus.

The brothers are said to have later founded Rome on April 21, 753 B.C., at the site. But they eventually fought for the leadership of the new city, and Romulus killed his brother.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Daily life

Bush’s magical thinking

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I blogged previously about Bush’s remark that this time things would go well in Iraq because, he said, “they had to.” The Carpetbagger examines that magical thinking (a clear sign of Bush’s mental immaturity—and desperation) a bit more:

I don’t think the president fully understands that force of will is not a foreign policy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that President George W. Bush did not consult her before announcing his new strategy for the war in Iraq — a sign that, despite the cozy rhetoric, the relationship between Washington’s two powerhouses has already had its share of friction.

In an interview, Pelosi also said she was puzzled by what she considered the president’s minimalist explanation for his confidence in the new surge of 21,500 U.S. troops that he has presented as the crux of a new “way forward” for U.S. forces in Iraq.

“He’s tried this two times — it’s failed twice,” the California Democrat said. “I asked him at the White House, ‘Mr. President, why do you think this time it’s going to work?’ And he said, ‘Because I told them it had to.’ ” (emphasis added)

Asked if the president had elaborated, she added that he simply said, ” ‘I told them that they had to.’ That was the end of it. That’s the way it is.”

According to Aravosis, Pelosi reportedly followed up, “Why didn’t you tell them that the other two times?” It’s a good question.

As amusing as this is, there are two quick points to make. First, one of the more common far-right complaints of late is that Dems, as far as the White House is concerned, are “beyond consultation on Iraq.” Apparently, the Bush gang is taking that quite literally, and has decided not to communicate with congressional leaders about major military decisions at all. So much for cooperation with the co-equal branch of government.

And second, on the “it has to” work point, that seems to be an all-too-common refrain from this president.

I’m reminded of this article from a couple of weeks ago.

As part of a campaign to market the new strategy, Mr. Bush’s aides insisted that the plan was largely created by the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Yet Mr. Bush sounded less than certain of his support for the prime minister, who many in the White House and the military fear may be intending to extend Shiite power over the Sunnis, or could prove incapable of making good on his promises. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush declared.

He put it far more bluntly when leaders of Congress visited the White House earlier on Wednesday. “I said to Maliki this has to work or you’re out,” the president told the Congressional leaders, according to two officials who were in the room. Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.” (emphasis added)

He’s quite a bold visionary, isn’t he? The president tells Dems that Iraqis will come through because he told them “they had to.” The president tells Republicans that his strategy will work because “it has to.”

It’s a bit like listening to a child who believes he or she can will something to happen, just by hoping really hard.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 3:08 pm

Fiction by computer

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Computers writing fiction:

Could a computer one day be a fiction bestseller? While a computer-written bestseller may be unlikely, a technology expert has created a computer program that writes its own fiction stories with minimal user input.

The program, called MEXICA, is the first to generate original stories based on computerized representations of emotions and tensions between characters.

Rafael Pérez y Pérez, MEXICA’s creator, explains, “The program keeps a record of the emotional links between characters while developing a story, and employs its knowledge about emotions to retrieve from memory possible logical actions to continue the story.”

A paper describing the program has been accepted for publication in the journal Cognitive Systems Research.

In an Internet survey that pitted the computer-generated stories against other computerized stories, as well as stories written solely by a human, readers ranked MEXICA’s stories highest for flow and coherence, structure, content, suspense and overall quality.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Software, Writing

Miracle fruit

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From the Gothamist:

At a folding card table with a huge bag of limes and a paring knife in front of him was Sina Najafi, the Editor-in-Chief of Cabinet Magazine. As a crowd formed, Najafi popped the vacuum seals on a half-dozen cans decorated with Japanese script and an illustration of a plant looking like a cross between a French Breakfast radish and a poisonous Bittersweet. “What’s Miracle Fruit?” people asked, reading the white paper sign affixed to a bulletin board next to the table. Najafi handed out cellophane wrapped berries the size of lima beans. Kircher Society meeting participants ate the fruit as Najafi cut the limes into quarters. “Don’t eat the pits,” he told them. “Just chew and coat your tongue with the fruit.” Moments later, people were biting into limes as if they were apples. Everybody started to smile. Eating Miracle Fruit somehow makes sour food taste incredibly sweet.
Miracle Fruit (Sideroxylon dulcificum) was documented by an explorer named Des Marchais during an 1725 excursion to West Africa, according to Sina Najafi’s interview with Adam Leith Gollner, which can be found in the current issue of Cabinet. Marchais noticed that local tribes picked the berry off shrubs and chewed it before meals. From there, the amazing Miracle Fruit was seemingly lost in the shuffle of colonialism, and was later tested by the U.S. Army and several pharmaceutical giants before being rejected suddenly by the FDA in 1974, under mysterious, X-Files type circumstances (a “high speed car chase;” “men in sunglasses”). Gollner is working on a book examining the “fruit underworld,” including the sad odyssey of the Miracle Fruit, which is legal in many other countries. In Japan, some Weight Watchers-style meals revolve around it, and miraculin can be purchased in tablet form.

It is thought that the active ingredient in Miracle Fruit, or miraculin, is an ordinary glycoprotein molecule with some trailing carbohydrate chains which somehow change the way our tongue perceives taste. The effect, which wears off in a few hours, “isn’t like sugar, because [miraculin] isn’t exactly a sweetener,” Gollner says in the Cabinet interview. “It’s an elusive, illusory effect that depends on what you eat afterwards. With lemons, it has a kind of deep sweetness.” While some dismiss the berry’s properties as a useless food gimmick, a Mentos and Coke sort of thing, consider that chemotherapy patients in Florida currently have limited access to the fruit, because it restores appetite for some whose palettes have been destroyed by massive doses of radiation. Because the fruit has a more prominent effect, than, say Splenda, it also has implications for diabetics. It doesn’t matter if one can bake with it– Miracle Fruit changes the way that people eat to begin with. Gollner cites the results of a pre-FDA ban focus group in the 1970’s: “Miralin placed ads in diabetes periodicals and offered free samples to diabetics. They scored an enormous success rate; 85% of people who received the free samples wanted to order more.”

At the Athananius Kircher Society meeting, all of Najafi’s contraband Miracle Fruit disappeared within a few minutes, leaving behind tipped cans, Japanese instruction sheets, and some pithy lime carcasses. With a satchel around his shoulder, Najafi stayed on hand for a few minutes to answer Miracle Fruit questions from the crowd, before disappearing onto Fifth Avenue.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Food

Apology for torturing innocent man

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Not from the US, of course. We’re just the ones who arranged it. But from Canada, his home country.

I occasionally have to rant about Bush’s policy of torturing and imprisoning suspects—i.e., people who have never been convicted or even gone to trial. As I point out, anyone can be a suspect, since it’s not under their control. Being a suspect requires only that some official suspect you, for any reason. Once suspicion has been aroused (e.g., from a (false) report from one of your enemies), torture is perfectly okay, and indefinite imprisonment as the cherry on top. A life sentence for being a suspect.

At any rate, this story is well known. Here’s Carpetbagger’s report of the latest development:

Of all the stories, many of them horrific, on the Bush administration abusing detainees, Canadian computer engineer Maher Arar’s is among the most disheartening. Today, Justin Rood notes that Arar is going to get a formal apology from the Canadian government, though that isn’t quite as appropriate as an apology from the United States.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will give a formal apology to Maher Arar, the Canadian software engineer whom the United States detained and extradited to Syria, where he was brutally tortured.

The announcement, which appears to be a public rebuke of the official U.S. position that Arar may be a terrorist, is set for 12:15, according to Harper’s office. Arar will hold a separate news conference at 2 p.m.

Arar’s case has caused a deepening rift between Canada and the United States, which has to date refused to apologize for their treatment of Arar and will not remove him from its terrorist watch list. Yesterday, the National Post reported that the U.S. ambassador to Canada “scolded” a top Canadian offical for insisting Arar’s name be removed from the U.S. watch list.

Bush Administration officials have delivered secret briefings to the Canadian government in the hopes of justifying Arar’s presence on the watch list, but Canada continues to press the U.S. to clear Arar. “It simply does not alter our opinion that Mr. Arar is not a threat, nor is his family,” Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said.

Good. The sooner the administration backs down from “scolding” Canadian officials over this, the better. Canada was wrong to deport Arar several years ago, and now it is making amends.

The Bush administration? Not so much.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 12:03 pm

Excessive drinking, not alcoholism, is the problem

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And what’s excessive depends on sex and size: a woman will tolerate alcohol much less well than a man of the same size. Here’s the finding on excessive drinking:

Most people realize that too much alcohol can lead to multiple health problems, injuries and violence. Numerous statistics support the accuracy of this perception. Many people also assume that a substantial proportion of people who drink to excess are probably alcoholics. This may not be accurate. A recent study of the general population in New Mexico reveals that, in fact, most alcohol-related problems may be due to excessive drinking — especially binge drinking — among persons who are not alcoholics.

Results are published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

“In the period following prohibition, most researchers, policy makers, and the general public tended to define excessive drinking in terms of alcohol dependence or alcoholism,” explained Jim Roeber, an alcohol epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health and corresponding author for the study. “This was likely related to cultural norms that sanctioned all but the most obviously problematic drinking such as alcoholism. More recently, researchers and policy makers have … extended the definition of excessive drinking to encompass other behaviors such as binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks at one time) and impaired driving, and to address other problems such as alcohol-related injuries and social harm.”

“The reality,” added Tim Naimi, a physician with the Alcohol Team at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “is that drinking to the point of intoxication or drinking above national guidelines with respect to average consumption also carries significant risks, and is unfortunately quite common. Although there are many effective policy and clinical interventions to address excessive drinking, many of them have not been implemented or are underutilized.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 11:49 am

So how about the insula and taking risks?

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The insula seems to be connected to smoking addiction. But how about other risk-taking?

Should you leave your comfortable job for one that pays better but is less secure? Should you have a surgery that is likely to extend your life but poses some risk that you will not survive the operation? Should you invest in a risky startup company whose stock may soar even though you could lose your entire investment? In the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Science, UCLA psychologists present the first neuroscience research comparing how our brains evaluate the possibility of gaining versus losing when making risky decisions.

Participants in the study, mostly UCLA students in their 20s, were given $30 and then asked whether they would agree to each of more than 250 gambles in which they had a 50-50 chance of winning an amount of money or losing another amount of money. Would they, for example, agree to a coin toss in which they could win $30 but lose $20? While the 16 participants were considering the possible wagers, they were in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, where researchers studied their brain activity; the technique uses magnetic fields to spot active brain areas by telltale increases in blood oxygen.

For each question, the participants answered whether they would strongly agree to the gamble, weakly accept it, weakly refuse it or strongly reject it. Participants were not told whether they had won or lost until after they left the scanner; afterwards, the researchers randomly selected three of the gambles, and if the participants had previously agreed to accept those, the researchers flipped a coin and the participants either won or lost the money. What interested the researchers, however, was the activity of the brain’s regions during the decision-making process, not the subject’s reaction to winning or losing.

On average, participants needed to be offered a 50 percent chance of winning about $19 to risk losing $10, but that amount varied widely among the subjects. One subject, for example, needed the chance to win $60 to risk losing $10, while another needed only the chance to win $11 to risk losing $10. The researchers could predict people’s tolerance to risk by analyzing their brain patterns.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 11:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

No “best” strategy for teaching reading

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Maybe the phonics vs. whole-language controversy will die down now:

For decades, a debate has simmered in the educational community over the best way to teach children how to read. Proponents of phonics, the “whole language and meaning” approach and other teaching methods long have battled for dominance, each insisting that theirs is the superior strategy.

Now, a Florida State University researcher has entered the fray with a paper in the prestigious journal Science that says there is no one “best” method for teaching children to read.

Carol M. Connor is an assistant professor in the FSU College of Education and a researcher with the Florida Center for Reading Research. Along with colleagues from FSU and the University of Michigan, she wrote “Algorithm-Guided Individualized Reading Instruction,” published in Science’s Jan. 26 issue. Connor’s paper shows that lots of individualized instruction, combined with the use of diagnostic tools that help teachers match each child with the amounts and types of reading instruction that are most effective for him or her, is vastly preferable to the standard “one size fits all” approach to reading education that is prevalent in many American elementary schools.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 11:40 am

Posted in Education

Exciting post: spoor of the Higgs Boson

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Read this exciting post, which begins:

I’ve been looking for the Higgs boson for almost 20 years.

So there I was, on a Saturday morning in December, at CERN as it so happened, when I saw the graph we’d been working towards all year. At first I thought it was some mistake — the hair literally rose up on the back of my neck, and I said: “Holy crap! What’s that?”

Where do I start? For a long time now our field of particle physics has been totally obsessed with finding this beast we call the Higgs. We have a very successful mathematical model we call the Standard Model which has accounted all too well for hundreds of different experiments and observations of the fundamental particles in nature and how they interact.

My favorite analogy is that a hundred years ago we had the periodic table of the elements, which organized them all into neat rows and columns according to their chemical properties, from the halogens to the noble gases. But a hundred years ago, no one had a clue as to why this was so. It took another thirty years of experimenting and theorizing to figure it out. That led to quantum mechanics, the solution to the hydrogen atom, and then the understanding of more complex atoms and molecules. Then it all broke open: nuclear energy, silicon electronics, computers, cell phones…not to mention NSA wire tapping and YouTube. But I digress.

Now we have a neat little periodic table of the smallest of the small, the fundamental particles we call quarks and leptons:

fundamental fermions

It took the last 40 years since quarks were first imagined to get to the point where we are now. This neat three-generation structure, though, is absolutely begging for answers to these questions: Why do they have such different masses? Why just three generations? Why the weird fractional charges? (Or is the charge of the electron three more fundamental units of charge?)

The Higgs boson is a particle which is essentially a by-product of the Standard Model, a sort of physical manifestation of a hypothetical “Higgs field” which permeates all space-time and with which all particles have some level of interaction. The more interaction with the Higgs field, the more massive a particle is. We call it a “boson” as opposed to a “fermion” (all the quarks and leptons are fermions) because it is thought to have no spin, no intrinsic angular momentum.

The Standard Model gave us no guidance, though, 30 years ago as to what the mass of the Higgs boson might be, except that it’s probably a good deal less than 1000 times more massive than the proton. So, 20 years ago, we had an accelerator at CERN in Switzerland called LEP that was the first one that we thought might be able to produce the Higgs. I was on one of the four big experiments there, called ALEPH (a mythical monster with eyes in all directions) and we started from the smallest masses we could, and worked our way up from there. We kind of thought we had found it once, but it was a sort of experimental mirage.

I moved back to the US in 1993 and took up the hunt at…

Continue reading. And then here’s Part 2 of the exciting story.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 11:32 am

Posted in Science

Dianne Feinstein’s ethics problems

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I really have a hard time supporting Dianne Feinstein. Every now and then she comes out with something good, but generally she is considerably off. For example, she supported (and voted for) the flag-burning amendment. And now this:

In the November 2006 election, the voters demanded congressional ethics reform. And so, the newly appointed chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is now duly in charge of regulating the ethical behavior of her colleagues. But for many years, Feinstein has been beset by her own ethical conflict of interest, say congressional ethics experts.

As chairperson and ranking member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (MILCON) from 2001 through the end of 2005, Feinstein supervised the appropriation of billions of dollars a year for specific military construction projects. Two defense contractors whose interests were largely controlled by her husband, financier Richard C. Blum, benefited from decisions made by Feinstein as leader of this powerful subcommittee.

Each year, MILCON’s members decide which military construction projects will be funded from a roster proposed by the Department of Defense. Contracts to build these specific projects are subsequently awarded to such major defense contractors as Halliburton, Fluor, Parsons, Louis Berger, URS Corporation and Perini Corporation. From 1997 through the end of 2005, with Feinstein’s knowledge, Blum was a majority owner of both URS Corp. and Perini Corp.

While setting MILCON agendas for many years, Feinstein, 73, supervised her own staff of military construction experts as they carefully examined the details of each proposal. She lobbied Pentagon officials in public hearings to support defense projects that she favored, some of which already were or subsequently became URS or Perini contracts. From 2001 to 2005, URS earned $792 million from military construction and environmental cleanup projects approved by MILCON; Perini earned $759 million from such MILCON projects.

In her annual Public Financial Disclosure Reports, Feinstein records a sizeable family income from large investments in Perini, which is based in Framingham, Mass., and in URS, headquartered in San Francisco. But she has not publicly acknowledged the conflict of interest between her job as a congressional appropriator and her husband’s longtime control of Perini and URS—and that omission has called her ethical standards into question, say the experts.
Insider Information

The tale thickens with the appearance of Michael R. Klein, a top legal adviser to Feinstein and a long-time business partner of Blum’s. The vice-chairman of Perini’s board of directors, Klein was a partner in Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, a powerful law firm with close ties to the Democratic Party, for nearly 30 years. Klein and Blum co-own ASTAR Air Cargo, which has military contracts in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Klein also sits on the board of SRA International, a large defense contractor.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 11:25 am

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Pat Roberts, Cheney’s lackey

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I blogged earlier about how Pat Roberts continually stalled the investigation into how the Bush Administration distorted intelligence in order to get us into a war with Iraq, and how he did this under instructions from Dick Cheney.

Today ThinkProgress reports on various Roberts promises regarding the report of the investigation:

In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) said that Vice President Dick Cheney exerted “constant” pressure on the former chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), to stall an investigation into the Bush administration’s use of false intelligence on Iraq. The so-called Phase II report on the administration’s use of pre-war intelligence was delayed for over two years. Two of its five portions were finally released in Sept. 2006.

Rockefeller said that he knew Cheney attended regular policy meetings in which he conveyed White House directions to conservative Capitol Hill staffers. They “just had to go along with the administration,” he said. Here are examples of Roberts’ vacillations on the Phase II investigation per White House orders:

“We’ll proceed with Phase II. It is a priority. I made my commitment and it will get done.” [Press conference, 7/9/04]

I don’t know if we can get it done before the election.” [Meet the Press, 7/11/04]

“That [the Phase II report] is basically on the back burner.” [UPI, 3/10/05]

“I don’t think there should be any doubt that we have now heard it all regarding prewar intelligence. I think that it would be a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further.” [U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 3/31/05]

“To go though that exercise, it seems to me, in a post-election environment – we didn’t see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it.” [U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 3/31/05]

I’m perfectly willing to do it, and that’s what we agreed to do, and that door is still open.” [Meet the Press, 4/10/05]

It isn’t like it’s been delayed. As a matter of fact, it’s been ongoing. As a matter of fact, we have been doing our work on Phase II.” [Senate Floor Speech, 11/1/05]

I don’t know the relevancy of that.” [CNN, 11/1/05]

“We’ve been working on that. We will finish it. We had it scheduled for this week.” [Face the Nation, 11/6/05]

The report was partially released on September 8, 2006.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 11:12 am

Profile of a bigot

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Sometimes bigots sneak into the camp and spout their hatred and warped worldview without being immediately detected. But they usually go on too long, and eventually people catch on. Case in point: Marty Peretz of The New Republic. Glenn Greenwald does a thorough takedown of this ranting racist, and it’s worth reading.

One thing Peretz recently wrote: “Poor Tom Friedman. He is looking for a Muslim Martin Luther King. There is none, Tom. If one were living on earth, they’d break his windows. Imprison him. Or kill him.”

Peretz is apparently unaware that the Christian Martin Luther King was imprisoned, and later killed. I don’t know about breaking the windows though.

That Peretz can write this kind of crap is amazing. But at last he’s being called on it. Greenwald’s column starts:

 I’ve written once before, several months ago, about the unbelievably overt anti-Arab/anti-Muslim bigotry that spews forth regularly from The New Republic Editor Marty Peretz, typically at his blog, Spine. The post I wrote was prompted by a particularly bizarre and factually false Peretz rant about how Muslims breed like rabbits because they’re too “uneducated” to know that only small families can provide children with a loving environment.

In reality, one could write a post like that almost every day about Peretz. His blog, and apparently his political worldview, are devoted primarily to one argument — that Arabs and Muslims are primitive savages and barbarians, and that the notion of a “moderate Muslim” or even a civilized Arab is all but a myth. The majority of Peretz’s posts, with varying degrees of explicitness, is devoted to bolstering that claim.

I had not written more about Peretz because it seems as though there is some sort of tacit agreement that Peretz’s hate-mongering won’t be held against The New Republic, and that, for whatever reasons, Peretz will be accepted as a more or less mainstream figure despite spewing bigotry of the type one finds on white supremacist sites (albeit directed elsewhere). And since New Republic writers don’t, to my knowledge, spout the same hate-filled diatribes, perhaps there was a sense that Peretz is even more irrelevant than the magazine itself and therefore does not merit any real discussion.

But now, an excellent article by Matt Yglesias discussing the highly dubious anti-semitism accusations launched against Wes Clark and others — accusations fueled by Peretz himself and supported by some at The New Republic — has led to a broader discussion of Peretz’s overt bigotry. Specifically, Ygelsias has raised the question as to why Peretz’s bigotry is met with such silence by New Republic writers, including those who diligently search high and low for any inferential hint of other forms of bigotry (particularly anti-semitism).

Continue reading .

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 10:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

The Bush Administration’s unending war against Truth

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The Bush Administration prefers mainly to keep things secret. If they somehow leak out, the Bush Administration lies and alters records to keep the secret.

The latest case is one of the Bush Administration agencies trying to alter Wikipedia to hide certain facts. (The BA is accustomed to doing this on their own Web sites—e.g., deleting all information regarding antidiscrimination against gays, deleting information on birth control, changing information on abortion (“it causes breast cancer!”), deleting information on global warming, changing information on the Big Bang (excuse me, the “theory of the Big Bang”), and so on.

Here’s the story:

Wikipedia has come of age. The online user-created encyclopedia is now influential enough that the federal government feels the need to doctor it up.

In late August, someone with an IP address that originated from the National Institutes of Health drastically edited the Wikipedia entry for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which operates within NIH. Wikipedia determined the edit to be vandalism and automatically changed the definition back to the original. On Sept. 18, the NIH vandal returned, according to a history of the site’s edits posted by Wikipedia. This time, the definition was gradually changed, presumably to avoid the vandalism detector.

NIDA spokeswoman Dorie Hightower confirmed that her agency was behind the editing. She said in an e-mail that the definition was changed “to reflect the science.”

A little more than science-reflecting was done to the site. Gone first was the “Controversial research” section that included comments critical of NIDA. Next went the section on the NIDA-sponsored program that grows marijuana for research and medical purposes. The next slice of the federal editor’s knife left all outside references on the cutting-room floor, replaced with links to government Web sites.

Then the battle began. Over the next few weeks, Wikipedia users challenged the site’s neutrality and took out the more egregious propaganda. Each time, the NIH editor would return. The fight left the article in tatters. Folks wondering what NIDA does now get four basic, non-controversial sentences followed by 10 links to federal Web sites. And at the bottom of the page is a plea from Wikipedia: “This article about a medical organization or association is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 10:40 am

It sure looks like a civil war in Iraq

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And sounds like one—and, let’s face it, is one. Why does Bush keep US troops in the middle of it.

Watch part of a battle on an urban street (after an incredibly annoying commercial).

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2007 at 10:29 am

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