Archive for: March, 2007

New political party needed; RUB, or "Republicans Until Bush"

Mar 24 2007 Published by under Politics

Alberto Gonzales said that he had was not involved in discussions about the firing of attorneys who, let's be honest, were obviously fired for political reasons. It turns out that he was. Already, he was presiding over an office that was abusing its former employees and not behaving the way we would like our AGs office to behave, but now we've got some pretty direct lying involved. Too bad he wasn't under oath.

I would say that this is finally evidence that the Bush administration is corrupt from top to bottom. The thing is, most of us paying attention have been firmly convinced of that for a long time.

Alas, those paying attention find themselves with no options other than the Democratic party. And, I guarantee you, if we get a Democratic congress and a Democratic president, and they stay in power for some time, they will get used to it and behave in a generally "I can do no wrong" manner (much as they did back with the whole "bounced check" scandal and others back in the early-mid 90's). We really need more than one viable political party, and despite their continuing popularity, I don't at the moment consider the Republicans viable.

We need a party for people who like some of the ostensible values of the Republican party, but who, particularly with the advent of the unmitigated disaster that is the Bush administration, realized that "their" party has become a corrupt mess interested in-- well, it's not really clear what, other than playing the game of being in power, but only pushing the agenda any more of the extreme religious right.

I propose that this party be called RUB, or "Republicans Until Bush." If people are paying attention, Bush will be responsible for deRepublicanizing more Republicans than even Herbert Hoover.

20 responses so far

Friday Galaxy : Nearby Starburst Galaxy M82

Mar 23 2007 Published by under Pretty Pictures

M82 is a galaxy that's relatively near to the Milky Way. It's not in our own local group, but it's in a nearby group of galaxies (the "M81 group"), and is only about 12 million light-years away (which is close for a galaxy). It's notable because it's a "starburst" galaxy— it's undergoing a burst of rapid star-formation, producing large numbers of stars in big clusters in a relatively short period of time. A lot of this activity is near the nucleus of the galaxy.

M82 is a favorite target for infrared astronomers. My cohort in graduate school, James Larkin, wrote his first grad school paper on the galaxy; both of us were part of what was known as the IRA, or "InfraRed Army," at Caltech.

The image below was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. You can see the disk of the galaxy, but it's clear that there's some action going on at the center, buried behind thick dust. The plumes coming out of the center are mostly Hydrogen gas which has been blown out of the galaxy by shocks from supernova explosions; such explosions are much more common in M81 than in our own galaxy (where we only have about one every hundred years or so) because of the rate at which stars (including the massive, short-lived stars that eventually supernova) are being made.


11 responses so far

The Voodoo Theory of Trademarks

Mar 21 2007 Published by under Intellectual Property

I love the way Cory Doctorow expresses it in this BoingBoing post:

Now, whenever I write about trademarks, I get a bunch of emails asserting the voodoo theory of trademark: every conceivable use of a trademark has to be policed aggressively or you'll lose your trademarks forever. It's just not true. A trademark isn't the right to tell people what words they can use when they talk, and it isn't the right to tell dictionaries which words they're allowed to define. Voodoo trademarkism is a fairy tale that trademark lawyers tell their kids at night to reassure them that they'll have a healthy college fund.

Trademarks of the third of the "intellectual property" trio that I tend to worry about the least. (Patents are the most dangerous, copyrights being a close second— not because either are inherently bad, necessarily, but because both are horribly misused, and misused with an air of extreme self-righteousness, in our society today.)

This comes from an article about how McDonald's is trying to get the colloquialism "McJob" removed from the Oxford English Dictionary. Part of their argument seems to be that it's offensive....

This fits in nicely with Ed's Is Everyone a Victim? meme. (Can I use the word meme in the general sense if it isn't a blog game?) I mean, if McDonalds, one of the most powerful and indeed nomative McCorporations out there, can be all poor and oppressed and mistreated, then who can't?

10 responses so far

ORBIT Bracket : Science Showdown 2007, Round 2 Results

Mar 20 2007 Published by under Nerdism

There is a loud and painful screech of microphone feedback. As it fades out, there is a series of loud, reverberating thumping noises, followed by:

ANNOUNCER:, hello? Is this on?

The announcer, a small, hunched, elderly old man, continues to speak timidly into the microphone.

ANNOUNCER: Um, hello, well, er, yes, um, hello, everybody. Welcome to the, er, second round results of the Orbit Bracket of the, um...

The announcer pats down his jacket pockets, pulls out a small calendar, glances at it through the bottom of his bi-focals, and puts it away.

ANNOUNCER: 2007, yes, 2007 Spring Science Showdown.

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6 responses so far

Tycho, Kepler, & Newton : a Story in the Progress of Science

Mar 20 2007 Published by under Astronomy & Physics

I don't do this any more, but in the past I did what many astronomy professors do when teaching introductory astronomy: tell the tale of Tycho, Kepler, and Newton, as a way of introducing and describing planetary orbits. It's such a great story, as it shows the concrete struggle we as a race went through to fully codify and understand the heliocentric, Copernican picture of the Solar System. It also highlights the contributions of three very different sorts of scientists.

We have Tycho, the observer. We have Kepler, the phenomenologist. And, we have Newton, the theorist. Each played a crucial role, without which the contributions of each of the others would have been greatly lessened. The result was a revolution in our way of thinking about the Solar System, and the Universe at large.

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24 responses so far

Spring 2007 Science Showdown : Orbit Region, Round 2 : Get Your Votes In Now!

Mar 18 2007 Published by under General Science

[Orbit Region Showdown, Round 2]

We've got four contests this time, with competition fierce and passions running high. Speak for which science concepts deserve to go to the next round! Get your votes in by 10PM Eastern Time on Tuesday, March 20. Results will be posted shortly after that.

The contests:

  • Newton's Second Law vs. High-Speed Internet: are the basic mechanics of the real world, or the substrate of cyberspace, more important?
  • Euler Angles vs. Particle: is the basic particle description of matter, or the Euler Angles as a parameterization of rotations, more important to science?
  • General Relativity vs. Descriptive Statistics: Einstein's theory of gravity as curved spacetime heads off against the statistics of data.
  • Bosons vs. Ordinary Matter: In one corner, we have integer spin particles whose quantum mechanical statistics are described by the Bose-Einstein distribution; in the other corner, we have the matter that is neither Dark Matter nor Dark Energy, but actual baryonic matter.

Who will advance to the next round? You decide!

23 responses so far

Friday Galaxy : the Milky Way to outside observers (NGC 6744)

Mar 16 2007 Published by under Pretty Pictures

This is an image of NGC 6744, taken with the South African Large Telescope.


NGC 6744 is a classic spiral galaxy, and appears similar to how the Milky Way would look if we were able to get outside of the Milky Way and look back at it. Notice that there is a bar at the center of the galaxy (oriented vertically in this picture). That is a feature that you see in a lot of spiral galaxies, and which indeed is present in our own spiral galaxy.

This image isn't exactly how the Milky Way would appear to our eyes. First of all, the surface brightness of the galaxy is low enough that our eyes wouldn't see any color, even if we were very well dark-adapted. However, suppose that our eyes could integrate; even then, this is a somewhat "false color" image. Images taken in near-ultraviolet, blue, and near-infrared light have been mapped to the blue, green, and red channels of the displayed image. As such, color contrasts have been somewhat enhanced.

6 responses so far

So why am I a *Christian*, specifically?

Mar 15 2007 Published by under Science & Religion

Warning:: There is no science whatsoever in this post. If that's going to annoy you, give this one a pass.

In a previous post, I said what role I thought religion and spirituality still could play in the modern, scientific world. All of that applied to any sort of religion or spirituality, and was not specific. However, I have claimed to be a Christian. A lot of people have been asking for me to explain just what I mean by that, since the things I have said seem to contradict most peoples' notions (Christians and non-Christians alike) of what it means to be Christian.

So why do I say that, and why do I not think I'm the dishonest liar I'm accused of being for saying that, given that I personally don't really see God as God the Creator? Indeed, if you look at my blog's former site, you can find a post where I say that I tend not to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. How can I call myself a Christian after saying those things????

(By the way, if you're one of those who thought that my previous post on religion was silly, vacuous pablum, you aren't going to be any happier with this one. Save yourself a few minutes and skip it. Honestly, I'll be writing about astronomers' time machine shortly, so we'll be back to the hardcore science. Save your reading time for that if you're just going to think that this is a waste of time.)

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176 responses so far

Redshift (Basic Concepts)

Mar 13 2007 Published by under Astronomy & Physics

"Redshift" is a term that astronomers use a lot. This is particularly true if they are extragalactic astronomers or (especially) cosmologists, but even galactic astronomers use it, and it is absolutely central to the method use to discover most of the extrasolar planets known today.

This post is going to be divided into three parts. First, I am going to explain that redshift itself is just a definition of an observable or measurable quantity, without any need to reference what caused it. Second, I'm going to talk about the more familiar source of redshift -- the Doppler shift. Finally, I'll talk about the gravitational redshift-- and, specifically, the cosmological redshift-- that is what astronomers are talking about when they talk about the expansion of the Universe.

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46 responses so far

The problem IS the PATRIOT act

Mar 13 2007 Published by under Politics

It's all over the news. The FBI has violated the PATRIOT act numerous times by using "national security letters" where it wasn't legitimate to do so. Naughty FBI. Clean your house.

The problem is, we need our House to clean up by repealing the PATRIOT act altogether. That act was shoved through congress at a time when few representatives were willing to risk not being seen Doing Something. We were cowed, we were afraid, we were angry, we were indignant, and we pushed this sweeping act through into law without the discussion, consideration, and public awareness that anything anywhere close to this needs in a nominally democratic society like ours. But we didn't want thoughtfulness; we, the citizens, as a whole, wanted shepherds to protect us from the scary terrorists. Many of the representatives who voted in favor of that act didn't even really know what was in it, and yet we did it. So much for freedom not being deterred by terrorism.

Think about it: there is a law that says the following. If law enforcement asks you for some private information (library records, medical records, whatever) with a "national security letter," it is illegal for you to tell anybody that you have been asked for this. You suspect that perhaps the law is being misused here. What are you to to? Well, you could ask a lawyer about it. What if it turns out that it was a legal use of a national security letters? You are now guilty of violating an anti-terrorism act. The safe thing to do is to just cow to whatever law enforcement says, because you are risking a world of trouble by questioning the legitimacy.

When we eliminate any possibility of checks and balances from some ostensibly limited sphere of behavior, we should not be surprised when the edge of the sphere is pushed and the power is abused. (All that should suprise us is that we actually manage to find out about it.) This is a law that so many argue is "needed" to fight terrorism. If that's the case, then I would argue that the terrorists have won; if we need that law, then it is impossible for a democratic society to exist in the face of terrorism. If, on the other hand, we want to find a way to defend ourselves from terrorism while maintaining a free and open society, we need to get rid of that law right now.

I think the entire PATRIOT act should be repealed, hook, line, and sinker. We should admit that it was a rushed and ill-considered mistake to push something like that through while we were still reeling from the impact of the 9/11 attacks. We can then go back and debate the parts of that law that might have some value-- debate, discuss, share with the public, and vote on, the way a democratic society is supposed to.

4 responses so far

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