Monday, June 30, 2008

A helping hand in education--American University of Iraq

"Book Drive for Iraq: How you can do your bit to build democracy"

It's quite common to read, usually from liberal opponents of the engagement in Iraq, that George W. Bush's administration hasn't asked the American people to make any sacrifices. I must confess that I never quite understand this criticism. As a society, we collectively contribute a great deal from our common treasury to give Iraq a fighting chance to recover from three decades of war and fascism and to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemies of civilization. And as fellow citizens, we experience the agony of loss when our soldiers, aid workers, civil servants, and others are murdered. (That each of these is a volunteer is a great cause for national pride.)

However, I do believe that many people wish they could do something positive and make a contribution, however small, to the effort to build democracy in Iraq. And I have a suggestion. In the northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniya, the American University of Iraq has just opened its doors. And it is appealing for people to donate books.

Here is some background: In 2006, the McKinsey consulting group was hired by my friend Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, to produce a business plan for a university along the lines of the existing success stories of the American Universities in Cairo and Beirut. The board of trustees includes Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins, Kanan Makiya of Brandeis, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The U.S. Congress has pledged more than $10 million to the project, as has the Kurdish Regional Government, the autonomous administration of the country's northeastern provinces. For reasons of security, the only campus open at present is in this area of Iraq, where Americans are not targeted and where al-Qaida dares not operate. But Salih, who is himself a Kurd and a native of Sulaymaniya, hopes that as the situation on the ground improves, there will also be campuses in Baghdad and Basra.

Among the projects already underway are an M.B.A. program in concert with Hochschule Furtwangen University in Germany and an English preparatory program run jointly with the American English Institute at the University of Oregon. An environmental-studies department is envisioned, with money from the government of Italy, to address the recuperation of Iraq's southern marshes, the largest wetlands in the region, which were subjected to deliberate destruction by the regime of Saddam Hussein. The University of Vermont is hosting videoconferencing sessions in political science on such topics as federalism and church-state separation.

As anyone who has read the Arab Human Development Reports will know, the Arab region—which at the time of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad was one of the world centers of humanistic learning and philosophy—is in a profound crisis of intellectual unfreedom. It boasts of no great centers of study; it translates pathetically few books from other languages and cultures; it is prone to waves of intolerance and fanaticism under which books are actually burned. Thus the attempt to reverse this trend and to lay the foundation of a liberal and cosmopolitan education for the next generation of educated Iraqis is of the highest importance from every conceivable point of view.

I recently received a progress report from Sulaymaniya from Thomas Cushman, who is a professor in the sociology department at Wellesley College and the founding editor of the Journal of Human Rights. He tells me that the American University attaches very special importance to the establishment of a library in English. An initiative has been set up to furnish the campus with the most up-to-date books that can be provided. As Cushman writes:

What I did was ask colleagues to donate books, which they did in good numbers. We sent thirty cartons of first-rate books, especially on global affairs, history and literature and they are housed in the new library. … The university is especially in need of technical books, social science books, software even. … Nathan Musselman, the Prefect of the University who is teaching a class, wrote to me thrilled to tell me that the students were now writing their term papers in English and using many of these books as their main sources for research. He is greatly desirous of receiving more, now that the initial library is set up. … So the idea is to get people to donate in a more micro way; to send one or two new, current and important books (perhaps they have review copies, extra copies, etc) to the new library of the University. All of these small polyps could yield a substantial coral reef of knowledge for the new generation of students there.

So here's what to do. Have a look at the university's Web site. Get some decent volumes together, pass the word to your friends and co-workers to do the same, and send them off to:

Nathan Musselman
The American University of Iraq—Sulaimani
Building No. 7, Street 10
Quarter 410
Ablakh Area
Sulaimani, Iraq
(+964) (0)770-461-5099

It's important to include the number at the end.

When I first saw the city of Sulaymaniya in 1991, it was still under occupation by Saddam Hussein's army, and the Kurdish region in general was a howling wilderness of wrecked towns and gassed, "cleansed" villages. The graves from that time are still being dug up, but on my last visit, in 2006, the main emphasis was on reconstruction and investment, with the city proudly opening its own airport with direct flights from outside the country. Anyone who can help in this process of emancipation, in however small a way, should be proud to do so.

Industrial Light and Magic...Thomas Smith

Pretty much dinosaurs of the past are the well-crafted [mostly] educational films distributed usually through the Encyclopedia Britannica Films and the product of independent producers and well-established companies like the Bell System, Centron Productions, Coronet Films, and the Handy [Jam] Organization. For the student they provided an interlude to a boring teacher's daily lecture and emulation of the school audio-visual geek. Actually, these old items are highly prized now and the focus of preservation providing a bundle of nostalgia and insight into social phenomena. The following sample is called "Solar System" by Thomas Smith [Star Wars fame] which " his academic film masterwork, which took over a year to create, over 13 weeks to film, and utilized "traveling mattes," with as many as five separate films running in the background, showcasing wonderful models and graphics."

Thomas Smith said...

"I made that film in 1976 with Richard Basehart as narrator and a classical music score recorded in the Soviet Union... this was the film that turned my career toward visual effects. We shot it in a large rented space in the back of a West Los Angeles dress factory. We hung large black curtains to keep out light out from the factory but we could still hear the sewing machine whirring away behind the curtain. They were making bathrobes at the time, out of fluffy material. It took months of preparation before we could shoot our first frame of film. We laid down a forty foot stretch of track of parallel plumbing ipes and put down a camera support whose movements were on a geared guide so every increment of movement could be controlled with the turn of a wheel. Nearly all of the shots involved a moving camera. It was like animation with three dimensional model planets instead of cell images. We found the best material for the planets was hard wood. So we hired a Hollywood cabinet shop to make nine spheres for us, about 18 inches in diameter. These were sanded and painted to match images in astronomy books and observatory photos. Shooting one frame at a time meant we never got more than a few seconds of film shot in a day. One long shot involved the camera moving in on Mars. The first long day's work was ruined. As the camera came in on the red planet, a large piece of fuzz came into frame, sitting on the planet. It had drifted down on the sphere from the dress factory."

"Solar System"

Older films on many subjects may be seen at the Prelinger Archives via the Internet Archive.

Prelinger Archives was founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger in New York City. Over the next twenty years, it grew into a collection of over 60,000 "ephemeral" (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films. In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Prelinger Archives remains in existence, holding approximately 4,000 titles on videotape and a smaller collection of film materials acquired subsequent to the Library of Congress transaction. Its goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven't been collected elsewhere. Included are films produced by and for many hundreds of important US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions. Getty Images represents the collection for stock footage sale, and almost 2,000 key titles are available here. As a whole, the collection currently contains over 10% of the total production of ephemeral films between 1927 and 1987, and it may be the most complete and varied collection in existence of films from these poorly preserved genres.

Prelinger Archives

Furthermore, here is cool animated geometric film by Philip Stapp entitled "Symmetry" made in 1966.

"...Philip Stapp was one of the greatest animators working in the 1950-1975 era, using stylized, often pointillist abstract imagery, in a floating world sometimes surrealist, at other times reminiscent of Japanese "ukiyo-e" illustration. His spectacular 'Symmetry' is his greatest film, a fantasy of dancing images breaking apart, spinning, and converging."


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Chemical industry raises prices

This two fold increase of 45% in two months through out the chemical industry will have a huge trickle down effect on every citizen on the globe. We are not privy to the ledgers of these companies but one wonders if this is an ethical and justifiable decision given the current world conditions despite the rise of raw products and energy. Would it be prudent to lower profit margins and hold the near 50% increase. Dollar General stores will disappear or be renamed Two Dollar General.

"Dow And Others Raise Prices, Again"

Chemical firms plan higher prices and cutbacks to offset costs


Ann Thayer

June 30th, 2008

Chemical & Engineering News

DOW CHEMICAL will raise prices by up to 25% on July 1, after already increasing them by as much as 20% on June 1. Like other chemical companies, Dow is trying hard to offset economic slowdowns in the U.S. and Europe and rising costs for both energy and raw materials.

Dow is going a step further, however, and is also idling or decreasing production at some plants. It has already reduced its worldwide ethylene oxide production by 25%, its North American acrylic acid production by 30%, and emulsion polymer capacity in North America and Europe by up to 25%.

Added to these will be 40% production cuts in styrene, 15% in polystyrene, and 20% in Styrofoam insulation, all in Europe. Dow's automotive unit will also trim costs at facilities and cut jobs.

Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris calls the measures "extremely unwelcome but entirely unavoidable. For the first half of 2008, our feedstock and energy costs are up more than 40% compared with the same six months of last year."

Although the June 1 price increases helped, they have not been enough to fully cover the ongoing rise in costs, Liveris says. Dow and Rohm and Haas were two of just a handful of U.S. chemical makers that reported declines in first-quarter earnings. Earlier this month, Rohm and Haas said it would cut more than 900 jobs and shutter capacity, primarily in North America.

Several other producers, including BASF and Bayer MaterialScience, have also announced wide-ranging price increases for chemicals going into automotive, construction, and consumer products. International Specialty Products is increasing global prices by up to 20% in several areas on top of the 5–10% increases it imposed in late May. And Air Products says it will update surcharges on all of its liquid and bulk industrial gas products, effective July 1.

Whether these moves are enough to help companies even tread water is uncertain. Every $1.00 increase in the price of a barrel of oil costs the industry $660 million, points out T. Kevin Swift, chief economist at the American Chemistry Council trade association. And looking at producer price indexes through May, he concludes that "the feedstock component has gone up faster than the overall price for chemical products."

Justice in a sad case--Steven J. Hatfill

Steven J. Hatfill

In 2001 five innocent people died from anthrax poisoning...a tragedy indeed and a prime suspect was viciously pursued by the Federal Government in a hysteria to find someone culpable. Seven years later the "person of interest" [new term for "suspect"] was exonerated and the Federal Government punished for their tactics. The case has still not been resolved.

"Scientist Is Paid Millions by U.S. in Anthrax Suit"


Scott Shane and Eric Lichtblau

June 28th, 2008

The New York Times

The Justice Department announced Friday that it would pay $4.6 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Steven J. Hatfill, a former Army biodefense researcher intensively investigated as a "person of interest" in the deadly anthrax letters of 2001.

The settlement, consisting of $2.825 million in cash and an annuity paying Dr. Hatfill $150,000 a year for 20 years, brings to an end a five-year legal battle that had recently threatened a reporter with large fines for declining to name sources she said she did not recall.

Dr. Hatfill, who worked at the Army's laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., in the late 1990s, was the subject of a flood of news media coverage beginning in mid-2002, after television cameras showed Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in biohazard suits searching his apartment near the Army base. He was later named a "person of interest" in the case by then Attorney General John Ashcroft, speaking on national television.

In a news conference in August 2002, Dr. Hatfill tearfully denied that he had anything to do with the anthrax letters and said irresponsible news media coverage based on government leaks had destroyed his reputation.

Dr. Hatfill's lawsuit, filed in 2003, accused F.B.I. agents and Justice Department officials involved in the criminal investigation of the anthrax mailings of leaking information about him to the news media in violation of the Privacy Act. In order to prove their case, his lawyers took depositions from key F.B.I. investigators, senior officials and a number of reporters who had covered the investigation.

Mark Grannis, a lawyer for Dr. Hatfill, said his client was pleased with the settlement.

"The good news is that we still live in a country where a guy who's been horribly abused can go to a judge and say 'I need your help,' and maybe it takes a while, but he gets justice," Mr. Grannis said.

The settlement, Mr. Grannis said, "means that Steven Hatfill is finally an ex-person of interest."

In a written statement, Mr. Grannis and Dr. Hatfill's other lawyers said, "We can only hope that the individuals and institutions involved are sufficiently chastened by this episode to deter similar destruction of private citizens in the future — and that we will all read anonymously sourced news reports with a great deal more skepticism."

The lawyers will take their fee out of the settlement, which will pay out $5.8 million over 20 years. The $4.6 million figure is the cost of the annuity to the government.

The settlement called new attention to the fact that nearly seven years after the toxic letters were mailed, killing five people and sickening at least 17 others, the case has not been solved.

A Justice Department spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said in a statement that the government admitted no liability but decided settlement was "in the best interest of the United States."

"The government remains resolute in its investigation into the anthrax attacks, which killed five individuals and sickened others after lethal anthrax powder was sent through the United States mail," Mr. Roehrkasse said.

An F.B.I. spokesman, Jason Pack, said the anthrax investigation "is one of the largest and most complex investigations ever conducted by law enforcement" and is currently being pursued by more than 20 agents of the F.B.I. and the Postal Inspection Service.

"Solving this case is a top priority for the F.B.I. and for the family members of the victims who were killed," Mr. Pack said.

But Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat whose district was the site of a postal box believed to have been used in the attacks, said he would press Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., for more answers about the status of the case.

"As today's settlement announcement confirms, this case was botched from the very beginning," Mr. Holt said. "The F.B.I. did a poor job of collecting evidence, and then inappropriately focused on one individual as a suspect for too long, developing an erroneous theory of the case that has led to this very expensive dead end."

Dr. Hatfill subpoenaed Washington journalists to try to learn which federal officials had spoken to the news media about the case against him in possible violation of federal privacy laws.

Toni Locy, a former legal affairs reporter for USA Today who wrote several articles about the case, was held in contempt of court, facing fines of up to $5,000 a day from Judge Reggie Walton over her refusal to name her sources, and her case is pending before an appeals court. Ms. Locy said Friday that she was relieved by the developments but that it was too soon to celebrate.

"I hope this means that this ordeal is over and that I can get on with my life," said Ms. Locy, who will begin teaching legal reporting at Washington and Lee University in the fall.

She said Dr. Hatfill's lawyers said they no longer needed her testimony, though she had not been told whether the contempt order against her had been lifted.

The outcome differed significantly from the settlement of a similar case involving Wen Ho Lee, a former nuclear scientist once suspected of espionage. In that case, five news organizations joined the government's settlement, agreeing to pay a total of $750,000 to prevent their reporters from having to testify about their sources.

Ms. Locy said that a federal mediator had tried to get Gannett, which owns USA Today, to negotiate some type of settlement with Dr. Hatfill's lawyers, but that it had refused

She called the result an important affirmation of journalists' ability to use confidential sources in gathering material on important news stories. "I protected my sources, and that’s important," she said.

Dr. Hatfill also sued The New York Times and the columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, saying that columns Mr. Kristof wrote about the case had libeled him by suggesting that he might be the anthrax mailer. That lawsuit was dismissed last year, but Dr. Hatfill has appealed the dismissal.

The former Army scientist also sued Vanity Fair and the author of an article about the case in the magazine, Donald Foster, as well as Reader’s Digest, which published a condensed version. That case was settled last year on confidential terms.

Dr. Hatfill, 54, grew up in Illinois but studied medicine in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. After returning to the United States in the early 1990s, he worked at the National Institutes of Health and the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. In applying for those jobs, he claimed to have had a Ph.D. from a South African university that his lawyers later admitted he had not earned.

He did training on bioterrorism for the F.B.I., Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency and trained to be a bioweapons inspector for the United Nations, though he never began the job.

After Dr. Hatfill came under suspicion in the anthrax case in 2002, an F.B.I. surveillance team began following him everywhere, and a small motorcade sometimes trailed his car around Washington.

In May 2003, an F.B.I. surveillance car ran over Dr. Hatfill's foot in Georgetown as he approached the car to take the driver's picture. He was given a ticket for "walking to create a hazard" and was fined $5.

Future wars

This spooky and probably some parts are being used now in a clandestine manner. The sad thing is that mankind is just cultivating the role of warfare. An integral part of mankind?

UCSD Television:

"Drugs to improve soldiers' abilities? To confuse enemies? Devices controlled by or controlling people's minds? Will neuroscience provide the weapons of the future? Jonathan Moreno, nationally distinguished bioethicist, discusses the connections between national security and brain research and argues that ther is a need to contemplate the ethical, political and social implications of these advances."

"Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense"

[From stringer Tim.]

Bicentenary of Charles Darwin--2-12-09

"The year 2009 will be the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth on 12 February 1809, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species, on 24 November 1859."

Might as well get started...

A free online book.

Darwin in Russian Thought


Alexander Vucinich

And from the University of Cambridge...

Darwin Correspondence Project

George Dyson--computers


"George Dyson: The birth of the computer"

World Wide Web and Paul Otlet

[From stringer Tim.]

Eden Prairie, Minnesota and their free telescope

Eden Prairie's telescope

Philanthropic endeavors can encounter issues. Who has ever heard of Eden Prairie, Minnesota...few I doubt. But Eden Prairie has become the recipient of a free 16-inch telescope thanks to the generosity of the Minnesota Astronomical Society. Now what does one do with the telescope...well, build a building to house the instrument. Not that easy. The telescope is valued at about a little over $10,000 and a facility to house the telescope would range from $110,000 to $130,000. This is a hard sell to the citizens of Eden Prairie...a small city in Minnesota whose average family income is about $38,000. A private donation of $75,000 has been promised as well as one for $10,000. That is still about $50,000 that the city has to raise. And that is only part of the problem. Where will they build the building that would be free from city lights and vandalism? Stay tuned.

"Needed in Eden Prairie: Astronomy buffs with cash"

Eden Prairie got a telescope as a gift and is now seeking donors to build an observatory for it.


Laurie Blake

Star Tribune

June 25th, 2008

An Edina couple, Doug and Carolyn Kohrs, have pledged $75,000 toward the cost of building a small observatory to house Eden Prairie's telescope for public viewing.

The donation gives the city more than half the money necessary to build a home for the telescope overlooking Staring Lake. The scope, donated to Eden Prairie by the Minnesota Astronomical Society, is a 16-inch Cassegrain that would put a broad, detailed view of the night sky within easy reach of west-suburban residents.

Cost of a home for the telescope -- one of the largest in the state at 9 feet tall and more than 1,000 pounds -- was estimated at $113,000 to $127,000 by a consultant.

That's more than 10 times the value of the telescope itself.

Not wanting to say no to the gift but cool to the cost of building an observatory, the City Council has asked Parks and Recreation Director Jay Lotthammer to try to fund it with donations. "The concern is we have a telescope worth about $10,000, so how much does accepting a gift end up costing us?" he said.

Another donor, whose name has not been released by the city, has pledged $10,000.

The Kohrs are both engineers, and both have an interest in science. "We wanted to do something to give back to our community,'' Carolyn Kohrs said.

Lotthammer continues to seek other donations. He plans to report back to the City Council in mid-July or early August. If the council thinks sufficient funds have been donated, the city will call for contractor bids to build the observatory, Lotthammer said.

The building the city envisions for the telescope would have a log-cabin look that would blend in with the lake shoreline, Lotthammer said. It would have a retractable roof with space for a horseshoe of benches around the telescope, where a group could gather to see the telescope's view on a wide-screen TV.

Lotthammer said the best place for the telescope is at the Nature Center on Staring Lake, where the city boat house now stands. That would position the telescope on the north side of the lake, away from the lights of both the city's Town Center area and the Nature Center's parking lot.

"At that point, you have a clear picture of a great deal of the southern sky," Lotthammer said. It's the location the Outdoor Center uses now for portable telescope demonstrations, he said.

The lake site would be an expensive site to build on because poor soils and proximity to the water would require deep anchoring with piles topped by poured concrete, according to Buetow and Associates Inc. of St. Paul, which estimated costs for the city. "The base that the telescope sits on must be stable since the structure will not be heated and will be susceptible to frost heave," the firm said.

The boat house on the site is old and dilapidated and should be torn down, even if the telescope doesn't go there, Lotthammer said. The telescope -- which has an estimated resale value of $5,000 to $10,000 -- is now in pieces in storage.

The astronomical society, a club of about 400 amateur astronomers, acquired the scope from the University of Minnesota Duluth about 30 years ago. Bill Kocken, secretary of the association, has described it as a professional-level scope that is sturdy but not computerized, as modern scopes are.

Until December 2006, the society used the telescope at the Onan Observatory in Baylor Regional Park in Norwood Young America, where it holds regular star-gazing sessions.

When the group got a new computerized telescope, it donated the old one to Eden Prairie because the city's nature program already includes a once-a-month astronomy program led by one of the society's members, Jon Hickman, who uses his own portable telescope.

Philanthropy and science

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sir Patrick Moore--British amateur astronomer and more

Sir Patrick Moore

Small tribute to one who popularized astronomy in Great Britain and unfortunately programing never was available in the United States--Sir Patrick Moore: 60 books plus on astronomy, deeply involved in radio and television programs on astronomy, was a musician and accomplished xylophone player [Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey].

b3ta interview


SF Site interview

Sir Alfred Patrick Caldwell-Moore

Sir Patrick

Patrick Moore


Patrick Moore

ISBN-10: 075094014X

About eight bucks.

[Oxford was on loan.]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Government and lawyers put suits to rest

Now it will be officially put to rest though I doubt the naysayers will be placated.

"Government Seeks Dismissal of End-of-World Suit Against Collider"


Dennis Overbye

June 27th, 2008

The New York Times

Calling its claims "overly speculative and not credible," and saying that it is too late anyway, lawyers for the federal government argued this week that a so-called "doomsday suit" intended to prevent the startup of a the world’s most powerful particle accelerator should be thrown out of court.

When it begins operations, the collider will smash together subatomic particles at the speed of light in search of new forms of matter and new laws of physics.

In the lawsuit, filed in March in Honolulu district court, Walter Wagner, a retired radiation safety expert who lives in Hawaii, and Luis Sancho, a Spanish science writer, contended that the Large Hadron Collider could create microscopic black holes that could wind up eating the Earth, or other dangerous particles known as strangelets — a sort of contagious dead matter — or so-called magnetic monopoles, which could catalyze the destruction of ordinary matter.

The two men sued the European Center for Nuclear Research, or Cern, which is building the collider outside Geneva, Switzerland, and its American collaborators, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to stop the collider from going into operation until it had been proven safe.

In a barrage of some 40 documents filed the this week, government lawyers argued that the case should be dismissed and that they were entitled to a summary judgement in their favor because the lawsuit is subject to a six-year statute of limitations. The clock started ticking in this regard in 1998 or 1999 when the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy began spending money on the collider, the government lawyers say.

The government's counterattack comes on the heels of a long-awaited safety report issued by Cern physicists last week and approved by an outside panel that concluded there was no danger to the Earth from black holes or anything else that might come out of the collider. Everything that could happen in the collider has already happened millions of times over due to cosmic rays, the physicists said.

"There is no basis for any concerns about the consequences of new particles or forms of matter that could possibly be produced by the LHC," the report said.

Citing this and a previous safety report in 2002, the government argued that the plaintiffs, Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sancho, had no standing because they could not demonstrate any credible injury. "Scientifically," the brief says, "there is no basis for any conceivable threat that Plaintiffs have theoretically envisaged, such as strangelets, black holes, and magnetic monopoles."

This is not the first time, as the government noted, that Mr. Wagner has forecast the apocalypse. In 1999 and 2000, he sued to stop the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or Rhic, at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island using the same arguments, which were found to be "speculative." Those cases were dismissed.

"This court should similarly reject Plaintiffs' challenges for the pure speculation they are and dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against Federal Defendants," the government said this week.

The lawyers also argued that even if Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sancho won, it would do them no good because the American share of the collider’s $8 billion cost — some $531 million — has now all been spent. Indeed, on Wednesday, June 25, Raymond Orbach, under secretary for science at the Department of Energy, issued a formal proclamation that the U.S. construction effort had been completed.

Although the U.S. continues to spend some money to support the experiments that will sift and analyze the products of these subatomic collisions, the machine will start up this fall with or without American participation.

In a deposition filed along with the government brief, Bruce P. Strauss, associate program manager for the collider at the Dept. of Energy, said, "If U.S. scientists were pulled back from the LHC today, this would have no impact on CERN’s start of LHC operations."

He added that important discoveries could be made almost immediately once the collider started up. "If U.S. physicists were enjoined from participating in experiments during that period, the U.S. would miss the early scientific benefits of its $531 million investment in the LHC." Of course, Cern, being a European organization based in Geneva, is outside the jurisdiction of a court in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, the government also argues, Fermilab should be let off the hook. It cannot be sued, they said, because it is not a legal entity, not an agency of a corporation. It is "simply a collection of physical asssets (such as scientific equipment and buildings)" owned by the Department of Energy, which approves and pays for all the operations there, according to an affidavit from Joanna M. Livengood, the department’s site manager there.

According to Andrew Ames, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, the court set the date of Sept. 2 for on the government’s motions, which means both sides will be producing more briefs and depositions in the next two months.

Mr. Wagner said by e-mail that he plans to fight on. "I believe the Complaint does state a valid case," he said, referring to his lawsuit.

Among other things, he said, he and Mr. Sancho will be filing affidavits saying that the safety report is flawed and incomplete, that Fermilab really is a legal entity, and that the U.S. agencies still have "obligations to Cern."

"Fear and trembling"...of the unknown

"God particle"/Higgs boson--knowledge of the universe

I have not and will not post a counter statement from one individual for the links will not function, but in all fairness there are those that are most perturbed about the LHC and it appears that the spokesperson for the movement is JTankers whose website is here .

If you are interested:


The LHC is an opportunity to make a change. By thinking, and speaking publicly, about fundamental concepts that underlie physical theory, the physicist may both accrue public interest in his work and contribute to the analysis of the foundations of modern physics. We start by several remarks on the scientific and societal context of today’s theoretical physics. Major classes of models for physics to be explored at the LHC are then reviewed. This leads us to propose an LHC timeline and a list of potential effects on theoretical physics and the society.

We then explore three conceptual questions connected with the LHC physics. These are placed in the context of debates both in high-energy physics and in the philosophy of physics. Symmetry is the first issue: we critically review the argument for its a priori and instrumental functions in physical theory and study its connection with naturalness. If perceived as a dynamical process in analogy with non-unitary measurement in quantum mechanics, spontaneous symmetry breaking is found to emphasize the role of randomness against physical law. Contrary to this cosmological
view, the strictly non-dynamical role of spontaneous symmetry breaking within quantum field theory provides one of the strongest arguments in favour of the instrumental approach to symmetry. Second, we study the concept of effective field theory and its philosophical significance. Analogy with S-matrix suggests that one should treat effective theory both as a pragmatic and a provisional tool. Finally, we question the meaning of fine tuning. Legitimate fine-tuning arguments are interpreted nonontologically.

These are contrasted with unsound use of fine tuning, e.g., for comparing different models. Counterfactual reasoning referring to the anthropic principle is shown to be problematic both conceptually and in the light of quantum theory.

On the eve of the LHC: conceptual questions in high-energy physics

The last word...

June 28th, 2008

Could hadron collider devour the Earth?

Particle colliders creating black holes that could devour the Earth. Sounds like a great Hollywood script. But, according to UC Santa Barbara Physics Professor Steve Giddings, it's pure fiction.

Giddings has co-authored a paper, "Astrophysical implications of hypothetical stable TeV-scale black holes," that has been accepted for publication in an upcoming edition of the peer-reviewed journal Physical Review D, documenting his study of the safety of microscopic black holes that might possibly be produced by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is nearing completion in Europe. The paper, co-authored by Michelangelo Mangano of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), which is building the world's largest particle collider, investigates hypothesized behavior of tiny black holes that might be created by high-energy collisions in the CERN particle accelerator.

If they appear at all, these black holes would exist for "about a nano-nano-nanosecond," Giddings said, adding that they would have no effect of consequence. However, the paper studies whether there could be any large-scale effects in an extremely hypothetical situation where the black holes don't evaporate.

The Giddings/Mangano study concludes that such microscopic black holes would be harmless. In fact, he added, nature is continuously creating LHC-like collisions when much higher-energy cosmic rays collide with the Earth's atmosphere, with the Sun, and with other objects such as white dwarfs and neutron stars. If such collisions posed a danger, the consequences for Earth or these astronomical objects would have become evident already, Giddings said.

"The future health of our planet and the safety of its people are of paramount concern to us all," Giddings said. "There were already very strong physics arguments that there is no risk from hypothetical micro black holes, and we've provided additional arguments ruling out risk even under very bizarre hypotheses."

The LHC, near Geneva, Switzerland, is expected to begin operations this summer. It
will collide proton beams at levels of energy never before produced in a particle accelerator. Those results will then be studied for clues to new forces of nature, and possibly even extra dimensions of space. The first collision of beams is likely to be in September. The $8 billion project has taken 14 years.

Two men have filed a federal lawsuit in Hawaii in an attempt to halt the LHC due to their concerns about the safety of black holes. Giddings' study has been cited by CERN as evidence of the safety of the LHC.

Giddings is a recognized expert in high-energy and gravitational physics. In 2001, he coauthored the first paper investigating black hole production at the LHC and he has authored many other papers on the subject, including an article for Scientific American. Mangano is also recognized as an expert in high-energy physics and, in particular, hadron collisions. This project, Giddings said, greatly benefited from contributions and advice of other members of UCSB's top-rated Physics Department.

Source: University of California - Santa Barbara

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Neil deGrasse Tyson..."NOVA scienceNow"--2nd season

Neil deGrasse Tyson
[cool jacket]

Since the death of Carl Sagan, a vacuum was left when it came to popularizing science, but there are new individuals on the horizon. There is Brian Greene and now Neil deGrasse Tyson [Astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, New York City] who hosted NOVA's four part "Origins". Like Greene, Tyson is quite qualified academically and has a fine smooth persona of presentation. His on camera presentations are flawless and professional and avoid the pedantic. The "voice overs" are clear and carry the pipes of a professional radio personality/announcer. Neither Greene nor Tyson, as of yet, has achieved the status of "charm" that Sagan had, but they nevertheless do a fine job in popularizing science. Tyson's recent venture has been PBS's "NOVA scienceNow" beginning it's second season this evening on most PBS stations. Take a look.

"NOVA scienceNow"

Neil deGrasse Tyson's home page with biography and selected papers

Two "Cybercity" audio interviews with Jack Landman

As Neil Tyson said about "Origins":

"Origins" "Is the attempt to bring to the public, really for the very first time, a synthesis of all the branches of science that have relevance to answering the question, 'What is the origin of our place in the cosmos?'"

NOVA's "Origins":

Episode One: "Earth is Born"
Episode Two: "How Life Began"
Episode Three: "Where Are the Aliens?"
Episode Four: "Back to the Beginning"


NOVA's "Origins" home page is full of cool things to do and read:


Michael Shermer--comments on "reductionism"

A good essay on why, in part, "reductionism" in physics fails.

"Sacred Science: Using Faith to Explain Anomalies in Physics"

Can emergence break the spell of reductionism and put spirituality back into nature?


Michael Shermer

June 24th, 2008

Scientific American

In the early 17th century a demon was loosed on the world by Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei when he began swinging pendulums, rolling balls down ramps and observing the moons of Jupiter—all with an aim toward discovering regularities that could be codified into laws of nature.

So successful was this mechanical worldview that by the early 19th century French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace was able to "imagine an Intelligence who would know at a given instant of time all forces acting in nature and the position of all things of which the world consists.... Then it could derive a result that would embrace in one and the same formula the motion of the largest bodies in the universe and of the lightest atoms. Nothing would be uncertain for this Intelligence."

By the early 20th century science undertook to become Laplace’s demon. It cast a wide "causal net" linking effects to causes throughout the past and into the future and sought to explain all complex phenomena by reducing them into their simpler component parts. Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg captured this philosophy of reductionism poignantly: "All the explanatory arrows point downward, from societies to people, to organs, to cells, to biochemistry, to chemistry, and ultimately to physics." In such an all-encompassing and fully explicable cosmos, then, what place for God?

Stuart Kauffman has an answer: naturalize the deity. In his new book, Reinventing the Sacred (Basic Books, 2008), Kauffman—founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary in Alberta and one of the pioneers of complexity theory—reverses the reductionist's causal arrow with a comprehensive theory of emergence and self-organization that he says "breaks no laws of physics" and yet cannot be explained by them. God "is our chosen name for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe, biosphere and human cultures," Kauffman declares.

In Kauffman's emergent universe, reductionism is not wrong so much as incomplete. It has done much of the heavy lifting in the history of science, but reductionism cannot explain a host of as yet unsolved mysteries, such as the origin of life, the biosphere, consciousness, evolution, ethics and economics. How would a reductionist explain the biosphere, for example? "One approach would be, following Newton, to write down the equations for the evolution of the biosphere and solve them. This cannot be done," Kauffman avers. "We cannot say ahead of time what novel functionalities will arise in the biosphere. Thus we do not know what variables—lungs, wings, etc.—to put into our equations. The Newtonian scientific framework where we can prestate the variables, the laws among the variables, and the initial and boundary conditions, and then compute the forward behavior of the system, cannot help us predict future states of the biosphere."

This problem is not merely an epistemological matter of computing power, Kauffman cautions; it is an ontological problem of different causes at different levels. Something wholly new emerges at these higher levels of complexity.

Similar ontological differences exist in the self-organized emergence of consciousness, morality and the economy. In my recent book, The Mind of the Market (Times Books, 2008), I show how economics and evolution are complex adaptive systems that learn and grow as they evolve from simple to complex and how they are autocatalytic, or containing self-driving feedback loops. It was therefore gratifying to find corroboration in Kauffman’s detailed explication of why such phenomena "cannot be deduced from physics, have causal powers of their own, and therefore are emergent real entities in the universe." This creative process of emergence, Kauffman contends, "is so stunning, so overwhelming, so worthy of awe, gratitude and respect, that it is God enough for many of us. God, a fully natural God, is the very creativity in the universe."

I have spent time with Stu Kauffman at two of the most sacred places on earth: Cortona, Italy (under the Tuscan sun), and Esalen, Calif. (above the Pacific Ocean), at conferences on the intersection of science and religion. He is one of the most spiritual scientists I know, a man of inestimable warmth and ecumenical tolerance, and his God 2.0 is a deity worthy of worship. But I am skeptical that it will displace God 1.0, Yahweh, whose Bronze Age program has been running for 6,000 years on the software of our brains and culture.

"Science, Knowledge, Wisdom, Life"

Scientific Method out the window?

Species "Truths"

Theoretical physics...philosophy/sci-fi?

Why study physics?

Nuclear waste

Perhaps the political proponents, like John McCain, and those that believe that nuclear power plants [fission] are part of the answer to the American energy issues should take some time and read the following free book.

"Italians have not been able to protect Renaissance art treasures for even as long as one thousand years. Egyptians have not been able to protect the tombs of the Pharaohs for even as long as four thousand years, and some of the graves were looted within centuries. Yet, we in this generation have an obligation to protect our nuclear wastes for more than ten thousand years—a period longer than recorded history.

It is ironic that we have been civilized for only about 10,000 years, yet we face the task of protecting high-level radwastes, a dangerous and "massive source of potentially valuable energy," in perpetuity. We face the task of storing radionuclides such as plutonium, which has a half-life of 24,000 years, but remains dangerous for more than 250,000 years. We have been separated from the apes for only about 5 million years, yet we face the task of safeguarding iodine-129, which has a half-life of 16 million years but remains dangerous for more than 160 million years. We in the United States have been a nation for only about 200 years, yet we face the task of storing technetium-99 having a half-life of 200,000 years. Given the short span of our experience in handling these materials, how can we deal adequately with long-lived radioactive waste?"

Burying Uncertainty: Risk and the Case against Geological Disposal of Nuclear Waste


K. S. Shrader-Frechette

Go to...

Emilio Gino Segrè--early atomic physics

Emilio Gino Segrè
February 1st, 1905 to April 22nd, 1989

One of those physicists of relative unknown status during the infancy of atomic physics. He is credited with the discovery of the first artificially synthesized chemical element not occurring in nature--technetium as well as astatine and plutonium-239. And along with Owen Chamberlain discovered antiprotons.


Emilio Gino Segrè's online autobiography book:

Emilio Gino Segrè's autobiography

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Odysseus and the 1178 B.C. total solar eclipse

I suppose the hardcore academics will be slow in accepting some highly probably relevant astronomical data involving Homer's Odysseus.

"Homecoming of Odysseus May Have Been in Eclipse"


John Noble Wilford

June 24th, 2008

The New York Times

That Odysseus took his time, 19 years, getting home to Ithaca from the Trojan War is the story Homer engraved in the "Odyssey." But exactly when did he rejoin his Penelope, who had been patient beyond belief?

Plutarch thought a crucial passage in the 20th book of the "Odyssey" to be a poetic description of a total solar eclipse at the time of Odysseus' return. A century ago, astronomers calculated that such an eclipse occurred over the Greek islands on April 16, 1178 B.C., the only one in the region around the estimated date of the sack of Troy. But nearly all classics scholars are highly skeptical of any connection.

An analysis of astronomical references in the epic has led two scientists to conclude that the homecoming of Odysseus, usually considered a fictional character set in the context of a real historical event, possibly coincided with the 1178 solar eclipse. If, that is, Homer indeed had in mind an eclipse when he wrote of a seer prophesying the death of Penelope's waiting suitors and their entrance into Hades.

The new interpretation of the eclipse hypothesis is reported in this week's issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Constantino Baikouzis and Marcelo O. Magnasco, scientists at the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at Rockefeller University in New York and at the Astronomical Observatory of La Plata, in Argentina.

They concede that scholars of Homer are still not likely to give much credence to the idea. But it makes for an intriguing story, one that the blind bard, a mystery himself, would have appreciated.

Although an eclipse is not mentioned anywhere in the story, there are omens and what Plutarch inferred was a poetic description of a total solar eclipse. Odysseus has arrived home, disguised in beggar’s rags and in hiding before revealing himself. It happens that, when Penelope’s persistent suitors sit down for a noontime meal, they start laughing uncontrollably and see their food spattered with blood.

At this strange moment, the seer Theoclymenus foretells their death, ending with the sentence, "The Sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky darkness invades the world."

There are reasons to think that the darkness of a total eclipse had just fallen on Ithaca. It was close to noon when the 1178 eclipse occurred over the Ionian Sea. It was, as mentioned several times in the story, at the time of a new moon, which the scientists point out is "a necessary condition for a solar eclipse." And what better atmospherics to accompany a prophecy of doom than a total eclipse, which was considered an ill omen?

Experts on Homer have previously discounted such conjecture. For one thing, the earliest verified eclipse records are in the eighth century B.C., about the time Homer was writing but long after the action in what is known as the Trojan War, around the early 12th century B.C. Scholars say there is no evidence supporting a view at the time, widely quoted, that "a solar eclipse may mark the return of Odysseus."

In their report, Dr. Baikouzis and Dr. Magnasco acknowledged the speculative nature of their study, several times throwing in their own caveats. "The notion that the passage could refer not just to an allegorical eclipse used by the poet for literary effect but actually to a specific historical one," they agreed, "seems unlikely because it would entail the transmission through oral tradition of information about an eclipse occurring maybe five centuries before the poem was cast in the form we know today."

The two scientists derived a possible chronology from astronomical references in the story, including the stars by which Odysseus navigated, the sighting of Venus just before dawn as he arrives at Ithaca, and the new moon on the night before the massacre of the suitors and the presumed eclipse.

On the basis of their analysis, the scientists said, these three "references 'cohere,' in the sense that the astronomical phenomena pinpoint the date of 16 April 1178 B.C.," adding, "The odds that purely fictional references to these phenomena (so hard to satisfy simultaneously) would coincide by accident with the only eclipse of the century are minute."

Scientific Method out the window?

Really? I don't think so. This is a rigid interpretation that all epistemology emanates from scientific investigation. There is room for supplemental interpretations and a genuine humbleness that all epistemology is not a function of scientific investigations.

"But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. Consider physics: Newtonian models were crude approximations of the truth (wrong at the atomic level, but still useful). A hundred years ago, statistically based quantum mechanics offered a better picture — but quantum mechanics is yet another model, and as such it, too, is flawed, no doubt a caricature of a more complex underlying reality. The reason physics has drifted into theoretical speculation about n-dimensional grand unified models over the past few decades (the "beautiful story" phase of a discipline starved of data) is that we don't know how to run the experiments that would falsify the hypotheses — the energies are too high, the accelerators too expensive, and so on."

This Popperian conclusion "...we don't know how to run the experiments that would falsify the hypotheses" is shallow in perspective in that there is the underlying assumption that all epistemology is scientific based. It futhermore excludes the possibility that ultimate universal epistemology [via scientific methodology] may be impossible of human quantification and comprhension...a species liability where the physical brain is inadequate or unable to design and execute instruments that can quantify physical events.

"The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete"


Chris Anderson

June 24th, 2008

Wired Magazine

"All models are wrong, but some are useful."

So proclaimed statistician George Box 30 years ago, and he was right. But what choice did we have? Only models, from cosmological equations to theories of human behavior, seemed to be able to consistently, if imperfectly, explain the world around us. Until now. Today companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, don't have to settle for wrong models. Indeed, they don't have to settle for models at all.

Sixty years ago, digital computers made information readable. Twenty years ago, the Internet made it reachable. Ten years ago, the first search engine crawlers made it a single database. Now Google and like-minded companies are sifting through the most measured age in history, treating this massive corpus as a laboratory of the human condition. They are the children of the Petabyte Age.

The Petabyte Age is different because more is different. Kilobytes were stored on floppy disks. Megabytes were stored on hard disks. Terabytes were stored in disk arrays. Petabytes are stored in the cloud. As we moved along that progression, we went from the folder analogy to the file cabinet analogy to the library analogy to — well, at petabytes we ran out of organizational analogies.

At the petabyte scale, information is not a matter of simple three- and four-dimensional taxonomy and order but of dimensionally agnostic statistics. It calls for an entirely different approach, one that requires us to lose the tether of data as something that can be visualized in its totality. It forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later. For instance, Google conquered the advertising world with nothing more than applied mathematics. It didn't pretend to know anything about the culture and conventions of advertising — it just assumed that better data, with better analytical tools, would win the day. And Google was right.

Google's founding philosophy is that we don't know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that's good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required. That's why Google can translate languages without actually "knowing" them (given equal corpus data, Google can translate Klingon into Farsi as easily as it can translate French into German). And why it can match ads to content without any knowledge or assumptions about the ads or the content.

Speaking at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this past March, Peter Norvig, Google's research director, offered an update to George Box's maxim: "All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them."

This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.

The big target here isn't advertising, though. It's science. The scientific method is built around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years.

Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence. Data without a model is just noise.

But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. Consider physics: Newtonian models were crude approximations of the truth (wrong at the atomic level, but still useful). A hundred years ago, statistically based quantum mechanics offered a better picture — but quantum mechanics is yet another model, and as such it, too, is flawed, no doubt a caricature of a more complex underlying reality. The reason physics has drifted into theoretical speculation about n-dimensional grand unified models over the past few decades (the "beautiful story" phase of a discipline starved of data) is that we don't know how to run the experiments that would falsify the hypotheses — the energies are too high, the accelerators too expensive, and so on.

Now biology is heading in the same direction. The models we were taught in school about "dominant" and "recessive" genes steering a strictly Mendelian process have turned out to be an even greater simplification of reality than Newton's laws. The discovery of gene-protein interactions and other aspects of epigenetics has challenged the view of DNA as destiny and even introduced evidence that environment can influence inheritable traits, something once considered a genetic impossibility.

In short, the more we learn about biology, the further we find ourselves from a model that can explain it.

There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.

The best practical example of this is the shotgun gene sequencing by J. Craig Venter. Enabled by high-speed sequencers and supercomputers that statistically analyze the data they produce, Venter went from sequencing individual organisms to sequencing entire ecosystems. In 2003, he started sequencing much of the ocean, retracing the voyage of Captain Cook. And in 2005 he started sequencing the air. In the process, he discovered thousands of previously unknown species of bacteria and other life-forms.

If the words "discover a new species" call to mind Darwin and drawings of finches, you may be stuck in the old way of doing science. Venter can tell you almost nothing about the species he found. He doesn't know what they look like, how they live, or much of anything else about their morphology. He doesn't even have their entire genome. All he has is a statistical blip — a unique sequence that, being unlike any other sequence in the database, must represent a new species.

This sequence may correlate with other sequences that resemble those of species we do know more about. In that case, Venter can make some guesses about the animals — that they convert sunlight into energy in a particular way, or that they descended from a common ancestor. But besides that, he has no better model of this species than Google has of your MySpace page. It's just data. By analyzing it with Google-quality computing resources, though, Venter has advanced biology more than anyone else of his generation.

This kind of thinking is poised to go mainstream. In February, the National Science Foundation announced the Cluster Exploratory, a program that funds research designed to run on a large-scale distributed computing platform developed by Google and IBM in conjunction with six pilot universities. The cluster will consist of 1,600 processors, several terabytes of memory, and hundreds of terabytes of storage, along with the software, including Google File System, IBM's Tivoli, and an open source version of Google's MapReduce. Early CluE projects will include simulations of the brain and the nervous system and other biological research that lies somewhere between wetware and software.

Learning to use a "computer" of this scale may be challenging. But the opportunity is great: The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.

There's no reason to cling to our old ways. It's time to ask: What can science learn from Google?