Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Friday, June 30, 2006

The trouble with George W.

By Aussiegirl

This is an outstanding article by J. Peter Mulhern that appeared a couple of days ago in the American Thinker. It's probably the best piece of writing summarizing the entire situation with George W. and the war on terror that I have read in all these years. It's clear, concise, and precise, with a brilliant theme that clarifies the problem and is carried throughout the entire piece, helping us to view the situation in a new light.

Indeed, this is precisely what we have been grappling with and attempting to put into words when it comes to defining the trouble with George W.

As the author says, Bush is a captive of conventional wisdom. You can call it whatever you like, but his need to get approval from the other side has been his downfall all along. That's where Ronald Reagan stands alone -- he marched to his own drummer. We now have accomodating, vaccilating bureaucrats eager to please all sides and disappointing everyone as a result.

The author rightly calls Bush to task on the ridiculous "bring them to justice" mantra. I get sick every time I hear that -- as if he's some sheriff who's going to bring in a few pesky outlaws who are stinking up the town.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the president holds Ramadan dinners in the White House and instructs that huge mosques be built at Quantico.

Yes, unfortunately George W.'s background makes him think that the world can be run like a gentleman's club, where opposition can be publicly espoused but back-room deals in (formerly) smoky rooms take place with lots of back-slapping and hand-shaking. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with the UN and the Islamists, you get nothing but back-stabbing in those smoky back rooms, while the Islamists and one-worlders glad-hand the administration and pledge to be good boys next time.

It doesn't help that Bush's family is heavily into oil, and so they have deep social and friendship and business ties with the sheiks and millionaire tyrants of the ME.

This conventional wisdom that holds that we can cooperate with the left and the media and get them to like us and consider us "worthy" of their attention is also where I part company with the many conservatives among us (notably men) who go out of their way to publicly rebuke and berate people like Ann Coulter, without having even bothered to read her book. They are so desperate to be considered legitimate (by whom, is the operative word) that they gladly throw their own to the wolves to prove their "bona-fides" as players who don't take sides but condemn right and left equally. I suspect that those who feel this way secretly are ashamed of being conservatives or are vaguely uncomfortable with conservatism because in some way they have internalized the caricature of ignorance that has been foisted on us by the liberal and mainstream media.

You have to be unashamed and unafraid when you know you are right. And I might add -- it is women in so many parts of the world that are standing unafraid against society and oppression -- think of it -- Oriana Falacci in Italy, Brigitte Bardot in France, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ayan Hirsi Ali in Holland (and now the U.S.) -- and in our own country we have Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Phyllis Schlafly and yes -- in her own way, Peggy Noonan, who dare to buck conventional wisdom and tell it like it is.

It seems that it is women who are finally standing up on their own and demanding justice and speaking the truth -- after failing to get men to start acting like men in this country, and around the world, and to do the job that nature intended for them -- defending their family and their country and their honor. I will have more to say about the role of women and dissent in a future post.

To take this idea of male-female roles a bit further, we might look at the fact that Bush is surrounded by many powerful women, but unfortunately the lesson he seems to have learned is to attempt to please in order to get along rather than stand up for himself. (Although I would argue that his alcoholism as a youth was a passive method of being rebellious and bucking authority -- also his fraternity misbehavior that seemed to characterize his early years.) Similarly, his patrician upbringing has also led to his passive inaction on many fronts, with George the Elder always cautioning restraint and gentlemanly courtliness over tough action.

Ronald Reagan had Nancy, and the little world they occupied together, but I don't for a minute think he was cowed by her in any way. But Reagan did not strike me as an "old boys network" type of man. I couldn't picture him as a "frat boy" type -- while we know that this has been the template of George W.'s life. Reagan was an individualist, and perhaps one of the last true Americans in public life. He walked to his own drummer, he listened to his own inner voice, he disdained and was simply unconcerned with public approval or mainstream thinking. He knew his own mind. He was the quintessential individualistic American. He came from simple, small-town origins, he was self-made, internally guided, and had a deep and abiding love and belief in the American dream, and a distrust of the back room and the old boys network. And against all odds, he prevailed and rose into the sunshine to lead our nation out of a time of malaise and seeming inevitable decline. We shall not see his like again, and there's the real danger.

I wonder if there are still individual thinkers among us. The "conventional wisdom", which can also be called the all-encompassing and prevalent concept of political correctness, has seeped into our very veins, and most people are afraid of bucking this "conventional wisdom", and are afraid of sticking their necks out. We have become a conformist society, slapped down as we are at every turn by a nanny press that tut-tuts every time someone (other than a democrat) says a cross word. And the right has fallen right into the trap. We have been conditioned into acquiescence by the relentless barrage of humiliation and public abuse that is heaped on those who transgress and deny the holy writ of leftist cant. It is what happened in Chinese communist culture, with those public shamings -- only we have a press that does if for us without any government edict. And those who cannot take the relentless abuse get gunshy and start to duck and weave, appeasing and accomodating at every turn to avoid the coming inevitable blow, like an abused spouse who has lost all ability to fight back, or the abused child, that is beaten into submission and fear.

We have become tamed. Or at least the political classes have become tamed. Only the American people as a whole have not been tamed. That is why we see the outrage over illegal immigration from the average American, who still has his individuality and his pride about him, while from the political and nattering classes all we get are mealy-mouthed words of accomodation and compromise and "can't we all just get along".

Our only hope to survive as a culture and as a civilization is for the true Americans to take back their country from the hacks that have stolen our heritage. As much as we hate it, as much as we are disgusted by it, we cannot abandon the political process. We must get out and attempt to wrest control of our party back from the Rockefeller wing of the sell-out Republicans who currently occupy the seats of power. Reagan did it - they tried to thwart him and did on several occasions. But he kept on coming back. The trick is to find that Reagan out there -- the one true American politician that will still stand for what makes this country great -- and who's not afraid to fight for it! I hope it's not too late.


At 1:19 AM, verity said...
Great post, Aussiegirl, I agree with much of what you have said.
Mulhern's article is an important one, and he is on target for the most part.
The problem with most of our 'respectable' Republican leaders is that they embrace a liberal worldview, when you come right down to it; they may posture as 'conservatives' but they share many if not most of the presuppositions which shape the liberal mind. For example, the idea that 'people are all the same' drives the rationale behind the attempted democratizing of Iraq.
Many of our pundits as well as politicians believe the liberal platitude that 'everybody wants freedom' which in a vague sense is true, but they refuse to see that people are not all the same; 'freedom' has a very different meaning to a Moslem than to a Western Christian or to a Western secular liberal or to an Asian Buddhist. All peoples and cultures are not the same; whether this is a product simply of culture or of genetics or some combination thereof, the fact is, there are differences, and only liberals insist on denying those differences.
The fact is liberalism constitutes much of the 'conventional wisdom' as you imply, and the political debate in our country has moved so far leftward that even Republicans and so-called 'conservatives' embrace the liberal faith to some extent, possibly without even realizing it. One way to verify this is to read the writings of conservatives of a generation or two ago, examine the beliefs and tenets they held, and compare them to what passes as 'conservatism' today. Some will argue, in response, that we have 'learned' since then, that the 'world has changed, and we have to change with it' -- yet those arguments in themselves are essentially liberal. Liberals believe that we are by definition more 'advanced' and 'enlightened' than past generations, and that change is by definition good and desirable. True conservatives, by contrast, would seek to preserve the wisdom of the past and to act as a brake on the innovation and rebellion of the liberals. Too many Republicans have renounced conservatism in favor of liberalism lite. This is the essence of the problem with our party leaders; they are not leading but following the Gramscian march to the left. We need a return to the traditional constitutional tenets of conservatism; we don't need two parties which are just left-leaning vs. right-leaning liberals. Both these groups are willing to compromise our sovereignty and our country in the name of ideology.

At 11:57 AM, Timothy Birdnow said...
Great piece, Aussiegirl!

Your point about how women are often the ones fighting for freedom around the world makes good sense; women, as the nucleus of the family, bear the brunt of the suffering imposed by tyranny and leftist dogma, while men-especially the emasculated, irresponsible, disassociated types favored by leftists the world over-can walk away from the mess. A woman with children has to face what is happening and fight against threats to her family. I think many women are realizing the bankruptcy of liberalism, and are starting to take action, while too many men are trying to be popular.

Bush epitomizes this; his ``new tone`` is a ``big man on campus`` strategy designed to get him elected to the student government, not a serious policy. He doesn`t understand that his political enemies will hate him, and, in the current climate, stab him in the back no matter what he does. Even the security of the Nation plays second fiddle to politics in the current era (because the left has found themselves on the outside looking in) and Bush`s ``new tone`` is more of a new tomb for him.

Great piece!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Church of Darwin -- or -- where mind meets matter

Ruminations on Al Gore, the nature of God, politics, science and consciousness
By Aussiegirl

I don't know about anybody else, but I'm sick of politics lately, and so I find myself returning to the verities of science. Here at last, I think, I can shelter in objective truth and reason and find reality. But even here I find that politics is intruding, in this case the politics of the left and the Rt. Rev. Al Gore, Archbishop of the First Church of the Boiling Globe. (And then there's stem cell research, and we start slip-sliding down the slippery slope.)

But what is this politics that is interjecting itself into the supposedly pure realms of science if not the new religion? Yes, political correctness is nothing more than the catechism of the left, the orthodoxies and strictures of which may not be breached without wholesale inquisitions and excommunications. Only now in place of the Holy Roman Inquisition we have Al Gore and the militant environmentalists enforcing their doctrine as holy writ upon society at large. Why, it occurs to me that the new religion even has the doctrine of indulgences. You remember those, they ultimately led to the Reformation and the nailing of those pesky theses on the cathedral door. You could sin all you wanted, and then buy your way out of hell or purgatory.

Well, the First Church of the Boiling Globe has its own doctrine of indulgences -- it's called "carbon neutrality". That's right -- that's what allows Al Gore to fly around in private corporate jets and drive his limousine the two blocks to the Cannes Film Festival without guilt or without contributing to Global Warming, because -- according to the Rev. Al -- he's carbon neutral. He saves so much carbon by driving a fuel efficient car (when he's not in that limousine), and other (unspecified) environmentally correct methods that he is entitled to waste thousands of gallons of precious and polluting jet fuel to fly all over that boiling globe. On a larger scale, countries and industries can also purchase indulgences -- they trade "carbon points" with one another as long as the net effect is "carbon neutral".

Obviously this religion has Darwinism as its foundation and core belief. Fine. I have no quarrel with evolution, as far as it goes. Obviously the fossil record shows that life on earth evolved from the simplest life forms to increasingly complex ones, culminating in the vastly and startingly different species of homo sapiens, who has been able through his reason and intelligence to rise up from the primordial goo and discover the very secrets of the universe from which he rose. Pretty
good for a piece of protoplasm that is the product of blind chance.

But let me get this straight. Life sprang up from dead matter -- right? OK -- I'll concede that, although no one has yet been able to replicate anything even close in the lab -- somehow it did -- that's for certain. Then as this life became more complex it became conscious -- are we still together? We are aware -- so are animals. There is a "there" in there -- or in here -- that looks out at the world and perceives the world -- and also perceives itself -- as separate from the world. It appears that there was a time when it wasn't there -- but now it is.

So -- where did this consciousness come from? Is it a natural byproduct of the minerals and amino acids and basic elements that our bodies are made of? If so, it would seem to me that consciousness must be inherent in the universe -- no? Otherwise where did it come from? If we are conscious (I assume we agree on that), then we must assume the universe has as its ground and at its fundemental core somewhere a universal consciousness from which we spring. How is this incompatible with a belief in God, for want of a better word?

You know, I think there is a fundamental problem that people who are materialists have with the word "God". To them "God" implies a sort of super person sitting up there somewhere on a throne -- a bearded gentleman who is either benign, or uninvolved, or vengeful, or just plain mean and stupid, but some guy who sort of runs things and tunes up the universe from time to time from behind the curtain. And of course this concept seems kind of silly. In the Orthodox church we approach the concept of God in an apophatic way -- that is we cannot ever say what God IS -- but we approach him in a roundabout way, by what he is not. Quoting from a book about the theology of the Orthodox Church written by Bishop Kallistos Ware:

"Because God cannot be properly comprehended by the human mind, all language that is applied to Him is inexact. It is therefore less misleading to use negative language about God, rather than positive -- to refuse to say what God is and to state simply what he is not."

So, I'm just thinking out loud. If we are conscious -- and we evolved from a dead material universe -- then consciousness must be implicit in that universe somewhere. We are a reflection and a small bit of that universal consciousness. And whatever is the ground of this consciousness -- is God -- or call it what you want. The universe is at some very basic level -- conscious. The materialists among us would deny this. But how do they explain that matter became conscious?

Maybe this is just stupid rumination in a mind gone mad with the futility of politics and politicians. The question might be -- are THEY conscious?

And then I really despair.

A brief history of end times

By Aussiegirl

Just as I thought! There is something universal and innate about the human need to indulge in visions of Armageddon.

(Scroll down to read Wes Pruden's (and my) take on the coming global warming apocalypse according to the church of the Rev. Al Gore.)

Here is a great article from "The Economist" that takes a fascinating look at the history of end-time beliefs.

I've often wondered about this tendency we all seem to have to indulge in visions of doom and impending catastrophe. In some ways I've always thought that these apocalyptic tendencies were rooted in our own intimations of mortality -- our own personal "end of the world".

How much more comforting to think that perhaps we are near the end times anyway, so it's just as well that we will be leaving this world along with everyone else. (Or at least they won't be partying while we are moldering in the grave.)

The end of the article contains these telling words about the environmental movement, even though this article is over 2 years old:

Science treasures its own apocalypses. The modern environmental movement appears to have borrowed only half of the apocalyptic narrative. There is a Garden of Eden (unspoilt nature), a fall (economic development), the usual moral degeneracy (it's all man's fault) and the pressing sense that the world is enjoying its final days (time is running out: please donate now!). So far, however, the green lobby does not appear to have realised it is missing the standard happy ending. Perhaps, until it does, environmentalism is destined to remain in the political margins. Everyone needs redemption.
Even though, no doubt, the modern socially aware environmentalist regards himself as supremely good and governed by nothing less than pure reason and science, his basic world view is nonetheless one of unabashed misanthropy, for he regards all humanity (except himself, of course) as hopelessly evil and depraved and bound to despoil and pollute by his very presence. Indeed, the most extreme form of environmentalism takes this concept to its ultimate conclusion and avers that only the extinction of the human race can save the planet from ruinous pollution and degradation.

At least all other millenarian philosophies offer man the hope of redemption, even in his fallen state. And if you think about it, this tallies with the cult of death that defines modern liberalism, with abortion and euthanasia as sacraments of the holy cause.

The end of the world A brief history Economist.com

Which way to Armageddon?
Why do end-of-time beliefs endure? Social scientists love to set about this question with earnest study of the people who subscribe to such ideas. As part of his investigation into the “apocalyptic genre” in modern America, Paul Boyer of the University of Wisconsin asks why so many of his fellow Americans are “susceptible” to televangelists and other “popularisers”. From time to time, sophisticated Americans indulge the thrillingly terrifying thought that nutty, apocalyptic, born-again Texans are guiding not just conservative social policies at home, but America's agenda in the Middle East as well, as they round up reluctant compatriots for the last battle at Armageddon. (It's a bit south of the Lake of Galilee in the plain of Jezreel.)

Behind these attitudes sits the assumption that apocalyptic thought belongs—or had better belong—to the extremities of human experience. On closer inspection, though, that is by no means true.

Properly, the apocalypse is both an end and a new beginning. In Christian tradition, the world is created perfect. There is then a fall, followed by a long, rather enjoyable (for some) period of moral degeneration. This culminates in a decisive final battle between good (the returned Christ) and evil (the Antichrist). Good wins and establishes the New Jerusalem and with it the 1,000-year reign of King Jesus on Earth.

This is the glorious millennium that millenarians await so eagerly. Millenarians tend to place history at a moment just before the decisive final showdown. The apocalyptic mind looks through the surface reality of the world and sees history's epic, true nature: “apocalypse” comes from the Greek word meaning to uncover, or disclose.

Norman Cohn, a British historian, places the origin of apocalyptic thought with Zoroaster (or Zarathustra), a Persian prophet who probably lived between 1500 and 1200BC. The Vedic Indians, ancient Egyptians and some earlier civilisations had seen history as a cycle, which was for ever returning to its beginning. Zoroaster embellished this tepid plot. He added goodies (Ahura Mazda, the maker and guardian of the ordered world), baddies (the spirit of destruction, Angra Mainyu) and a happy ending (a glorious consummation of order over disorder, known as the “making wonderful”, in which “all things would be made perfect, once and for all”). In due course Zoroaster's theatrical talents came to Christians via the Jews.

This basic drama shapes all apocalyptic thought, from the tenets of tribal cargo cults to the beliefs of UFO sects.

[...]The Raelians' claim to be atheists who belong to the secular world must come as no surprise to Mr Cohn, who has long detected patterns of religious apocalyptic thought in what is supposedly rational, secular belief. He has traced “egalitarian and communistic fantasies” to the ancient-world idea of an ideal state of nature, in which all men are genuinely equal and none is persecuted. As Mr Cohn has put it, “The old religious idiom has been replaced by a secular one, and this tends to obscure what otherwise would be obvious. For it is the simple truth that, stripped of their original supernatural sanction, revolutionary millenarianism and mystical anarchism are with us still.”

It's this or redemptionNicholas Campion, a British historian and astrologer, has expanded on Mr Cohn's ideas. In his book, “The Great Year”, Mr Campion draws parallels between the “scientific” historical materialism of Marx and the religious apocalyptic experience. Thus primitive communism is the Garden of Eden, the emergence of private property and the class system is the fall, the final gasps of capitalism are the last days, the proletariat are the chosen people and the socialist revolution is the second coming and the New Jerusalem.

Hegel saw history as an evolution of ideas that would culminate in the ideal liberal-democratic state. Since liberal democracy satisfies the basic need for recognition that animates political struggle, thought Hegel, its advent heralds a sort of end of history—another suspiciously apocalyptic claim. More recently, Francis Fukuyama has echoed Hegel's theme. Mr Fukuyama began his book, “The End of History”, with a claim that the world had arrived at “the gates of the Promised Land of liberal democracy”. Mr Fukuyama's pulpit oratory suited the spirit of the 1990s, with its transformative “new economy” and free-world triumphs. In the disorientating disconfirmation of September 11th and the coincident stockmarket collapse, however, his religion has lost favour.

The apocalyptic narrative may have helped to start the motor of capitalism. A drama in which the end returns interminably to the beginning leaves little room for the sense of progress which, according to the 19th-century social theories of Max Weber, provides the religious licence for material self-improvement. Without the last days, in other words, the world might never have had 65-inch flat-screen televisions. For that matter, the whole American project has more than a touch of the apocalypse about it. The Pilgrim Fathers thought they had reached the New Israel. The “manifest destiny” of America to spread its providential liberty and self-government throughout the North American continent (not to mention the Middle East) smacks of the millennium and the New Jerusalem.

Science treasures its own apocalypses. The modern environmental movement appears to have borrowed only half of the apocalyptic narrative. There is a Garden of Eden (unspoilt nature), a fall (economic development), the usual moral degeneracy (it's all man's fault) and the pressing sense that the world is enjoying its final days (time is running out: please donate now!). So far, however, the green lobby does not appear to have realised it is missing the standard happy ending. Perhaps, until it does, environmentalism is destined to remain in the political margins. Everyone needs redemption.

Noting an exponential acceleration in the pace of technological change, futurologists like Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil think the world inhabits the “knee of the curve”—a sort of last-days set of circumstances in which, in the near future, the pace of technological change runs quickly away towards an infinite “singularity” as intelligent machines learn to build themselves. From this point, thinks Mr Moravec, transformative “mind fire” will spread in a flash across the cosmos. Britain's astronomer royal, Sir Martin Rees, relegates Mr Kurzweil and those like him to the “visionary fringe”. But Mr Rees's own darkly apocalyptic book, “Our Final Hour”, outdoes the most colourful of America's televangelists in earthquakes, plagues and other sorts of fire and brimstone.

So there you have it. The apocalypse is the locomotive of capitalism, the inspiration for revolutionary socialism, the bedrock of America's manifest destiny and the undeclared religion of all those pseudo-rationalists who, like The Economist, champion the progress of liberal democracy. Perhaps, deep down, there is something inside everyone which yearns for the New Jerusalem, a place where, as a beautiful bit of Revelation puts it:

God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.

Apocalypse soon -- the Gospel according to the First Church of the Boiling Globe

By Aussiegirl

There is nothing that is guaranteed to whip the hapless masses into a hysterical frenzy of repentance and breast-beating (and SUV eschewing) like fire and brimstone rhetoric complete with doomsday apocalyptic prophecies.

The Rev. Al is making use of that seminary degree he almost got by preaching hellfire and damnation RIGHT HERE ON EARTH!!

That's right -- you heard it here -- the liberal faith does not admit of an afterlife, therefore it must have all the attributes of an old time religion here on earth, complete with apocalypse soon.

First of course, Marxists, socialists and others of the sinister persuasion assured us that they had a secret plan to ensure a HEAVEN ON EARTH. You heard me -- right here in River City!

That's right ladies and gentlemen, step right up, the Church of Heaven on Earth is calling you. Simply swallow the pablum and salvation shall be yours!

Now when the acolytes misbehave and worship at the door of the golden calf -- a swift and terrible punishment must be meted out -- "YE SHALL BURN IN FIRES OF HELL AND BE DROWNED IN THE TIDES OF YOUR GREED, UNLESS YE REPENT!", bellows Rev. Al -- and the masses tear their hair and rend their (environmentally sound clothing made from natural fibers without artificial dyes or dangerous chemicals).

Inconvenient truth about global warming�-�Nation/Politics�-�The Washington Times, America's Newspaper

Repent Now! The end is at hand!

A panel of eminent scientists testified yesterday at a congressional hearing on global warming, showing up just short of wearing sandwich boards splashed with warnings of the wrath to come.

They presented a report by the National Academy of Sciences, 155 pages of hysteria and hyperbole, suggesting that the Earth is running a fever and "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming."

The worthies confided that Earth hasn't been this hot in 400 years, and maybe longer, but gave no hint that they understood how they had undermined their practiced hysteria. If the Earth was this hot 400 years ago, or even 4,000 years ago, then the recent warming could not have been caused by the madness of man's machines, the flatulence of cows, or even hot air from professors hot to get their names in the paper.

Their presentation was studded with "likely," "maybe," "could be," and "very close to being right," with assurances that their findings were gleaned from tree rings, coral, glaciers, cave deposits (from bulls?), ocean and lake sediments, bore holes and ice cores.

[...] Recycling and regurgitation was yesterday's order of the day. The panel looked at how other scientists reconstructed temperatures over hundreds and thousands of years. Some of it was educated guessing, since there were few scientific instruments back in that day, and a lot of it was to be taken on faith. Scientists are generally not very hot on faith, but they embrace the global-warming doctrine with the enthusiasm of a backwoods snake handler in the Tennessee mountains. The panelists said the warming over the past 50 years was something no one had seen in a millennium, but conceded that well, umm, OK, it is true that the Earth suffered a "Little Ice Age" for about 350 years after 1500. But hey, who's counting?

Between the year A.D. 1 and the year 1850, volcanos and fluctuations in the heat from the sun were responsible for temperature changes, but these changes were much less pronounced than the warming caused by man-made pollution in the years since the mid-19th century.

This gets to the point of the hysteria. Scientific Man in all his manufactured glory can't bear the thought that he might not, after all, be as powerful as a volcano or a solar flare. How many learned degrees does a volcano have, after all? The idea that forces of the universe greater even than Scientific Man may be responsible for the cyclical changes is unbearable.

Hence "global warming" has become the religion -- the opiate, you might say -- of Scientific Man, a doctrine supported by quackery, supposition and speculation, and as closely held and as ferociously defended as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection at a gathering of devout Christians. You could ask the Rt. Rev. Al Gore, the presiding archbishop of the First Church of the Boiling Globe.

The bishops and monsignors of the church treat dissent harshly, though not yet at the stake. Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes in the Wall Street Journal of the fate of academic dissenters to orthodox doctrine. "[T]here is a sinister side to this feeding frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis."
He recalls how Mr. Gore, as a senator in 1992, tried to bullyrag dissenting scientists. Indeed, it was about this time that Mr. Gore, at a luncheon interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, suggested that we join the fun, too, and even if we printed stuff that wasn't exactly true it would be OK because the cause was just. This is Mr. Gore's "inconvenient truth."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

UPDATE -- Church organs saved from EU threat

By Aussiegirl

Whew, at last a sane conclusion from the EU! You will remember that on March 18th I posted Requiem for church organs, an article that described the peril that English church organs faced from an idiotic EU directive. Well, it looks like common sense has prevailed, at least this time -- until the next idiotic EU directive.

Print Story: Church organs saved from EU threat on Yahoo! News

Church organs saved from EU threat.

Brides and grooms can breathe easy -- they can still walk down the aisle to the strain's of Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba".

The European Commission said on Tuesday it had decided church organs are not covered by a directive that bans the use of hazardous substances, such as lead, which is used to make pipes for organs.

The country's organ industry had feared the worst, arguing that there was no satisfactory substitute for lead which would give the same quality of sound.

Several leading organ scholars warned in a letter to the Times newspaper earlier this year that the directive, aimed at new organs, would "threaten the survival of an industry and a tradition which has been at the heart of Europe's musical culture and liturgical practice for centuries".

The head of the European Commission in London, Reijo Kemppinen, said: "British organ builders need not fear for the future of their art and craft. The European Union has no wish to jeopardise this ancient tradition."

Milky Way's Sister Galaxy Shines in New Portrait

By Aussiegirl

What a beautiful, awe-inspiring photograph! Imagine, this is only one of billions upon billions of galaxies in the universe, all with countless worlds within them!

Here is the description accompanying the photograph: This photograph of the Triangulum galaxy (M33) was taken with the MMT Observatory's new Megacam instrument, a 340-megapixel monster that some have described as a "turbocharged" household digital camera. M33 is a sister galaxy to the Milky Way. It lies about 2.4 million light-years from Earth and spans about twice the diameter of the full moon. Credit: N. Caldwell, B. McLeod, and A. Szentgyorgyi (SAO)

CfA Press Release

Milky Way's Sister Galaxy Shines in New Portrait

Cambridge, MA - Sibling rivalry is alive and well in outer space. The Milky Way galaxy has two sister spirals competing for attention from photographers. The Andromeda galaxy usually wins the contest, posing frequently for cosmic portraits. In this new image from the MMT Observatory's 6.5-meter telescope, the second sister finally gets her due notice. Here, the Triangulum galaxy emerges from the shadows to reveal stunning swirls of stars and dust dotted with brilliant pink nebulae.

The new photograph of the Triangulum galaxy showcases the dazzling capabilities of MMT's new Megacam instrument. Megacam was developed at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Mass., under the direction of astronomer Brian McLeod. This state-of-the-art camera consists of 36 CCD chips, each of which contains 9 million picture elements (pixels), making Megacam one of the largest digital cameras in the world

"Megacam is like a turbocharged household digital camera," said SAO astronomer Nelson Caldwell. "While a typical digital camera might have eight or nine megapixels, Megacam has 340 megapixels."

Caldwell and McLeod picked the Triangulum galaxy to be one of the first objects photographed by Megacam. This galaxy, also known as Messier 33 or M33 for its designation in the catalog compiled by Charles Messier, lies about 2.4 million light-years from Earth. It spans about twice the diameter of the full moon in the night sky. Although large, its light is diffuse, making it a challenging object to spot with the unaided eye. The view of M33 is best in binoculars or small telescopes at low magnification.

Newly formed blue stars and dark dusty patches outline the spiral arms of M33. Pink filaments of hydrogen gas mark regions of active star formation similar to the Milky Way's Orion Nebula. The eye-catching nebula at upper left in this image, designated NGC 604, stretches across an impressive 1,500 light-years and holds more than 200 hot, young stars that light it from within.

The Triangulum galaxy is the smallest of the three spirals in the local neighborhood, holding as much mass as 10-40 billion suns. In comparison, the Milky Way holds about 200 billion suns' worth of normal matter, while Andromeda is even heftier.

"Triangulum is not a colossal giant like the Milky Way or Andromeda," said Caldwell. "But it has a charm and beauty of its own that belies its junior citizen status." [....]

'Mind over matter' no longer science fiction

By Aussiegirl

Nothing is said in this article, which rightly speaks about the marvelous gift such a "mind reader" can be to disabled people, about the possibility that some day this technology could advance to the stage where a machine could be developed that could read the minds of all it came in contact with -- with all the malevolent uses that such a machine could be put to.

'Mind over matter' no longer science fiction

Sitting stone still under a skull cap fitted with a couple dozen electrodes, American scientist Peter Brunner stares at a laptop computer. Without so much as moving a nostril hair, he suddenly begins to compose a message -- letter by letter -- on a giant screen overhead.

"B-O-N-J-O-U-R" he writes with the power of his mind, much to the amazement of the largely French audience of scientists and curious onlookers gathered at the four-day European Research and Innovation Exhibition in Paris, which opened Thursday.

Brunner and two colleagues from the state-financed Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York were demonstrating a "brain computer interface (BCI)," an astounding technology which digitalizes brain signals emitted as electrical impulses -- picked up by the electrodes -- to convey intent.

While no spoons were bent, this was definitely mind over matter.

Without recourse to nerves or muscles, BCI "can provide communication and control to people who are totally paralyzed" and unable to unable to speak or move, explains researcher Theresa Sellers, also from Wadsworth. [....]

Scientists have been experimenting with ways to translate thought directly into action for nearly two decades, but BCI has only recently begun to move out of the laboratory and into the daily lives of those trapped inside bodies that no longer respond to their will.

Possible applications extend beyond the written word into physical movement -- it is only a matter of time, Sellers says, before the same technology is used to operate motorized wheel chairs. "We can do already. But it is a complex problem, and for now it would be unsafe," she says. [....]

The Wadsworth system, one of several that detects electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, is based on an algorithm that analyzes the brain waves and identifies peaks in activity that correspond to particular mental efforts.

As Dr. Brunner concentrates on the "B" of "bonjour" in a keyboard-like grid of letters and symbols taking up half the screen, a computer randomly highlights lines of characters in rapid succession.

Each time the row -- vertical or horizontal -- containing the letter "B" is illuminated, Brunner's brain emits a slightly stronger signal. It takes the computer about 15 seconds to figure out what letter he is looking at. The system is doubly adaptive, with both the software and the person using it becoming more efficient over time.

"It may not sound very practical, but for someone who is paralyzed it can make all the difference in the world," says Sellers. [....]

Supercomputer Takes on a Cosmic Threat

By Aussiegirl

Either one more thing to worry about in the middle of the night -- that an asteroid might smack into us. Or one more thing to be grateful for -- that there are smart scientists sitting around thinking about how to lessen my mid-night worrying.

SPACE.com -- Supercomputer Takes on a Cosmic Threat

Supercomputer Takes on a Cosmic Threat

By Leonard David

A super-powerful computer has simulated what it might take to keep Earth safe from a menacing asteroid.
Researchers have utilized the number-crunching brainpower of Red Storm—a supercomputer at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Red Storm, a Cray XT3 supercomputer, is the first computer to surpass the 1 terabyte-per-second performance mark—a measure that indicates the capacity of a network of processors to communicate with each other when dealing with the most complex situations—in both classified and unclassified realms.

The massively parallel computing simulations have modeled how much explosive power it would take to destroy or sidetrack an asteroid that’s got Earth in its cross-hairs.

For the computer runs, asteroid 6489 Golevka was chosen. Golevka isn’t going to hit the Earth, explained Mark Boslough, a Sandia scientist and asteroid threat analyst. This particular asteroid was used as a "proxy" because solid geometry data about the object existed, he said.

Since its discovery in May 1991 by astronomer Eleanor Helin, asteroid Golevka has been repeatedly radar-scanned. It is roughly .33 mile (one half-kilometer) across, but tips the scales at about 460 billion pounds (210 billion kilograms), according to asteroid experts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The Golevka asteroid has been a particular object of interest since 2003. That’s when NASA scientists discovered its course had changed.

Keeping tabs on Golevka has helped pin down the Yarkovsky Effect—a miniscule amount of force produced as the asteroid absorbs energy from the Sun and re-radiates it into space as heat. Over time—lots of it—that force can have a big effect on an asteroid’s orbit.

Boslough said the actual geometry from radar measurements of asteroid Golevka were used in the computer simulations. [...]

In general terms, several findings stood out in Red Storm computations that might be useful for future planetary defense systems.

Boslough first noted that there are two "end-member strategies" in the Golevka work:

Deflection: Keeping the asteroid in one piece and changing its trajectory to miss the Earth; and
Disruption: Blowing it to smithereens and making sure all the bits miss the Earth.
"There are a range of in-between options," Boslough told SPACE.com, "but the deflection end of the spectrum is much more realistic." On a kiloton-per-kiloton basis, small, shallow explosions are much more effective for moving the asteroid than large, deep ones.

One demonstration simulation—10 megatons at the center of mass of the object—is the most spectacular "end member" of the range that the research team explored—but is also the least likely scenario, Boslough explained. "It also neglects a fundamental problem of how you would get the device inside an asteroid."

Unlike Bruce Willis and his team drilling into the core of an asteroid in the 1998 movie Armageddon and planting a nuclear bomb, that scenario just doesn’t seem likely, Boslough said.

Playing out Golevka’s hypothetical demise even on a super-fast computer took longer than the movie. Sandia’s half- second, billion-cell simulation of a 10-megaton explosion at Golevka's center took 12 hours to run on 7,200 processors of Red Storm. [....]

The Red Storm computational output provided useful insights.

In particular, Boslough said, was the realization that using multiple, low-yield, deflecting explosions is much better than using one high-yield device.

"There are many advantages" to this approach, Boslough observed. "For one, you don’t need to rendezvous with the asteroid and drill a hole or otherwise place a devise. You can set it off as a surface burst. Contrast the time it takes to ‘land’ something on the surface of an asteroid—like NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft—to how long it takes just to get there, like NASA’s Deep Impact," he said. [....]

If asteroid deflection is the game plan, there’s need to avoid accidental breakage.

A low yield blast lessens the volume of material that is subjected to the highest tensile and shear stress, reducing the likelihood that the object will come apart.

"If you do break the asteroid, you want to make sure none of the big pieces hit the Earth," Boslough said. "Multiple low-yield bursts over an entire hemisphere [of the asteroid] would reduce the likelihood that anything big would get left behind on the impact trajectory."

The fact that you can get a low-yield device to a menacing object fast also means that you are more likely to have a second chance, Boslough noted. That equates to a viable "backup plan", he added, for other, more elaborate, expensive, and time-consuming methods.

"When you are saving the Earth, it’s good to have a plan B. I suspect that if a Near Earth Object (NEO) were confirmed to be on an impact trajectory, public opinion would demand fast action and this would become plan A, if it wasn’t already," Boslough said. [....]

Making Radioactive Scorpion Venom Safe

By Aussiegirl

How can it be that two seemingly unrelated parts of the universe, venom in the Israeli yellow scorpion and brain glioma cells, could be related in any way? How could a protein in the venom recognize a glioma cell? After all, the ancestors of scorpions and humans parted company many geologic ages ago -- and yet all these vast years later there is still this one thread that binds us.

Physics news Update 782

Making Radioactive Scorpion Venom Safe

At this week's meeting of the Health Physics Society in Providence, researchers will describe how they have helped establish the safety of a surprising new treatment for an aggressive, essentially incurable malignant cancer called high-grade brain glioma, diagnosed in more than 17,000 people in the U.S. every year.

The treatment is based on the discovery that the venom in the Israeli yellow scorpion (Leiurus quinquestriatus) contains a protein that binds selectively to the glioma cells. The procedure uses a compound called TM-601, a synthetic version of the venom protein attached to a radioactive substance called I-131 that kills the glioma cells. When injected into the bloodstream, the radioactive scorpion venom protein travels to the brain and attaches to the glioma cells, with the I-131 releasing radiation that kills the cells.

Describing the second sequence of phase II clinical trials involving human patients, health physicist Alan Jackson (AlanJ@rad.hfh.edu) of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit will report that he and his colleagues recently established safe procedures for the therapy. Patients in the trial received a radioactive dose of 40 millicuries per week. This dose is not tremendously high compared to a thyroid cancer treatment, in which patients receive up to 200 millicuries of I-131 in a single treatment.

As Jackson determined, patients could safely return home several hours after the treatment, as their families would not be exposed to any more radiation than is typical with a thyroid cancer patient returning home after the procedure. And according to a separate group's study of the first sequence of phase II trials, patients receiving up to 40 millicuries of weekly dose did not show evidence of any adverse reactions attributable to the radiation. The phase II trial at Henry Ford involves 3 patients, with a total of 54 patients across the U.S. currently in investigational trials for the therapy.

Scientists Precisely Track Short Term Earth Wobbles

By Aussiegirl

I had no idea that something as huge as the Earth could wobble. Here is an explanation I found for the Chandler wobble, discovered in 1891 by an American businessman turned astronomer: Writing in the August 1 [2000] issue of Geophysical Research Letters, Richard Gross, a JPL geophysicist, reports that the principal cause of the Chandler wobble is fluctuating pressure on the bottom of the ocean, caused by temperature and salinity changes and wind-driven changes in the circulation of the oceans. He determined this by applying numerical models of the oceans, which have only recently become available through the work of other researchers, to data on the Chandler wobble obtained during the years 1985-1995. Gross calculated that two-thirds of the Chandler wobble is caused by ocean-bottom pressure changes and the remaining one-third by fluctuations in atmospheric pressure. He says that the effect of atmospheric winds and ocean currents on the wobble was minor.

Scientists Precisely Track Short Term Earth Wobbles

New technologies are enabling scientists to determine the extent and causes of Earth's short-term wobbling with extreme precision. Like a spinning top, Earth wobbles as it rotates on its axis. In fact, it displays many different wobbling motions, ranging in period from a few minutes to billions of years.

Some of these are well studied, such as the Chandler wobble of 433 days and the annual wobble, which together can tilt Earth's axis up to 10 meters (32 feet) from its nominal center.

Earth's irregular, shorter term wobbles, lasting a week or so, have been more difficult to study, partly because these motions are usually masked by those of more prominent wobbles.

Now, scientists in Belgium and France have taken advantage of a quirk in the pattern of large-scale motions and the advent of the Global Positioning System to pin down short-term wobbles that occurred from November 2005 through February 2006.

During this period, the Chandler wobble and the annual wobble essentially cancelled each other out, an event that occurs every 6.4 years, allowing the researchers to focus on the short-period wobbles. [....]

In a paper scheduled to be published 1 July in Geophysical Research Letters, they conclude that weather patterns in the northern hemisphere played a significant role.

Both the location of high- or low-pressure centers - for example, over Asia or northern Europe - and the relationship of these weather systems to each other played a measurable role in creating, or exciting, small, short-term wobbles, the team reported.

The ocean also affects short-term wobbles, according to Lambert and his colleagues. They were able to correlate oceanic and atmospheric pressure variations with the small observed wobbles during the study period.

Though these forces had been credited by previous researchers with maintaining the large Chandler wobble, this was the first time that scientists have been able to demonstrate that day-to-day changes in atmospheric pressure produce a measurable effect on Earth's rotation.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Blitzed Calif. birds run afoul of law

By Aussiegirl

Busted! And tossed in the slammer. Soused pelicans sober up in the drunk tank.

Chron.com | Blitzed Calif. birds run afoul of law:

Four pelicans were being detained in an animal drunk tank Friday on suspicion of public intoxication, authorities in Southern California said.

One of the birds was in guarded condition after allegedly flying under the influence Thursday and crashing through the windshield of a car on Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, Calif. The driver was rattled but uninjured.

The other California brown pelicans were nabbed in backyards or wandering streets in a daze.

Although toxicology tests aren't complete (there are no bird breathalyzers), such behavior usually signals domoic acid poisoning from eating algae, said Lisa Birkle, assistant wildlife director at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., which is caring for the brown pelicans.

Domoic acid was likely to have been the culprit behind a 1961 sea bird invasion that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror film The Birds.

According to news reports, thousands of befuddled birds rained down on Northern California towns in August 1961, slamming into buildings and pecking eight humans.

Nobody is predicting a Hitchcockian invasion in the latest incident, but Birkle urged Southern California residents to be on the lookout for pelicans acting disoriented or turning up in unusual locations.

In the past week, the wildlife center has fielded 16 calls of suspicious bird behavior. More incidents are likely, because ocean waters south of Los Angeles Harbor have tested positive for poisonous algae, Birkle said.

The pelican that collided with the car is recovering from surgery for a broken foot and a 4-inch gash in its pouch.

"She's hanging in there," Birkle said. Friday, the heavily sedated bird began eating on its own, a good sign for full recovery.

Although it will take three weeks to get results from blood tests for domoic acid, Birkle said she had never heard of a sober pelican crashing into a car. The birds have phenomenal eyesight, she explained, noting that, from high above the ocean, they are able to spot fish.

After the pelicans being held in Huntington Beach have sobered up, they will be released on their own recognizance.

WSJ -- terrified of losing those Mexican maids

By Aussiegirl

For the WSJ it all boils down to the Mexican maid and cheap construction worker.

OpinionJournal - Featured Article

Looking at House Republicans who are vulnerable this year, we can't find a single one who will lose because of support for President Bush's comprehensive immigration reform. That isn't Heather Wilson's problem in New Mexico; she always has a tough race and favors both border security and a guest worker program. Chris Shays also won't save his seat by rallying the bluebloods in Greenwich, Connecticut, against their Mexican maids and construction workers. On the other hand, J.D. Hayworth could lose his seat in Arizona despite taking his anti-immigration riff to any radio or TV show that will have him.

Fish or cut bait time -- but is there a will in the Bush administration?

By Aussiegirl

Another brilliant article by Clarice Feldman, who is almost single-handedly restoring my faith in lawyers.

Sadly, the Bush administration is in full appeasement mode and will not follow through with her suggestion. They are engaged in a full-court press campaign to appease all their enemies, foreign and domestic. It's impossible at this point to figure out what the Bush foreign or domestic policies are, but strong actions are not likely on any front other than pushing a failed Immigration bill, leaving patriotic Americans frustrated once again with the continuing inaction on many fronts. There appears to be a major loss of nerve in this adminstration, due to reasons that can only be guessed at. Perhaps compassionate conservatism can be defined as trying to get everyone to like you. A policy which usually leads to the exact opposite.

The American Thinker

In March, Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote a brilliant piece in Commentary in which he argued that the New York Times revelations about the NSA program warranted prosecution under Section 798 of Title 18, the so-called Comint statute. In the article he details the history and language of the Act and its 1950 amendment and argues that the language is unambiguous and certainly covers the paper’s disclosures of the NSA program, which substantially harmed our counter terrorism activities.

[...]The latest move is the New York Times report on the way the U.S. tracks terrorists’ movement of funds from financial institutions. In this case, as in the NSA leak, Congressional members of the intelligence committee, Republican and Democrat, asked them not to print this information disclosure of which was harmful to national security. As in the NSA case, the White House warned the paper not to publish this information.

And again the unelected editors of the paper arrogantly ignored this admonition. The very people arguing often that war might not be the answer, that law enforcement and intelligence are sufficient to protect us, are also doing everything they can to make those tools unavailing.

And this latest leak seems to seriously jeopardize our counter terrorism activities. As a reader wrote to Glenn Reynolds:

[quote]What has not been stressed is that SWIFT is not used for individuals. It is used for processing money transfers, stock transfers and bond transfers from companies, governments, banks, insurance companies and NGO’s. What we essentially had on file was the holdings for almost all our clients and the clearance data for these transactions dating back for years. We had to keep all this on file to satisfy all the governmental regulations on taxations, etc.

What the NY Times has essentially done is open up to the terrorists the trails of all their transactions and how the banking procedures of money laundering was done for them by the system. They have essentially stopped dead the ability to track this money and keep it from being put in the hands of our worst enemies. Whether the terrorists might have guessed that their money was being transferred is a moot point. The NY Times had told them that their worst fears have been realized and that they need to find another way to move money around the world. They know it for sure now. Thank you, Bill Keller, and when the nice young man or woman from down the street is killed by one of
these terrorists I can thank you for that as well.

If Schoenfeld is wrong, and the Act is insufficient to prosecute these breaches of security by the leakers and the publishers, than the Attorney General should have proposed new legislation. He hasn’t. Therefore, I assume Schoenfeld’s point is correct: the Act is adequate to proceed.

So, what’s keeping the Attorney General from acting to halt this bleeding of critical information to our enemies?

Frankly, if he doesn’t act soon, Attorney General Gonzales should be removed and replaced by someone with the will to Act . Failing to Act is simply emboldening further those who apparently think the war on the war on terror is more important than what our elected officials consider critical to the war on terror’s success.

Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)

By Aussiegirl

This is a must-read article. This is the most important issue on the table when it comes to our security and future -- much more important that the latest dem idiocy or the usual Washington flapdoodle we usually obsess about. The fact that the Bush administration has blinked in the face of this overt threat is a potentially disastrous development of historic proportions. History will not judge this well if we fail. Neville Chamberlain comes to mind. Soaring rhetoric is fine, but Peggy Noonan was on to something when she was made uneasy by the Bush inaugural speech. There's probably few things that are worse than soaring rhetoric that is not followed by concrete action. Better the latter without the former. That's why TR said: "Talk softly but carry a big stick." Unfortunately, our rhetoric is to talk loudly and offer big carrots and no sticks to madmen with nukes bent on destroying us.

Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)

Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)
By Richard Perle

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran knows what he wants: nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them; suppression of freedom at home and the spread of terrorism abroad; and the "shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems."

President Bush, too, knows what he wants: an irreversible end to Iran's nuclear weapons program, the "expansion of freedom in all the world" and victory in the war on terrorism.

The State Department and its European counterparts know what they want: negotiations.

For more than five years, the administration has dithered. Bush gave soaring speeches, the Iranians issued extravagant threats and, in 2003, the State Department handed the keys to the impasse to the British, French and Germans (the "E.U.-3"), who offered diplomatic valet parking to an administration befuddled by contradiction and indecision. And now, on May 31, the administration offered to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

How is it that Bush, who vowed that on his watch "the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands," has chosen to beat such an ignominious retreat?

Proximity is critical in politics and policy. And the geography of this administration has changed. Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of -- and increasingly represents -- a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries. [....]

It is not clear whether Bush recognizes the perils of the course he has been persuaded to take. What has been presented to Ahmadinejad as a simple take-it-or-leave-it deal -- stop the activities that could enable you to acquire nuclear weapons and we will reward you, or continue them and we will punish you -- is nothing of the sort. Neither the activities nor the carrots and sticks are clearly defined or settled with our allies, much less with Russia and China. If the punishments require approval by the U.N. Security Council, the United States would need an unlikely combination of approvals and abstentions from council members. The new policy, undoubtedly pitched to the president as a means of enticing the E.U.-3 to support ending Iran's program, is likely to diminish pressure on Iran and allow the mullahs more time to develop the weapons they have paid dearly to pursue. [....]

The failure of successive U.S. administrations, including this one, to give moral and political support to the regime's opponents is a tragedy. Iran is a country of young people, most of whom wish to live in freedom and admire the liberal democracies that Ahmadinejad loathes and fears. The brave men and women among them need, want and deserve our support. They reject the jaundiced view of tired bureaucrats who believe that their cause is hopeless or that U.S. support will worsen their situation.

In his second inaugural address, Bush said, "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you."

Iranians were heartened by those words, much as the dissidents of the Soviet Union were heartened by Reagan's "evil empire" speech in 1983. A few days ago, I spoke with Amir Abbas Fakhravar, an Iranian dissident student leader who escaped first from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, then, after months in hiding, from Iran.

Fakhravar heard this president's words, and he took them to heart. But now, as he pleads for help for his fellow citizens, he is apprehensive. He wonders whether the administration's new approach to the mullahs will silence the president's voice, whether the proponents of accommodation with Tehran will regard the struggle for freedom in Iran as an obstacle to their new diplomacy.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) tried two weeks ago to pass the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would have increased the administration's too-little-too-late support for democracy and human rights in Iran. But the State Department opposed it, arguing that it "runs counter to our efforts . . . it would limit our diplomatic flexibility."

I hope it is not too late for Fakhravar and his friends. I know it is not too late for us, not too late to give substance to Bush's words, not too late to redeem our honor.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Best Direct Test of E=mc2

By Aussiegirl

Whew, that was a close one! So Einstein's famous equation is still secure, and we all can confidently use it in in our daily lives.

Physics news Update 761

Best Direct Test of E=mc2

Albert Einstein's formulation of how matter and energy are equivalent is an important enunciation of the principle of conserved energy. As far as we know, it is at work at the moment an atom bomb explodes, when the fissioning of uranium is exploited for making commercial electricity, or when an electron and positron annihilate inside a PET scanner. A new experiment -- conducted by scientists from MIT, Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada, Florida State University, Oxford University, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, France -- keeps careful account of both matter mass and electromagnetic energy for a process in which ions of sulphur and silicon absorb neutrons, transforming them into new isotopes as they emit gamma rays. In this transaction Einstein's equation is shown experimentally to be true at a level of 0.00004 percent, a factor of 55 better than the previous best test.
Rainville et al., Nature, 22/29 December 2005

Postcards from beneath the waves

By Aussiegirl

This fascinating report on ghostly postcards rescued from the ocean's cold grip accompanies the article on the German scuttling of their own fleet in Scarpa Flow in 1919 that I posted right below. Be sure to read that article too. (The photo is of one of the restored postcards, and is described this way in the article: A second card shows an officer with a sling on his arm, sitting on what looks like a bench in the garden of a hospital. The sling and the uniform verify he's been wounded fighting for his country - but only slightly wounded, so the injuries don't detract from the image of the proud officer in full Address uniform with head held high and a hero-worshipping maiden in attendance.)

Scotsman.com Heritage & Culture - Scotland's People - Postcards from beneath the waves

Postcards from beneath the waves

THE RECREATIONAL divers were overawed by the sight of the massive rusting warship, looming out of the murky depths of Orkney's Scapa Flow. Ninety years had passed since the German cruiser Karlsruhe had sailed into battle with the rest of the First World War German Grand Fleet. As the divers swum round, they saw scraps of material drifting towards them out of a corroding bulkhead.

"We were spooked," one of them reported later. "It was like they were trying to communicate."

Prophetic words. The scraps of paper were unsent postcards intended for German wives and sweethearts, to reassure them that husbands and lovers were safe and well.

Over 52 boats, including the Karlsruhe were sunk by the Germans on 21 June 1919.
The cards have lain submerged in Scapa Flow since the captured German High Seas Fleet was scuttled on midsummer morning June 1919, four score and seven years ago on Wednesday. It was a last post-war act of defiance by Admiral Ludwig von Reuter that put paid to plans by the allies to lay claim to the defeated German navy.

"The fact that these postcards have survived at all is nothing short of amazing," says Mandy Clydesdale, conservation consultant with AOC Archaeology, a Midlothian company that specialises in restoring valuable artefacts. Since the seven German warships still remaining in Scapa Flow are now scheduled ancient monuments, Historic Scotland contacted diving scientist Bobby Forbes to recover the postcards from the Karlsruhe and pass them on to the company.

Forbes found all his skills tested to the limit when it came to removing the postcards from the wreck.

"The reason they'd survived so long was because they'd been buried in sediment," says Forbes. "There had been no water movement around them until the ship's bulkhead had started to corrode. I discovered that they'd been in tin boxes and the deteriorating metal had formed a concretion with the bulkhead metal, so getting them out was a bit of a nightmare, to put it mildly."

The tin boxes that had protected the postcards for so many years had welded the stacks together into a lump of sludge bound by rusting metal - a daunting task for the conservationists.

The postcards resembled old yogurt and proved hard to handle.
Picture: Courtesy Historic Scotland
"The more I worked with these postcards, the more I appreciated how skilful the diver had been in getting them from the wreck to the lab," says Clydesdale. "The postcards were so fragile that trying to handle them was like trying to lift slices of yoghurt."

It took nearly two years of painstaking work, but now the restored postcards forge a poignant link with the past.

The scene visible on one is informal and homely. A little girl in pigtails and a gingham dress bends purposefully over something half written, while her brother lies back against a cushion, smiling over the contents of a letter in his hand - a world away from the ghastly realities of war.

A second card shows an officer with a sling on his arm, sitting on what looks like a bench in the garden of a hospital. The sling and the uniform verify he's been wounded fighting for his country - but only slightly wounded, so the injuries don't detract from the image of the proud officer in full Address uniform with head held high and a hero-worshipping maiden in attendance.

Other scenes show flotillas of ships butting their way through choppy seas, and it's only when you compare a restored one with an original that you appreciate the skill involved in restoring them.

The only other instance of paper conservation from a shipwreck had been the Titanic where the French laboratories involved reported problems with unstable inks when it came to the restoration of postcards. What AOC Archaeology was attempting was considered a hopeless task by the Titanic conservation experts they consulted.

Staff at AOC Archaeology were basically working blind.

"It was highly technical and we had a lot of experimenting to do," says Clydesdale. "There were problems like iron sulphides from bacterial action underwater reacting with oxygen once out of the water. That gives you sulphuric acid, so just saving them, much less restoring them, was a major challenge."

The pictures on the cards, she says, were so loosely attached after soaking for almost a century at the bottom of Scapa Flow, that you could see the ink drifting off into the distilled water they were floating them in.

"The fact that bundles of cards had big lumps of iron stuck along the edges didn’t help either, and standard chemical stripping was out of the question because of damage to the filler layers. The sea water had already washed out the 'sizing' that held the fragile paper pulp in place. I'd been looking forward to the challenge of working on the cards, but I had to agree it was looking like a hopeless task."

What saved the day, thinks Clydesdale, were the small fragments of card that had been drifting around the wreck, and had been collected up. They were no use for putting together a whole card, but very handy for filling in gaps in the conservation treatment.

"I have to say we got better results than I'd expected," she says modestly.

What happens to them now remains to be seen. The decision will be up to the Receiver of Wreck, since the items were found at sea or washed ashore.

Meanwhile, 87 years on, time has stood still for a little boy and girl writing letters to papa.

Scapa Flow: graveyard of the German fleet

By Aussiegirl

Not only is today the summer solstice, which I already knew, but it is also -- and this I didn't know, since my knowledge of World War I is scanty -- the anniversary of the German scuttling of their own fleet at Scarpa Flow, in the Orkneys, in 1919. It's a fascinating bit of history and well worth reading.
(The accompanying photo has this caption: German soldiers from the Nurnberg surrender after the scuttling of the German fleet.)

Scotsman.com Heritage & Culture - Maps - Wrecks - Scapa Flow: graveyard of the German fleet

Scapa Flow: graveyard of the German fleet
21 June 1919

THE GERMAN defeat in the First World War presented an interesting dilemma for the British and its Allied forces: what should be done with captured or cornered enemy ships?

Scapa Flow first came into the history books around the time of the Vikings (800-1000AD). While they travelled from Scandinavia to Iceland and beyond, the Vikings often used this Orkney outpost to rest and re-supply. The name comes from the Old Norse term Skalpeid-floi, or bay of the long isthmus.

The flow is about 12 miles wide, a sheltered natural harbour between the Orkney isles of Hoy, Flotta and South Ronaldsay. The Royal Navy used it as a base during the war, and from there in 1916 the fleet went to sea to engage the German fleet at the Battle of Jutland.

This was the decisive naval encounter of the First World War.

Germany would eventually lose the war, and although the fighting stopped, it took several months of political posturing to determine what to do with the massive enemy fleet.

A total of 74 German ships, positioned throughout the North Sea, were interned at Scapa Flow. On 20 November, 1918, the day the fleet arrived, Admiral David Beatty, commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet, said to his counterpart, Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter: "The German flag will be hauled down at sunset today and is not to be hoisted again without permission."

As talks continued, the ships were dismantled, essentially rendering a rebellious German crew powerless and humiliated. It was five months before most of their forces were sent home. A supply ship that arrived in mid-June 1919 was returned to Germany with some 2,700 men. This left only 1,700 men to watch 74 ships. The pride of the Kaiser fleet was surrounded by both land and opposing forces. Would the Germans give up their fleet that easily?

The Armistice talks in Versailles were continuing and little news was reaching the commanders in the northern isles. Rear-Admiral von Reuter was getting his information as much as a week late - from the London Times. After the war, he maintained that he received neither news of the peace terms or any official instructions from Germany as to what to do in Scapa. So he decided on his own.

It was a sunny day on 21 June, according to personal accounts, a full 10 months after dropping anchor in Scapa Flow when the German commander issued a historic order.

Down came the Union Jack and up went the German Eagle, and all around us the great ships began to sink, some on even keel and some upended and plunged down quickly and only a wash of waves to show where they had been. –Ivy Scott, 18 at the time, witnessing the scuttling, as told to The Orcadian newspaper in 1984.

Just as British vessels departed for a scheduled military exercise, Rear-Admiral von Reuter ordered flags to be hoisted on his ship, the cruiser Emden, as a signal for the fleet to await instructions. A half-hour later the commander issued the order to scuttle the German Fleet: "Paragraph 11. Confirm." The signal was passed from ship to ship by semaphore and signal lamps. It took an hour to reach all vessels miles apart.

At midday, the crews followed orders, jamming open the condensers and sea valves and committing a mass shipping suicide. It started with the Friedrich der Grosse. The former flagship tolled its large bell, signalling the beginning of the end.

Slowly, the Friedrich der Grosse settled to its side, hung on for a few minutes more, then turned over and slid below the surface. The ship was gone in 15 minutes. One after another each vessel sank to the floor.

With a minimum crew on board, 52 of the disarmed 74 warships were sunk in the deliberate act. The remaining vessels were breached or saved by Royal Navy boarding parties. It was all over by 5pm.

Nine people died and eight others were wounded in the sinkings, according to the British Navy.

The event delayed signing of the final peace agreement with Germany by a week. The Admiralty issued a terse statement, insisting that ''where they were sunk, they will rest and rust''.

In fact, most of the ships have since been salvaged and used for scrap. However, three battleships and four cruisers still remain 60 to 150 feet below the surface. Their remains are among some 80 vessels that lie on the seabed and today are a favourite attraction for divers.

The German wrecks are listed as "monuments of national importance" and are under the protection of Historic Scotland. The protection applies to the battleships Konig, Kronprinz Wilhelm and Markgraf, which originally weighed more than 25,000 tons each. Also protected are the light cruisers Brummer, Dresden, Karlsruhe and Koln, each weighing more than 4,000 tons.

The seven ships lie off the island of Cava.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bush Gives Iran an Ultimatum on Uranium

By Aussiegirl

Time was an American ultimatum included carriers and warships and gunships and naval blockades -- now it's goodie packages for playing nice.

I'm sorry, this is pathetic -- the gist of this "ultimatum" appears to be -- if you don't "suspend" (why not "end"?) enrichment, then we won't be nice to you and give you all sorts of benefits. The "package" includes benefits and "possible sanctions". Why in the world would they think this will persuade the madman waiting for the mullah to pop out of the well? And Bush talking with Putin for 18 minutes isn't going to accomplish anything either. Putin is never going to side with the U.S. on this, except to pretend that he is, in order to stall for time. Just like N. Korea - once Iran has a nuke, then it's too late to do anything about it. We must support an Iranian revolution.

Bush Gives Iran an Ultimatum on Uranium

Bush Gives Iran an Ultimatum on Uranium
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer
Monday, June 19, 2006

President Bush told Iran on Monday that nations worldwide won't back down from their demand that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment.

"Iran's leaders have a clear choice. We hope they will accept our offer and voluntarily suspend these activities so we can work out an agreement that will bring Iran real benefits," Bush said a day before leaving for Vienna, Austria, where he will talk with European Union officials who are leading efforts to resolve the nuclear dispute.

If Iran's leaders reject the offer, they will face action before the U.N. Security Council and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions, Bush said during a commencement speech at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Bush discussed Iran with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday during an 18-minute phone call Putin placed to Bush. "The presidents agreed on the importance of remaining united in their efforts to press Iran to suspend all enrichment activities and begin negotiations on the incentives package," said Kate Starr, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

On Sunday, Iran accused the United States of trying to sway European nations from a possible compromise. The Iranian foreign ministry said U.S. insistence that negotiations be conditioned on Tehran's suspension of uranium enrichment has narrowed the scope of possible solutions, and made it more difficult for all parties to reach an accord.

Bush made it clear he would not budge. He said allowing Iran to enrich uranium, a process that can make nuclear fuel for a power plant or fissile material for an atomic bomb, would present a grave threat to the world.

"The United States has offered to come to the table with our partners and meet with Iran's representatives as soon as the Iranian regime fully and verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities," Bush said. "I have a message for the Iranian regime: America and our partners are united. We have presented a reasonable offer. Iran's leaders should see our proposal for what it is — a historic opportunity to set their country on a better course."

On June 6, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana presented a package of rewards and possible penalties to Iran. The package was drawn up by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia — and Germany.

The package calls on Iran to suspend, not permanently halt, uranium enrichment as a condition for the start of talks, although the negotiations are aimed at getting Iran to agree to a long-term moratorium on such activity. [....]

Researchers Offer Clues To How Leaves Patterns Are Formed

By Aussiegirl

A very interesting article on how vein formation in leaves mirrors branch formation on the trunk. My previous post discussed how butterflies hide from rain drops, so perhaps there's a butterfly hiding behind this beautiful leaf.
Researchers Offer Clues To How Leaves Patterns Are Formed

Researchers Offer Clues To How Leaves Patterns Are Formed

Pick up a leaf and it is hard not to notice the pattern made by the veins. For years, biologists, mathematicians and even poets and philosophers have tried to decipher the rules and regulations behind those varied designs and now new research published in part at the University of Alberta offers a big clue to how those patterns are formed.
"For years people have been trying to understand this beautiful formation," said Dr. Enrico Scarpella, from the U of A's Department of Biological Sciences.

"We were able to connect the mechanism responsible for the initiation of the veins in the leaf with that of formation of the shoot and root. With our piece of the puzzle added, it indeed seems the same mechanism is responsible for all these events."

What Scarpella and his research team--Dr. Thomas Berleth's group from the University of Toronto and Dr. Jiri Friml from the University of Tuebingen--discovered has interested scientists around the world. For several years it has been known that a hormone called auxin stimulated the formation of the veins.

"It was believed that auxin would behave like man--build the streets on which man himself would travel," said Scarpella. "However, the theory argued that in each individual vein auxin could only run one way at any given time, making them sort of alternate one-way streets."

By labeling the protein that transports the hormone auxin with a fluorescent tag, he could then shine a light on the leaves and watch how auxin was being transported during vein formation. Thanks to this approach, the team identified cells within individual veins that transport the hormone auxin in two opposite directions. [....]

But one of the biggest discoveries, perhaps the one with the most evolutionary implications, is that plants use the same mechanism to regulate vein formation in the leaf and branch formation on the main trunk and on the main root.

The finding that the leaf is like a two-dimensional model of a tree may change the way plant scientists work, says Scarpella. "If each leaf can make more than 100 veins, you can see the process over and over compared to the formation of branches in a big, three-dimensional slowly growing tree or the difficulties in studying root branching in their natural environment, which is the dirt," he said.

"Our findings will contribute to the way we will manipulate plant development to our advantage. Once we know all the players in the game we will be able to say, we want more leaves on this, more branches on this one or fewer flowers on this plant."

Monday, June 19, 2006

What do butterflies do when it rains?

By Aussiegirl

An interesting article about a situation in nature that I confess I had never wondered about -- I'll bet even your average lepidopterist may not have considered this problem. (Here is the explanation of the accompanying photo, which was taken by the author: This red spotted purple butterfly was posed to show how a butterfly would shelter from the rain, in this case in a hole in a tree.)

Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: Ask the Experts: Biology: What do butterflies do when it rains?

What do butterflies do when it rains?

Michael Raupp, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, offers this answer.
Imagine a monarch butterfly searching for nectar or a mate in a meadow on a humid afternoon in July. Suddenly, a fast-moving thunderstorm approaches, bringing gusty winds and large raindrops. For the monarch and other butterflies this is not a trivial matter. An average monarch weighs roughly 500 milligrams; large raindrops have a mass of 70 milligrams or more. A raindrop this size striking a monarch would be equivalent to you or I being pelted by water balloons with twice the mass of bowling balls.

Amateur and professional lepidopterists tell tales of butterflies darting into protective vegetation and scrambling beneath leaves when dark skies, strong breezes and the first raindrops signal an imminent storm. During heavy rains and wind, butterflies are rarely seen. Not only does rain pose a direct threat of injury or death, but the cool air associated with storms may also reduce temperatures below the thermal threshold for butterfly flight. In preparation for flight, these aerial acrobats expose their wings to direct sunlight, which rapidly warms their flight muscles. Overcast skies limit their ability to gather the solar radiation needed to take wing. A butterfly knocked from the air by raindrops thus faces the double threat of crashing in an inhospitable habitat where predators lay in wait and being unable to warm its body sufficiently to regain flight. Little wonder, then, that when skies darken, butterflies seek shelter in their nighttime homes.

Butterflies are quiescent when it is dark and take refuge in protected locations called roosts within one or two hours of sunset. Roosts may be tall grasses, perennial herbaceous plants, tangled thickets of woody shrubs, undersides of large leaves, caves or, in some cases, man-made objects such as fences or hanging baskets. Butterflies may also roost in the vegetation beneath overhanging trees. The leaves of the upper canopy intercept raindrops and reduce their impact on vegetation and butterflies below. [....]

Can String Theory Explain Dark Energy?

By Aussiegirl

Here's a new article on two of my favorite almost-incomprensible-but-not-quite physics topics, string theory (see my earlier post here) and dark energy (see my earlier post here). Actually, given the profound nature of these two topics, the article is well written and explains clearly the often-encountered problem of physical theories predicting values that are distressingly different from observed values. But then, grappling with these problems gives physicists some reason to get out of bed in the morning -- and we all need a reason for living.

Physics news Update 781

Can String Theory Explain Dark Energy?

A new paper by Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog of CERN (hertog@mail.cern.ch) suggests that it can. The leading explanation for the observed acceleration of the expansion of the universe is that a substance, dark energy, fills the vacuum and produces a uniform repulsive force between any two points in space -- a sort of anti-gravity. Quantum field theory allows for the existence of such a universal tendency. Unfortunately, its prediction for the value of the density of dark energy (a parameter referred to as the cosmological constant) is some 120 orders of magnitude larger than the observed value.

In 2003, cosmologist Andrei Linde of Stanford University and his collaborators showed that string theory allows for the existence of dark energy, but without specifying the value of the cosmological constant. String theory, they found, produces a mathematical graph shaped like a mountainous landscape, where altitude represents the value of the cosmological constant. After the big bang, the value would settle on a low point somewhere between the peaks and valleys of the landscape. But there could be on the order of 10500 [i.e. 10 to the 500] possible low points -- with different corresponding values for the cosmological constant -- and no obvious reason for the universe to pick the one we observe in nature.

Some experts hailed this multiplicity of values as a virtue of the theory. For example, Stanford University's Leonard Susskind in his book "The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design," argues that different values of the cosmological constant would be realized in different parallel worlds -- the pocket universes of Linde's "eternal inflation" theory. We would just happen to live in one where the value is very small. But critics see the landscape as exemplifying the theory's inability to make useful predictions.

The Hawking/Hertog paper is meant to address this concern. It looks at the universe as a quantum system in the framework of string theory. Quantum theory calculates the odds a system will evolve a certain way from given initial conditions, say, photons going through a double slit and hitting a certain spot on the other side. You repeat your experiment often enough and then you check that the odds you predicted were the correct ones.

In Richard Feynman's formulation of quantum theory, the probability that a photon ends up at a particular spot is calculated by summing up over all possible trajectories for the photon. A photon goes through multiple paths at once and can even interfere with its other personas in the process. Hawking and Hertog argue that the universe itself must also follow different trajectories at once, evolving through many simultaneous, parallel histories, or "branches." (These parallel universes are not to be confused with those of eternal inflation, where multiple universes coexist in a classical rather than in a quantum sense.) What we see in the present would be a particular, more or less probable, outcome of the "sum" over these histories. In particular, the sum should include all possible initial conditions, with all possible values of the cosmological constant.

But applying quantum theory to the entire universe -- where the experimenters are part of the experiment -- is tricky. Here you have no control over the initial conditions, nor can your repeat the experiment again and again for statistical significance. Instead, the Hawking-Hertog approach starts with the present and uses what we know about our branch of the universe to trace its history backwards. Again, there will be multiple possible branches in our past, but most can be ignored in the Feynman summation because they are just too different from the universe we know, so the probability of going from one to the other is negligible.

For example, Hertog says, knowledge that our universe is very close to being flat could allow one to concentrate on a very small portion of the string theory landscape whose values for the cosmological constant are compatible with that flatness. That could in turn lead to predictions that are experimentally testable. For example, one could calculate whether our universe is likely to produce the microwave background spectrum we actually observe.

Solar System could be 'unique'

By Aussiegirl

If we are unique, then where have all those UFOs come from, and who -- or what -- is piloting them? Perhaps we are alone in the universe after all.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Solar System could be 'unique'

Solar System could be 'unique'
By Jacqueline Ali
BBC News Online

The search for other planets like our own could be in vain.

The Solar System could be unique amongst planetary systems in the Universe, astronomers have announced.
New analysis by UK astronomers suggests our own planetary system may have formed in a very different way to those spotted orbiting other stars.

The findings suggest that one formation mechanism may not fit all planetary systems, as other astronomers have previously suggested. [....]

In the past 10 years, over 100 extrasolar systems (planetary systems orbiting stars other than the Sun) have been discovered from the wobble in their host stars, caused by the motion of the planets themselves.

But none of them seem to resemble our Solar System very much. In fact, these exoplanets have several important attributes that are entirely at odds with the Solar System as we know it.

Lead researcher Dr Martin Beer of the University of Leicester's theoretical astrophysics group, pointed out that much of the modelling done on the formation of planetary systems is based on our own one.

"But existing data suggests that the planets in the Solar System are truly different from other planets," he told BBC News Online.

If this is the case, Beer and his colleagues argue in their research paper, it is unreasonable to base our understanding of all planetary systems on the one around the Sun.

They go on to speculate that if the Solar System is unique, then the search for Earth-like planets around other stars may be in vain.

When compared to all known planetary systems, say the authors, our own is something of an anomaly.

This appears to suggest that there might be two entirely separate mechanisms of planetary formation at work, or - at the very least - that there are two extremes of a single formation process. [....]

"It will be another five years or so before we will be able to see systems like our own," he added. "At that point we will know whether the Solar System is truly different, or in fact very average."

"Nevertheless, the existing data leaves open the possibility that [our own planetary system] is quite unique compared to [others]. If this turns out to be true, then our current understanding of planet formation is unduly coloured by our intimate knowledge of the Solar System."