Mar 21 2010
There are always times when things won’t be what we wish, and the Fine Structure Constant is no exception to this rule. We humans usually see what we believe rather than what is, and to that end, it comes straight from nature’s gag reel.
There is a most profound and beautiful question associated with the observed coupling constant, e the amplitude for a real electron to emit or absorb a real photon…(…It has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it.) Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to pi or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It’s one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the “hand of God” wrote that number, and “we don’t know how He pushed his pencil…”
-Richard P. Feynman (1985), QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Princeton University Press, p. 129
Please join me for a highly abridged and cherry-picked tale in the story of modern physics…
Feb 28 2010
Also posted at L’Orange.
Today there is a group distributing a religious tract called Women and Girls. Right here, in the United States. It teaches girls that they make men want to be sinful.
“You may have been given this leaflet because of the way you are dressed,” it begins. “Have you thought about standing before the true and living God to be judged?”
The leaflet warns particularly about tight and form fitting clothing.
Scripture tells us that when a man looks on a woman to lust for her he has already committed adultery in his heart. If you are dressed in a way that tempts a men to do this secret (or not so secret) sin, you are a participant in the sin…By the way, some rape victims would not have been raped if they had dressed properly. So can we really say they were innocent victims?
Feb 23 2010
There is a years long grisly struggle between ethnic groups in Darfur — with one government-backed militia brutalizing civilians with ethnic connections to the guerrilla rebels they fight. There is a refugee crisis, starvation, drought, and horrible violence.
The conflict in Darfur is complicated. It has several causes, and the people who fight sometimes do so for different reasons. Sudan is riddled with deep ethnic divides, fueled by the colonialism that favored one ethnic group over others. There is political posturing and finger pointing in Khartoum that might occupy a handful of doctoral theses on the subject before we understand it all. But at least two of the reasons this conflict persists are rooted in ecojustice: desertification and oil. And that oil doesn’t even lie under Darfur.
Feb 16 2010
Some say that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. But what do we know about our early universe and how we got here? How do we know that our ideas about the early universe are right? What is dark matter and dark energy and why do we think it exists in the first place?
All of the matter in the universe expanded from a single point. It doesn’t matter much what that means, though. To beg the question is to ask what happened before time began. And because of events that happened during the the inflationary epoch, we can no longer see all of the details of how the universe looked at the beginning of time.
But we won’t ask those questions today. Here we will talk about the current state of cosmology given by The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe — the reigning Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation [CMBR] experiment that gives us our best data from the early universe. Within a year, though, we expect a new and improved data set from The Planck Satellite.
Feb 15 2010
Mr. Cheney said interrogators should have had the option to use the “enhanced interrogation techniques” his administration approved-including the use of simulated drowning, or “water-boarding.” He called himself “a big supporter of water-boarding,” which critics say amounts to torture.
“Now, President Obama has taken [those techniques] off the table,” Mr. Cheney said. “He announced when he came in last year that they would never use anything other than the U.S. Army Manual which doesn’t include those techniques. I think that’s a mistake.”
Enhanced interrogation techniques aren’t torture — the Bush Administration approved them, right???
Feb 04 2010
We see images of Darfur on our computer screens, with people like Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, and Don Cheadle raising awareness about the mounting humanitarian crisis in that region of the Sudan and Chad. But to make the story clear, they tend to speak of Darfur as an isolated conflict inside Sudan; the greater context of the crisis does not change the dire need for aid and intervention.
But the reasons behind the conflict in Darfur are complicated, and they cannot be separated from Sudanese civil war history. The conflict in Darfur started as an uprising against the Sudanese government by the Fur and other farmers in the region because they were marginalized and excluded from the peace negotiations toward ending the Second Sudanese Civil War…
Jan 19 2010
Forty six years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered I Have a Dream. In that speech, even one hundered years after emancipation, he spoke of black communities crippled by segregation and discrimination. They lived, ‘on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.’
Today, blacks participate in all levels of professional society and leadership. We have a beautiful first family, former Secretaries of State, and even Supreme Court judges. It is common to see black lawmakers, doctors, lawyers, business professionals, and professors. Perhaps that ocean is embracing the island. One might think that discrimination is a thing of the past — that America is a place that tends toward racial equality…
Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If Dr. King could return and look at America, would he say the same thing today?
Dec 03 2009
There is a little known but deadly breast cancer that presents itself without a lump, so most women do not know how to check for the signs. It is cunning because it looks like a common, everyday irritation when it’s in the early stages, and it can progress to Stage IV in a matter of weeks or months. Many doctors see this cancer and mistake it for a spider bite, an allergic rash, or a mild infection.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and aggressive disease. It strikes black women disproportionately, and doesn’t discriminate against the young. The average woman who gets this diagnosis is 57, but it’s seen in teenagers, as well. It kills young people more visciously than the rest: the trend is that younger patients commonly fail to survive five years after treatment. Perhaps they are less likely to seek treatment as soon as older women. But this disease can kill a woman stone dead in a matter of months without treatment.
Update: Photobucket removed the pictures of this disease, probably because they contain breasts. Great. Look in the links and the videos, and you will see many good photos of this disease’s various expressions.
Nov 17 2009
We often gauge a war by who conquers whom, and look to which army stands at the gates when the fighting ends. We talk about insurgents and militias and which warlords control what parts of the globe. So often, we fail to see the distinction between winning the war and creating the peace.
When we look at the outcome of war, we talk about property damage, refugee camps, monetary cost, number wounded, and how many people died. We rarely mention life. If our goal is to overcome anti-American extremism, we have to talk about how people live. How do people survive in the midst of war? How do they rebuild their communities?
An army can win a war on the frontlines, but creating a peace takes a backline effort — work that our government cannot do as a unilateral occupying force. This is work that must be done in the non-profit sector by active people like us. Winning the peace is a matter of empowering the survivors of war in their everyday lives.
Winning the peace is a matter of ecojustice.
Oct 17 2009
Setting: The men’s room at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. Camera pans on Harry Reid, who is sitting on the pot, fondling the toilet paper with his right hand, with his left elbow to knee, and chin cupped in his left hand.
Reid engages in internal dialogue
Harry (voiceover): Oooooh, oh. What am I ever, ever going to do?
Reid is now tearing at the corner of a sheet of toilet paper.
Harry: (voiceover): I’m never going to get sixty for anything. Ugh! There is nothing I can do to make those people like me. What do you have to do in this life to make senators trust you???
Oct 05 2009
How do you define ‘mainstream’? Scientists who accept the so-called ‘consensus’ about global warming? Galileo was not mainstream.
Galileo’s spirit looked on, more than a little irritated. But it wasn’t provoked to return until Inhofe said:
…God’s still up there. We’re going through these cycles…The [AGW] science really isn’t there.
That very night in Inhofe’s office, a spectre rose up from the floor in a great, billowing cloud.
Oct 01 2009
Today we live in a world where the overwhelming majority of war casualties are civilian, and the majority of those are women and children. Women are typically the most marginalized people in a war-torn country, and when these countries sanction violence against women, we tend to look away and dismiss it as cultural. We throw our hands in the air because we think there is nothing we can do. We need look no further than to the Taliban.
But women are also the people who hold their families and communities together in times of war. To a large degree, they are the ones who create stability and rebuild — and they are left to care for the survivors.
Empowering the women in war torn countries is powerful way to create stability and peace.