when the status quo frustrates.

Time Travelling God Particles

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

I’m no theoretical physicist, but I was a member of the institutional science community.  My particular bullshit field was “artificial intelligence,” but in the modern university, bullshit fields abound–sometimes with legitimate scientific endeavors buried within, or as an umbrella above, the bullshit.

I predict that large tracts of present-day physics research will be revealed as an exercise in mathematical masturbation–a sort of ueber-complex sudoku puzzle that only .001% of humanity has the intellect and training to attempt solving.  The sudoku metaphor can be extended to include the relevance of the solution to our questions about the nature of reality.

I’ll admit, I don’t have the mathematical chops to follow, replicate, or disprove the work of theoretical physicists.  My skepticism of their work stems from more primary methodological concerns.  Of primary concern is the lack of testable hypotheses–a feature found also in rank mysticism.

and then there’s this:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. (NY Times 10/12/09)

One of the two pysicists is Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. You probably recognize from his famous proposal that the Veneziano model was actually a theory of strings*.  A distinguished physicist indeed.

Nielson along with Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto (less famous–doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry) propose that Higgs boson particles created by scientists in the future, travel backwards through time to prevent scientists in the present from discovering them.

Seriously.

Now I’m the first to sympathize with scientists forced to use metaphor.  Communicating an absurdly complicated topic to an untrained public is challenging.  I’m also sympathetic to the problem of the media in relating these metaphors to the public: how literal are they meant to be taken? Is the cat *really* alive and dead at the same time? Is space *actually* a rubber matt displaced by bowling balls? And so forth.

But, as far as I can tell, the Terminator metaphor above is meant to be taken literally.  Just substitute Higgs boson for Arnold, and anything-to-do-with-discovering-Higgs-boson for Sarah Connor.

The list of things sabotage possibly engineered by Higgs: the cancellation of the planned Superconducting Supercollider in the US in 1993, the various mechanical problems of the Large Hadron Collider, and the arrest of a resident physicist on suspcion of Al-Qaeda affiliation.

Seriously.

Of course, thinking like scientists, they’ve come up with a plan–a peer reviewed, up-for-publication-in-a-real-journal plan.  It goes a little something like this:

  1. Create a deck of 1 million cards.
  2. Write “Procede” on 999,999 of the cards.
  3. Write “STOP” on 1 card.
  4. Shuffle.
  5. Draw a card.

If the card says “STOP,” then it supports the claim that Higgs boson(s) are emanating from the future to stop scientists from creating them, and we should design more experiments so that Higgs, from the future, can tell scientists how they should proceed with their experiments.

I think it’s a great experiment, but I would go the additional step of not including the “STOP” card.  That would really cinch it.  As a “real time” way you provide Higgs input on HLC activity, you could have a grad students continuously flipping coins.  If one of them comes up heads one million times in a row then we know Higgs thinks we’re going too far.  Or, with nearly the same degree of scientific rigor, we could have a seance.  I’m willing to be the conduit through which the Higgs boson can make its will known to our world.

Seriously.

*I had no idea who he was either.

**Since it would cost, like, a billionth as much as their other bullshit experiments, why haven’t they done it?

Political Power, the Barrel of the Gun and All That

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

I believe that the only human future, that is, a future with humans in it, is one in which violence as an acceptable mode of human interaction is renounced. This renunciation will make the state, as we know it, impossible. Every power of the state rests, ultimately, on its power to “legitimately” kill its citizens. I realize that I’m repeating myself, but there seemed to be some disagreement over my claim and I thought it worth while to clarify my position and attempt to come to some understanding before I go on and make yet more outrageous claims.

I am not claiming that the only action that state agents can take against a citizen is to kill him or her. I have been fined and put in jail. I hear they have over two million people in prison, so yes, I understand that alternatives to execution exist for the government. However, I can’t imagine very many of those 2 million would have gone willingly to prison or would be easy to keep there if the death of an inmate at the hands of a policemen or guard were considered murder (which, by any objective standard, it is).

People submit to state agents specifically because those agents are authorized to kill people who resist. Nobody surrenders to mall security*.

Without the ability to drag people to jail, authorized to kill resisters and escapees, how does the state level fines? Unless they can take houses, killing those who defend themselves as they would against any other home invader, how can they levy property taxes? Without threatening employers, how do they collect income taxes?

This stands separately from the claim that they shouldn’t do these things. It’s not a novel position that they should, but it cannot be claimed that these powers ultimately rest on anything other than the power to kill people.

Everyone likes to call out state violence–well almost everyone–that they don’t agree with while justifying or redefining the state violence that they support. This argument is as old as time and has gotten humanity nowhere**.

While we may disagree about the necessity for violence to maintain social order, provide for the sick and the old, or educate the young–it is disingenuous to deny that, ultimately, agents of the state require the monopoly on violence and the “authority” to kill citizens to enforce the preferences of the ruling class.

*Actually, I take that back: there are people, broken people, who will submit to any authority figure. I submit, without evidence, that those people were likely broken by violence at some point in the past. Broken by aggressors who, explicitly or implicitly, threatened death for continued resistance. That’s a topic for the future.

**In reference to the undeniable increase in the standard of living and the no-longer-being-as-frequently-killed-to-death of huge swaths of humanity under state control: These victories resulted from a multitude of individuals sacrificing their lives and wealth to drag the state kicking and screaming out of some aspect of barbarity. In reference to the idea that, for example, not arresting homosexuals who marry (or those that marry them) is a good use of state violence: it is a good renunciation of state violence–yet another subject to revisit.

New look

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Time for a PAB update. The old template has been hacked for the last time; we needed a framework that was more WordPress-current.

Everyone hates change, but I dig the sleek new look and hope you do, too.

Non-Violence vs. Political Solutions

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

A position of non-violence is incompatible with the idea of political solutions to social problems. The state, as we know it, ultimately has only one tool for controlling behavior, it can legitimately kill individual people. All other punishments are premised on this power. Until this is understood, the mass of humanity will remain the the impoverished slaves and servants of a tiny parasitic ruling class and will, perversely, thank them for the “safety” they provide.

If you oppose the non-violent position, then you will only ever contribute to problems stemming from violence. While you may point to a temporary victory–a political solution that “solved” a social problem–growing from the “solution” like bamboo shoots will be dozens, hundreds, thousands of resulting problems, each begging for a new political solution.

I’ve encountered alot of anger around this argument. Almost nobody, especially on the left, wants to be in a position of preferring violent solutions to non-violent. Yet how can one logically argue that support of state solutions is anything but the preference for violent solutions (answer: you can’t).

This puts the angry person in the position of having to create an imaginary world in which violence and only violence can stave off apocalyptic disaster. In this fiction, attempting, or even beginning to attempt to organize voluntarily to address social problems leads immediately to a fate worse than death–a world of chaos and violence in which everyone good dies at the hands of the evil, mad and powerful.

These arguments, lunatic as they are, can be persuasive because a) no matter how horrifying real-life state atrocities are, the apocalypse is worse and b) they rely on fear, a historically reliable way of overriding rational thought and bringing debate to an end.

A novel position came up in a conversation recently that simultaneously surprised and delighted me. It is worth addressing because it is the only alternative to the fear based response. The position is that the state doesn’t need to use violence but could be reconstituted in such a way that it is a voluntary organization. In principle, how can I have any problem with that? If the state renounces violence in favor of voluntary cooperation, it will cease to be a remnant of stone-age barbarism and become a part of the future of humanity. By my definition, it would no longer be a state at that point, but I would be happy concede to calling it a state if it is ever brought into being.

Façades

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Last night, Ann and I helped out a family a little. They’d just moved from Seattle on a Greyhound bus. They had the name and number of someone who was supposed to meet them and take them to an apartment. He never showed; when they called, the number was disconnected. They walked to the rescue mission. The rescue mission doesn’t accept women or children. The only shelter in the city that does was full. They walked to a police station. The police told them they couldn’t have a motel voucher since it wasn’t cold enough, and it wasn’t snowing. They came up to us outside our apartment. We gave them a lift to the grocery store and helped them get some food and some money for a room. When we dropped them off, I gave them my phone number.

“The first three digits are 666,” I said, “Number of the beast.”
“That’s bad luck.”
“Yeah, it is.”

On the way back home, we got a little turned around. They’ve been building up new apartments all around where we live. They just finished a complex a block away, and it still hasn’t quite sunk into the city. It still looks strange and alien and not all there, like maybe it’s a backdrop for a movie someone’s filming, and when they’re finished they’ll kick out the two-by-fours and carry the fake brick sheets off to a back lot somewhere. It’s draped with a huge NOW LEASING sign, though, and the windows are open so you can see inside. All the lights in the building are on full, showing off six stories of bright, clean apartments. Empty, to a one.

Ooh The Hypocrisy, It Burns!

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Jon strikes again. :D (via)

(Jon does also take on ACORN, pretty hilariously, here.)

Because racism’s dead. You knew that, right?

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Interracial couple denied marriage license in La.

NEW ORLEANS – A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have. Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said. “I think those children suffer and I won’t help put them through it.”

Yep, children from those marriages, even the ones that don’t last, I mean it’s not like they could e-v-e-r grow up to become President of the United Sta—

“I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. “I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.”

Mostly I think of “piles and piles” as describing my laundry. And did he seriously just brag about letting black people use his bathroom..?

I sure love living in “post-racial” America!

Meghan McCain Has Tits- Conservative Community Shocked

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

This morning, I woke up and opening my eyes to the thin amount of light in my room caused shooting pain to go down my temples. Every cell of my body was crying that I needed more sleep, dammit, and they were not getting up for sex much less for working at the thrift store. Naturally, I appeased the demands of my oppressed body and called in sick to work.

A few hours of sleep later, and a couple tylenol with codeine, and I’m in a state where I can comfortably look at a computer screen while sitting (though not much else). My friend jumps up to send me this conversation(typos kept in because, fuck it, that’s why):
(more…)

Your elitism is showing–! Here, let me tuck that back down into your collar for you. I’m shocked your valet let you out the door like that!

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

This article is so transparent it’s hard to believe we’re expected to take it seriously, but I suspect we are–much like when John Kerry, during his failed presidential bid some years ago, movingly asked, “And who among us doesn’t like NASCAR?”*

It’s pretty much a fail from the get-go; what amazes me is that anyone bothered to write this article at all.

A Recipe for Riches
by Duncan Greenberg
Friday, October 9, 2009

Want to become a tech titan or hedge fund tycoon?

Well yes, of course, who wouldn’t? And it’s really an option for all you Joe and Jane Sixpacks too—

Up your chances by dropping out of college

!!!! See?!? Most of you already got that part covered, don’tcha?

(and in a mumble)

or going to Harvard and working at Goldman Sachs.

(Oh yeah, those too! But let’s speed rapidly on past those parts—)

(more…)

Okay, so where’s mine?

Friday, October 9th, 2009


I’m waiting.

I am also “not George W. Bush,” which as far as I can tell, is the achievement that Barack Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize for. I have a nice empty spot on one of my bookcases where it’d look just right. Really!

It’s so awesome when someone else does all the work for you, especially if you’re lazy. Like me.

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Also saving me from having to weigh in personally on a situation I found distasteful enough that every time I started to write about it, I got so cranky I had to stop. Speak on, my brother! (Hat tip Ilse.)

How To Take a Quote Completely Out of Context

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

I haven’t written much about religion lately, mostly because I am the midst of a personal spiritual journey–saying so just like that here sounds remarkably pretentious, I can’t help but notice. :) BUT the point is, until I’m done…well, I don’t suppose I’ll ever quite be done, but…until I’m rather more settled on the precise direction of said journey, I haven’t wanted to try to tease out any coherent sentences on the topic. But I really couldn’t resist this.

As Jeff at Alas, A Blog says, it is pretty interesting to see Jesus presenting the Constitution of the United States to the admiring multitudes a la Moses and the Ten Commandments…er, what a creative idea! On so many levels. But really, my favorite part is the collection of quotes included on the page, demonstrating that no matter what somebody says, you absolutely can twist it around to mean whatever it is you really want it to mean! (Also, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Abraham Lincoln? Not a Founding Father. Born, as a matter of fact, 22 years after the signing of the Constitution…I guess all that ancient history just starts to blur together in the minds of idiots the zealous…)

My favorite quote is the one presented from Thomas Jefferson, to wit:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed from their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God?” — Thomas Jefferson

HA! CLEARLY Jefferson is saying that atheism is a threat to the liberties of our nation (!!11!) Believe and believe NOW, ye heathens, or the wrath of God and State shall fall upon thee..!

…um. Well. Actually…no…if you want to see the whole, entire quote:

“The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execrations should the statesman be loaded who, permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part and the amor patriae of the other. For if a slave can have a country in this world, it must be any other in preference to that in which he is born to live and labor for another: in which he must lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavors to the evanishment of the human race or entail his own miserable condition on the endless generations proceeding from him. With the morals of the people, their industry is also destroyed. For in a warm climate, no man will labor for himself who can make another labor for him. This is so true that, of the proprietors of slaves, a very small proportion are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?

Slavery, folks. Slavery was the threat to the liberties of our nation, and Jefferson was actually decrying the Christianity-based reasoning that far too many proponents of slavery used to justify keeping other human beings in a state of mean and miserable servitude. But context, schmontext! The word “God” is in there, dammit, and that’s good enough for us..!

Sigh.